Is the Extra Mile a Waste of Time?

time management extra mileWe grow up hearing that we don’t get far in life without going the extra mile. That going above and beyond the call of duty is the way to be noticed, get ahead, and stand out, but is it really the best use of our time? This week I read an article called “Nobody Cares How Awesome You Are at Your Job” that made me re-think the assumption that exceeding expectations is always best. Here is what I discovered…

My Initial Reaction

In this article, the author cites a study in the Social Psychological and Personality Science journal that found people are disappointed when expectations aren’t met, but aren’t necessarily impressed when they are exceeded. The researcher makes a comparison to Amazon shipping- that if you order something with 4 day shipping and it arrives in 5, you’re upset, but if it arrives in 3, you aren’t impressed.

At first I was angry with this article. I thought the take-away message was that we should all strive for mediocrity, never try hard, and skate by on doing the least amount of work possible. But then I thought more about it.

Re-thinking Mediocrity

Since when is fulfilling a promise mediocre? Since when is doing exactly what you say you’re going to do not good enough? Perhaps it’s this kind of “above and beyond” thinking that creates an unrealistic super hero mentality. That we are all capable of doing absolutely everything, and if we don’t, we’re letting people down. Perhaps it’s wonderful that we aren’t overly impressed with over-delivered promises, because simply fulfilling an expectation should be good enough.

This super hero mentality also causes us to let some people down while we’re trying to overly impress others. We only have so much energy and so much time in the day, so if you’re spending more time than you should on one task, you’re probably not putting the necessary time into your other obligations. The people you’re letting down don’t really care that you over-delivered to someone else. Perhaps it’s best to make sure all of your obligations are met before trying to exceed any of them.

It Still Has a Place

Finally, I do believe that there is still a place for the extra mile. I like to go above and beyond for my friends when I know they aren’t expecting it, or when I’m particularly passionate about a project. However, when the “extra mile” becomes something we expect of ourselves all the time, it isn’t really an “extra” anymore. You’ve just made the journey longer.

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Time Management Book for Students

Time Management Book for Students

Ask Yourself These Three Questions Before Starting Something New

Time management for new tasksAre you waiting for the perfect time to start a new project? Enter a new chapter of your life? Start on a lofty goal? When we are nervous about an undertaking, we put off starting by waiting for the perfect intersection of time, money, and experience. Realistically, you’re lucky to have even one of those three, (and it’s unlikely to be the first two.) Instead, you have to acknowledge that timing will never be perfect and just jump in anyway. Ask yourself these three questions to see if you’re ready:

Is this something I want?

Sometimes when we find ourselves looking for excuses instead of opportunities it’s because we are more in love with the idea of accomplishing our goal rather than actually doing it. Are you willing to put in the work required? If not, better to admit that now.

Do I have people to help?

You may never have enough time money or experience, but luckily you can get those things with the help of other people. Do you have a support network? If not, seek one out ASAP.

Am I Ok with messing up?

When trying something new you’re unlikely to get it right the first time. In fact, you might fail pretty epically and need to start over. Learning from past mistakes and trying again is all part of the process, but it’s important to have realistic expectations up front. If your only definition of success is getting it right the first time, you’ll need to adjust your expectations before beginning.

There is no such thing as the “perfect time” for anything, and waiting around for a perfect opportunity is a guaranteed way to ensure you’ll be waiting forever.

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Have You Tried This Trick to Cut Out Distractions?

Time Management Protected TimeTell me if this sounds familiar: You have ONE thing that you’d really like to accomplish today. You sit down to do it…only to be interrupted by a phone call. Then you have to rush to a meeting, then you go on a few errands, end up filing the day’s mail…and before you know it, the day is over and your task is left unfinished!

Where did the time go? There is no perfect solution to stop daily distractions, but a trick I learned in my years teaching elementary school certainly can help. Let me explain…

Protected Time

In the school where I taught, reading was a huge priority. However, the hour-long reading block was frequently interrupted by assemblies, testing, the vaccine clinic, etc…so we instituted something called “Protected Time.”

