What Your Shopping Says About Your Time Management

Standing in the middle of Best Buy at 2:00am on Black Friday, I couldn’t help but think of time management. Maybe it was the sleep deprivation, or a desperate attempt to occupy my mind with something other than the constant stream of shopping carts running into my ankles, but as I watched everyone around me pile heaps of electronics into their carts, I began to analyze their shopping strategies. By watching them shop, I realized I could also make a pretty good guess as to how they manage their time. What does your shopping strategy say about your productivity?

1. The Lost Puppies

A few people wandered around the store as if they were waiting for someone to point them in the right direction. They picked up an item, looked at it, started to put it in their cart, and then put it back down. These people have clearly never been Black Friday shopping before. It doesn’t work like that. As soon as you put it down, someone else takes it. Most of these people left the store empty handed.

Just like these shoppers didn’t cross any gifts off their shopping list with that strategy, they are unlikely to ever cross anything off their to-do lists either. Rather than tackling a big, important task, they start smaller, less-important tasks instead. These people are good at preparing to work, but not as skilled at actually beginning. Don’t let this happen to you! Pick your Meat, Vegetable, and Dessert priority tasks for the day and move forward. Preparation is great, but if it never leads to execution, your productivity will stall.

2. The Kid in the Candy Store

These shoppers can hardly contain their excitement. They haphazardly grab items off any shelf that says “sale.” They may have come into the store with an item in mind, but their carts are full by the time they reach it.

Whereas “sale” signs distract these shoppers from their shopping mission, Time Killers distract them in their time management. They may have had a productivity goal for the day, but they let Time Killers like Facebook, email, snacking, T.V. and texting distract them from their goals. Don’t let Time Killers throw you off track. Remove these distractions before they steal your focus.

3. The Planner

These people are a force to be reckoned with on Black Friday. They know exactly what they want and what time to show up in order to get it. They’ve mapped out the store in advance and go straight to their desired item without any detours. They get in and out of the store as quickly as possible, leaving the other shoppers to fight over the scraps.

This is the kind of laser-like focus that also achieves success in time management. It’s important to know your priorities for the day and don’t let Time Killers, or other tasks on your list distract you. By getting the task done quickly and efficiently, you have time left over for relaxation without the stress of your impending workload. This kind of focus takes discipline, but it pays off.

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Why, Hello Motivation!

Have you ever been suddenly motivated to complete a task that isn’t on the top of your priority list for the day? In a perfect world, we’d always be motivated to complete the most pressing task of the moment, but we know that’s hardly ever the case. We are all well-versed in the process of trying to dig up motivation to start a dreaded task, but what happens when we suddenly find that motivation at the wrong time?

My Sudden Motivation

I hate cleaning. I know I’d be hard-pressed to find someone who truly loves the chore, but I feel as though I have a particularly difficult time motivating myself to throw out my useless clutter. You can imagine my shock when I woke up this morning thinking, “I really want to clean out the garage today.”

Here is my problem: cleaning the garage was not terribly high on the priority list. I have a few big projects to wrap up before Thanksgiving weekend and I had a productive day planned to make progress on all of them. As I sat down to work though, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I should really pounce on my sudden motivation to organize.

Do I choose the more “important” task that I have no problem motivating myself to do, or the less important task that I usually dread?

After careful contemplation, I chose the latter.

The Right Decision

For three hours this afternoon, I sorted, threw away, cleaned, stacked, shredded, etc… I was definitely on a roll. As the third hour came to a close, a sudden feeling of frustration came over me. “I kind of hate this,” I said out loud. As quickly as it had come, my motivation was now gone. It was at that moment I realized I had made the right decision for the day.

Finding an extra hour or two over the next few days to squeeze in a little more work would be easy. Waiting for cleaning motivation to strike again could be endless. With just a few short hours of work, I could now walk into my garage without bumping into things. If I hadn’t been motivated, that could have easily taken the whole day.

Your Turn

Sometimes it’s best to do the task you are most motivated to do. You work most efficiently when you’re motivated and motivation is hard to conjure up. Notice I didn’t say it’s always best to make this decision. If I had a huge deadline coming up tomorrow, my cleaning crusade would have had to wait. Will you choose motivation or importance this week? Can you find a balance?

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The Side Streets of Time Management

Have you ever been traveling with a friend who is convinced he has a faster way to get to your destination? It’s usually a little-known side street or back road. These side streets can either shorten your journey…or waste a tremendous amount of your time after getting you lost.

We run across similar shortcuts in our time management.  Before you take a time management shortcut (such as skipping or shortening a step in a process), ask yourself the following questions:

1. Do I Have Enough Experience?

Let’s pretend that you’re on your way to a new destination and two people suggest a shortcut. One of those people has never traveled the road before, while the other travels it frequently. Whose advice are you more likely to take? Experience is crucial when deciding which steps to remove from a process. If you’ve never completed a certain task before, it’s a good idea to follow all of the steps in detail, even if you think they might waste your time. As a novice, you don’t know the consequences of removing a step.

2. Am I Just Being Lazy?

If we’re looking for tasks to cut out of a process, we’re most likely to turn to the most tedious and annoying tasks first. It’s important to determine if those tasks truly aren’t necessary, or if you just don’t feel like doing them.

To use a simple example, I was making “For Rent” signs for our rental property the other day. At first, I was marking out the word placement in pencil before inking the final letters in marker. Pretty soon, I got lazy and stopped my pencil layout…only to discover that now my posters were crooked. I cut out the intermediary step not because it was unnecessary, but because I didn’t feel like doing it.

3. Will This Shortcut Make More Work Later?

Sometimes what seems like a shortcut now, in reality, just makes more work for ourselves later. Remember: later always gets here eventually. It’s much faster to do a small, annoying task now, than let those small tasks pile up. Procrastination is the enemy of time management. A shortcut is only truly a shortcut if it saves time, not if it just puts off work until later.

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Photo credit: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

3 Crucial Things Busy People Know

“If you want something done, ask a busy person.” Even though that statement seems so backwards, we all know it to be true. People with packed schedules always find the time to squeeze in one more thing. But is it possible to harness that level of efficiency without a crammed calendar? Absolutely. You just have to learn the time management secrets that busy people know.

1. We have more time than we realize

Much like people on a diet account for each calorie they consume, busy people account for each minute of their time. They know about Parkinson’s Law, that work expands to fill the time we have available, and therefore don’t give themselves two hours to get ready in the morning, or an hour and half to check email. When they sit down to work, they work efficiently and with the utmost focus, eliminating Time Killers that try to make their task take longer.

2. Don’t wait to want to do something

Sometimes there are tasks on our list that we aren’t looking forward to doing. When we don’t want to do something, we put it off hoping we’ll feel more like doing it tomorrow…as though enjoyment of a task was a necessary prerequisite. Busy people don’t think like that. They know their time is limited and it’s better to just do undesirable tasks now and get them off their plates and off their minds.

3. Put your head down and start grazing

Busy people know that worrying about a big workload is a waste of resources. Remember the story about the two cows:

“Two cows were both faced with an immense pasture of grass to graze. The first cow looked around and said, ‘Oh my goodness. There is so much grass here. How will I ever get through it all?’ While the first cow stood and worried, the second cow said nothing, and put her head down and started grazing.”

If we spend less time worrying and more time doing we not only lower our stress level, but we find that worrying was taking up a lot of time and energy that we could have spent on being productive.

The point of working efficiently is not to make time for even more work. The point of working efficiently is to get our work done quickly, so we can have more time for the enjoyable Desserts in life that are truly important.

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