My Routine Was Holding Me Back, Is Yours?

Time management holding backWe are creatures of habit. Once we get into a routine, we tend to keep doing it. But what happens when those routines end up derailing our time management plan? This week I noticed a few habits in my schedule  had become outdated, but I never thought about changing them before because they were so engrained. Here is what I changed and how you can identify similar needs for improvement in your own schedule.

My Sunday Schedule

Every Sunday evening for the past 4 years, I’ve written a time management blog to post on this site and email out each week. It’s become such a routine part of my schedule that I hardly think about it.

Since having my daughter however, I’ve noticed that my weekends are packed with much more “family time” than they were before. My Sunday evening blog sessions became more difficult. I struggled to find a moment to sit down in a quiet place and peck out my thoughts. “Maybe I can find a different room to work?” I thought. “Or put a pot of coffee on? Or ask my husband to watch the baby while I work?”

Making a Change

I’m embarrassed to admit, it took me three months to realize “Oh wait, maybe I just don’t do blog time on Sunday evenings anymore.” When habits are so engrained in our schedule, we often keep doing them, even after they’ve outlived their convenience. Sunday evenings used to be the time I collect my thoughts and prepare for the week ahead, but I do that on Fridays now so I can have my entire weekend to myself and my family.

This week, I wrote the blog you’re reading on Friday. It felt strange, and will probably continue to feel strange until this, too, becomes a habit.

What have you struggled to fit into your schedule lately? Are you letting a habit or routine cloud your search for a solution? What if you had NO routines set and had to start over from scratch. Would you do things in the same order and at the same time you currently do?

Over the course of the week, look for ways to update your routine. Think of it as “ongoing system maintenance” of your schedule.

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3 Reasons To Be Nice (When You Don’t Have Time For It)

Time management smile“Hurry” has become a mainstay of our vocabulary, especially at this time of year! Seems like everyone is in a rush to get somewhere, or do something. Before you get caught up in the sense of urgency, don’t forget that there is always time to be nice (and if there’s not, then you’re moving too fast!) Here is what reminded me of that today:

Today, while out holiday shopping, I saw a mom with two young (tired) kids  in front of me at the food court. The cashier messed up her order several times, and then they ended up being out of the soup she wanted. At this point, I was frustrated for her. When the food finally came out, I was expecting a tirade, but instead, she smiled and said, “Thanks so much! Good luck handling all these crazy crowds today!”

If this exhausted, clearly time-crunched lady made time to smile and say thanks, I had no excuse to be grumpy! When you catch yourself being irritable while crunched for time, remember these three things:

1. Everyone else is busy too

Everyone has somewhere to be and things to do. You aren’t the only one affected by the crowd, or the traffic, or the (insert life crisis here.) Try to be understanding. Even if you do need to complain, there are ways to bring problems to someone’s attention without being a jerk about it.

2. Stuff happens…roll with it

Sometimes things will be completely out of your control. When this happens, it’s easy to look for someone to blame…but it’s probably not their fault either. Look for the humor in a situation, not a scapegoat.

3. A smile might just make someone’s day

When you’ve dealt with cranky people all afternoon, one smile from an understanding person can turn your whole day around. Be that person.

Being nice doesn’t take any extra time. It might take a little extra energy, but that energy is returned to you doubled from the people who appreciate your kindness

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No Crystal Ball? Then Stop Worrying

time management crystal ball“What if I don’t get the promotion? What if my flight is late? What if my house doesn’t sell?” Our obsession with trying to predict the future takes up a lot of our time and energy. Until you have a crystal ball, that energy is better used elsewhere! Try these 3 tips to stop planning for the unpredictable.

1. Think of Yourself 5 Years Ago

It’s easy to get caught up in the present and forget that our tastes, interests and circumstances change all the time. Think of the person you were 5 years ago. Could you ever have predicted how your life would change in that time? What makes you think you’ll be able to predict what happens in the next 5 years?

2. Identify What You Can’t Control

As much as we wish we could control every event in our lives, we can’t. Identify what is in your control and what is out of your hands. Whenever you catch yourself worrying about a future event you have no say over, stop. Replace the thought with something you can control and redirect your thinking.

3. Embrace Change

Remember, sometimes the best opportunities end up being unexpected surprises that would have never made it onto your preplanned life itinerary.

You never know where an unforeseen path may lead, so embrace the adventure!

Turning off our “worry switch” is not easy. Rely on your support network of friends and family to help point out when you’re wasting time thinking about something you can’t control. This past week, my dissertation adviser caught me in a worry moment and said, “Emily, until you can bring me a functioning crystal ball, I want you to stop trying to predict the future.”