Protected Time was an hour during which no events, tests, drills or other distractions were planned. It was so teachers knew they had that one untouched hour they could count on to focus on reading skills with their students. At first it was easy to see all the problems with this. (How will this affect the master schedule!? How can we be so inflexible!) But when you start looking for solutions instead of problems, it’s amazing how quickly things work out.

Of course reserving some protected time of your own would be much easier if everyone in your work life could agree to the same hour, but remember….solutions people, not problems

Planning Yours

How can you reserve yourself an hour of protected time to work on things that require focus? Can you close your door at work? Turn off your smart phone? Close your email? Let others know that you’re unavailable during that hour? How you protect your time will vary based on your situation, but I urge you to try it.

After all, we work hard to protect so many other things in our lives, isn’t your time worth protecting too?

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How I Wasted 10 Months Before This 5 Minute Solution

Time management face palmWe’re all brilliant and capable people, but is your desire to do things yourself actually wasting time? This week I finally realized that a trivial thing I was trying to fix myself was really only a 5-minute job when I had the proper resources. Go ahead and read the Schwartz Saga of the Vacuum and see if you can relate…

The Saga of the Vacuum

November 2012: Buy first Dyson vacuum. Rejoice at its amazing cleaning power and cheap Black Friday price.

January 2013: Vacuum stops working. Dan and Emily are sad. Go back to using old vacuum for the time being.

February 2013: Emily pokes at the vacuum trying to figure out what’s wrong with it. Has no success. Leaves it for Dan.

March 2013: Dan fiddles with vacuum. Does the same things Emily tried but with more sound effects and angry noises. Has no success.

April- October 2013: Place Dyson vacuum in increasingly awkward and in-the-way places in the house, hoping that one day we’ll be tired of tripping on it and figure out how to actually fix it.

November 2013: Emily Googles “How to fix the brushes on my Dyson vacuum.” Retrieves an awesome YouTube video that reveals the secret button to press and screw to turn that makes this problem go away in less than 5 minutes.

November 2013: Emily is revered as a repair goddess in her home by her husband and two adorable puppies (this last part may or may not be factual.)

And there you have it. I waited almost a year with a broken vacuum because I didn’t want to ask someone else how to fix my problem. What problems are you putting off because you’re too proud to ask for help? What processes are taking you twice as long because you haven’t sought out the right resources?

What can you do THIS WEEK to take care of a problem you’ve been putting off? Ask an expert, get a friend’s help, seek your colleague’s advice. Make this the week that you find a better way!

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Are Your Goals Gathering Dust in Your Closet?

Time Management ClosetDo you have “nice” clothes sitting in your closet that you never wear because you’re waiting for the right special occasion? (Men, if this is a foreign concept to you, it’s definitely a thing, and we women do it all the time.)

Perhaps you also have dreams and goals, both big and small, that you want to accomplish…some day. What are you waiting for? There is no perfect time, perfect occasion, or hand delivered invitation letting you know when the time is right. No, the perfect time is now.

My Fashion Fiasco

Last week, I dug through my closet for something “special” to wear out and found a dress wrapped in a garment bag. “Oh perfect!” I thought. “I’ve been saving this dress!” I had only worn it a small handful of times since I bought it 4 years ago as it seemed far too nice to wear for just any ol’ date night or dinner party. I proudly tried it on and looked in the mirror…

…and sighed a deflated sigh. It wasn’t in style anymore, nor did it fit right. When I bought it, I felt cutting edge and stunning because it fit like a glove and was definitely “on trend,” but now it looked tired. The time to wear this dress was 4 years ago, not now. I had missed my opportunity while waiting for “someday.”

What Are You Saving for Some Day?

What do you want to do that you’re putting off until someday? I can go buy another dress, but life opportunities don’t work like fashion. Once they are gone, they’re gone. If you’re waiting for someone to tell you the time is right, allow me to be that person. Make time in your schedule today for something you’ve been putting off.