That sounds like a challenge to me!

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Moms: The Ultimate Time Managers

Time Management for MomsThis past weekend we celebrated mothers. You know, those magical people who always seem to find the 25th hour in the day to get everything done. I’m not a mom yet, but I’m privileged to know some incredible women who make the “family balancing act” seem effortless. Check out how they do it! Even us non-moms can learn a lot from them.

Time Management Advice From Busy Moms

“How do I manage my time? One day at a time! I cut myself some slack and keep things in perspective. I’m also a huge proponent of keeping work and home separate whenever possible.”

Julie Weissberg
Music Teacher
Mini Maestros

“I taught my children young how to do a load of laundry and how to make a sandwich or toast and a quick batch of brownies.  Instead of doing everything for them, I helped them to be independent and able to do things for themselves.  My advice is when everyone is tugging at you to help them, be kind, but do what you can to help them help themselves.  Take a little “dessert” time daily to hug them and let them know they are loved!  Happy Mother’s Day!”

Gina La Benz
Independent Designer, Origami Owl
Volunteer and Outreach Coordinator, Chandler/Gilbert YMCA

“I find that planning all of our family dinners in advance helps cut down on shopping time. I plan out the week’s meals, and then write the shopping list on the same piece of paper. I also take care of as many errands as I can in one place. Prescriptions! Cosmetics! All come from the grocery store.”

Becky Wilkinson
Banner Good Samaritan

“I have had the unique experience of being a single foster parent. The main thing that helped me through the hectic schedule is: Writing It Down! If it took up time, I blocked it out on my calendar. I even had a “catch all” time blocked out for paperwork and misc items. Also, I’ve found you can turn cleaning into a bonding activity with older children by singing, dancing, and cleaning your way through the house. Most importantly, I had to let the perfectionist in me go. Some things are just not as important as spending quality time with the kids.”

Patty Conrad
Deal Assessor
Bank of America

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Hey Moms! (And Dads!) Looking for the perfect graduation present for your high school senior? Why not give them the gift of time management? The Time Diet: Time Management for College Survival

Handle the Unexpected Like a Super Bowl Champion

Time Management SuperbowlNo doubt, many of you spent part of your weekend watching the Super Bowl, and were reminded that sometimes, even in the biggest sporting event of the year, things don’t go according to plan. In case you weren’t watching, the power went out at the Superdome in the third quarter, leaving most of the stadium dark and halting the game. We all have unexpected events pop up in our lives that throw us off our carefully crafted plan. Follow these three tips to handle a crisis like a pro.

1. Don’t Panic

While it may seem obvious, staying calm allows you to think of a solution more quickly without losing valuable time to stressing out. When the lights went out, did you see some of the players pacing back and forth on the sideline? Their faces were visibly stressed. Most of us have the good fortune of not watching our unexpected events play out on national television in front of millions of people, but when something goes wrong, it can sure feel like the whole world is watching. Don’t let the pressure of the situation overcome your rational thinking.

2. Keep the Goal in Mind

Even though your plan might have to change, your goal remains the same. Don’t let a hiccup in your plan cause you to become distracted from what is really important. After the lights finally came back on in the Superdome, the Ravens lost hold of their size-able lead as the 49ers made a swift comeback. One could make the argument that perhaps the Ravens’ momentum was shaken by the sudden black out (or, perhaps the 49ers decided to actually start playing football, but I digress…)

3. Ask For Help

In times of sudden crisis, we sometimes feel the need to solve all problems ourselves. Don’t forget to rely on your support network to search for a solution. I’m betting that the manager of the Superdome didn’t know what specific problem caused the lights to go out, but he had a team of people working to figure it out. Know who your experts are and seek their help. You don’t need to face every crisis alone.

Ultimately, not every crisis will resolve well, but knowing how to stay calm and keep your mind on what’s important will increase your chances of succeeding…even if nobody gives you a big trophy and confetti ceremony afterwards.

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No Time for the Flu

Sick Time ManagementIt seems like everyone in the world is either sick or just getting over being sick. There’s no doubt, getting sick can throw a huge monkey wrench in your time management plans. While at first it may seem like you’ll never recover from your productivity setback, consider the following:

1. Life will go on without you for a moment

Have you ever seen your coworkers trudging through work, coughing and shivering, trying to make a presentation between sneezes, and thought, “Why in the world are they here?” It’s easy to think that life will stop if you don’t make it into work, but in reality, everyone will probably be just fine for a day or two. Your coworkers will gladly help pick up the slack for you in exchange for keeping your virus to yourself! Of course, there will be times when your presence truly is required, but see if that can be taken care of with a Skype call from home.

2. Eliminate what’s unessential

It’s amazing how quickly we’re able to eliminate non-essential tasks from our lists when we get sick. It’s as though we get tunnel vision for only the most important things. Since you have limited energy when you’re sick, look for tasks on your list that others will have difficulty helping you with, and do those first.

3. Enjoy a little time doing absolutely nothing

It’s tempting to sit in bed and worry about all of the tasks you’re leaving undone. Instead, try to embrace the feeling of doing absolutely nothing. If you’re on the go constantly, you probably rarely afford yourself the opportunity to do nothing except when sickness requires it. Since you can do very little about your situation other than rest, making yourself feel guilty does nothing. Even though you feel under the weather, take pleasure in the fact that you are going to take it easy, even if it’s only for a few hours.

Do you remember when you were young and took every sneeze as a hopeful sign that a day home from school was in your future? It’s amazing how fast we change. Instead of focusing all of your energy on work, allow the people in your life to take care of you for a day while you focus on recovering.

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Stuck in bed sick? Why not order some new reading material?

Check out The Time Diet: Digestible Time Management  Popular Time Management Book

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Time Management is Like a Rubber Band

This week, it occurred to me that time management is similar to a rubber band. No, not because it makes a cool sound when you pluck it, or because it is fun to flick at other people. Check out what this lowly office supply can teach us about effective time management.

Three Ways Time Management is Like a Rubber Band

1) It holds everything together

Just like you can wrap a giant rubber band around a pile of papers to keep them all in place, time management is the thing that holds all of the different pieces of your life together. There is more to time management than just deciding what to do when. It’s about staying motivated to take care of your priorities in an efficient and organized fashion. This is why your productivity plan can’t stop after writing a date down in a calendar.

2) It must be flexible

A rubber band can stretch to fit even the most oddly shaped object, just like your time management plan must adapt to the hiccups that come up in your day. This is why scripting your day down to the second is unreasonable. Things are bound to go wrong and if you plan for that in advance, it’s much easier to bounce back and change your approach. Start tasks earlier than you think you need to so they have less of a chance of catching you off guard.

3) It can hold up to stress, but not too much

A rubber band can hold up to a lot of pulling and tugging, but if you pull it too hard it will eventually break. The same is true for your stress level. As you’re managing your time, you will inevitably feel stressed at some point, but you can’t let that feeling build too much. Structure small breaks and “Desserts” into your day as well as exercise and sleep to help keep stress at bay.

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Time Management is Like a Box of Chocolates?

With Valentine’s Day around the corner, no doubt many of you will be receiving a box of chocolates. This holiday always reminds me of one of my favorite cliché movie lines (which I am only actually quoting here because some of my readers were still in diapers when Forrest Gump was released).
“Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get.”

Here is how that applies to time management.

Always put your all into tasks because you never know where they are going to lead.

Opportunities have a way of presenting themselves in unusual ways and you never know where different tasks and experiences will lead you. That’s why, before you dismiss a task as a frivolous waste of time, look deeper. Sometimes the potential is sitting just beneath the surface.

From Hobby to Opportunity

For example, a few years ago, I wrote my husband a song for Valentine’s Day (yes, that’s cheesy and no, you can’t hear it!) I knew next to nothing about recording music, but I wanted this to sound good, so I learned everything I could about the music software Garage Band. At the time, I remember thinking this project was consuming far more of my day than necessary, but it was interesting and fun.

After I finished that project, I realized what a great teaching tool Garage Band could be and started to use it in my classroom…

…which led to me giving several presentations about music technology at our state conference…

…which led to me helping my school district design and implement a music technology class…

…which led to me being asked to teach a Garage Band class at Arizona State University.

I could have never imagined this little project several years ago could have lead to so many cool things, but it did!

If something is interesting and fun for you, make the time to pursue it. By the same token, if something you have to do appears boring and wasteful at first, how can you use the knowledge you’re gaining to do something more beneficial?

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Photo Credit: Simon Howden

Time Management Lessons from a 5th Grader

As many of you know, one of the many things I do is teach 5th grade beginning band. If you’ve never had the opportunity to observe a class of band students during the first week they get their instruments, it is the most glorious example of organized chaos ever.

In the midst of the madness last week (sometime in between gluing pads back on a saxophone and telling a trumpet player that valve oil isn’t something you eat), I was reminded of some important time management lessons.

Time Management Lessons my 5th Grade Band Taught Me

Pursue Tasks with Excitement
When those kids take their instruments off the shelf for the first time, they can hardly contain their excitement. By the time their first half hour class is over, they shout, “That was already 30 minutes??” Time flies when you’re having fun. The more we can find and focus on the joy in our workday, the faster it will go.

Try it a Different Way
When I tell the clarinet section how to make a sound, three out four students will get it pretty quickly, but the fourth one won’t. If I just repeat the same directions over and over again, I will be wasting both my and the student’s time. Those directions didn’t work for him! I have to find a different approach. Don’t waste your time trying over and over again to do something that isn’t working. Find a different way of doing it.

Plan for the Unexpected
On the second day of band, one of the students opened his trombone case and a grasshopper jumped out. (Apparently he found it at morning recess and put it in there for safe-keeping.) I had to quickly assign one “grass hopper catcher” and get the rest of the students back in their chairs focused on something else so precious minutes of my class didn’t slip through my fingers. You can’t plan for everything, so plan to think on your feet when unexpected things come up so you don’t waste too much time.

We All Need a “Drink of Water” Once in a While
Sometimes, 5th graders will ask me to get a drink of water because they are actually thirsty. This is rarely the case. Usually when they say, “Can I get a drink?” they are really saying, “I’m frustrated right now and need to stand up and walk over to the other side of the room for a second.” We could all benefit from this approach. When you’re frustrated with your work, sometimes getting away from it for a minute or two is all you need to kick-start your brain again.

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Planning for the Unexpected

For the past month, I have been loath to touch any door handles, high-five any of my students, or take so much as a walk around the block without my hand sanitizer. Why? Because every single person I know has been sick in the past few weeks.  (That statistic may have been slightly inflated for dramatic effect.) We all know that getting sick is a huge drain on our time management and can definitely disrupt our Time Diets without careful planning. Never fear! Catching this year’s virus du jour doesn’t have to mean a pile of missed deadlines.

First of all, the time to start planning for getting sick is not when you are already bed-ridden with a temperature of 104. Part of maintaining a successful Time Diet involves creating your own deadlines so you aren’t waiting until the last minute to start an important task. As an elementary school teacher, I have to assume that I am going to come in contact with pretty much every germ imaginable on an every-day basis. This is why I try to finish any task at least 2-3 days before I actually need to. That way, if I get sick and am out of commission for a few days, I have less of a chance of missing any deadlines.

Stay Calm, Prioritize, Delegate

But what about when we run into something more than just a little stomach bug? What happens when a major crisis falls in our lap? Something like a severe illness or family emergency? Life doesn’t stop and we still have tasks to complete. How do we cope?  Your Time Diet doesn’t have to go out the window when an unexpected emergency comes up. Just remember 3 things:

1) Stay Calm– This is huge. Remember half the stress of getting it all done comes from worrying about getting it all done. In times of unexpected crisis, remember to breathe and don’t panic. Everything you need to do will happen. Worrying just breeds more stress and that is the last thing you need!

2) Prioritize– An unexpected emergency can often devour most of your time and you must realize early on that you won’t necessarily be able to complete everything on your choose-to list and that’s ok. The world will keep spinning. The trick is to prioritize so you are able to devote the precious little time you do have to the most important things.  It is important to note that the most important things are not necessarily always the ones with the closest deadlines.

3) Delegate– It is all too easy to develop “super-human syndrome” in which we think we have to do everything on our own. This is especially true in times of emergency or crisis! Let others help you! Maybe some Meat tasks are things only you can take care of, but what about all of your Vegetables? When people know you are out of commission for a little while and offer to help, they really mean it. Ask a few willing friends and family members to help take a few things off your plate. (If delegating in general is something you know you struggle with, check out this article: How to Effectively Delegate )

A few years ago, my husband was in an accident that landed him in the hospital….on the other side of the country….a week before our wedding. One minute I was crafting a guest seating chart, the next minute I was on a red-eye flight from Los Angeles to Washington D.C. with a woefully under-packed suitcase. All of a sudden, the million things on my choose-to list didn’t seem so important. My number one priority became making sure the groom made it to the wedding in one piece. My family and friends back home clamored together to finish the things I would no longer be able to do. They tied up the favors in beautiful ribbon, confirmed everything with the venue and finished planning the rehearsal dinner, but you know what? If they hadn’t, the world would not have stopped spinning. I took care of what was most important.

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