(And go wear those nice shoes and the perfect pants. Tomorrow is not any more special than today.)

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Are You a Workaholic?

Time Management WorkaholicAre you a workaholic? Do you walk that fine line between loving your job and being obsessed with your job? A workaholic, in short, is someone who is addicted to work, not simply an ambitious person who works hard. Knowing the difference is important.

A hard worker is motivated and driven, but enjoys a healthy personal life as well. A workaholic places work above all other priorities and craves it even when trying to “relax.”   So how do hard workers avoid becoming workaholics? Try these 5 tips:

1. Find a Hobby

It’s easy to let yourself work all day and night when you have nothing better to do. Learn an instrument, write a book, refinish furniture, join a community sports team, or just find an author you love and make a reading list. Facebook and email are not hobbies.

2. Unplug

Just because we have the ability to be constantly connected doesn’t mean we should. Looking at your smartphone every 5 seconds not only destroys your ability to focus, but it makes your work take longer and allows work to encroach on your personal time. This week, I am taking the 24 hour smartphone challenge during which I will go a whole day without my little addicting pocket computer. Subscribe to The Time Diet to read about my experience next week!

3. Delegate

“If you want something done right you have to do it yourself.” That phrase is responsible for so much wasted time and stress. You are a not a super human and you don’t have to do everything yourself! Don’t be afraid to ask for help and make the time investment to set up that helper for success.

4. Learn to Say No

We hard-working types have a hard time saying no because we like helping people and we know we have the ability to do so. Just because you have the ability and the willingness doesn’t mean you have the time.

5. Make a Stop Time

In my time management trainings, I tell procrastinators to make a “Start Date” for each “Due Date” in their calendar. Workaholics don’t have a problem with starting. They have a problem with stopping! When you sit down to be productive, define your work parameters by setting a stop time when you will allow yourself to stop thinking about work.

Achieving that elusive work/life balance is tricky, especially for work hard working, motivated people, but it can be done!

Looking for a time management book that will help add balance to your day? Check out The Time Diet: Digestible Time Management on Amazon and Kindle!

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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

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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100 Practical Time Management Tips

This is The Time Diet’s 100th Post! Usually, I try to keep my time management blogs brief. However, this momentous occasion deserves a celebration! Presenting my list of 100 practical time management tips. Read them, skim them, or forward them to a friend. Even if you only pick five and apply them to your work day tomorrow, you’ll notice a gain in your productivity. Enjoy!

100 Time Management Tips

1. Set your own deadlines earlier than the “real” ones

2.  Close your email for an hour

3.  Get up earlier

4. Start a difficult task today

5.  Keep a list for daily tasks and consult it frequently

6. Lower your stress

7.  Write down your goals and post them prominently

8.  Keep a calendar

9. Set a start date for a dreaded task

10. Talk to a trusted friend or co-worker to gain another time management perspective

11. Schedule a Dessert into your day

12. Focus

13. Remove a Time Killer

14. Break up a larger task into smaller chunks

15.  Change your scenery by doing work in a different place

16.  Delegate something you’ve been holding on to unnecessarily

17.  Finish a small Vegetable task you’ve been putting off

18. Start something non-urgent to get ahead

19.  Time how long a dreaded task takes

20.  Talk to someone you admire

21.  Learn how to use new and efficient technology that will make work easier

22. Visualize completion to stay motivated

23. Ditch your excuses

24. “Unplug” for an hour and do your work away from your computer for a change

25. Spend time rather than “filling” it

26. If it takes less than 5 minutes, do it now

27. Stop worrying and start doing

28. Ask for help

29. Don’t confuse busy with productive

30. Use social media as a tool not a distraction

31. Define your home workspace

32. Ignore your cell phone once in a while

33. Match your most difficult task with the time of day your energy level is highest

34. Don’t reinvent the wheel, seek resources from others

35. Re-evaluate your tasks. Are your processes working? Or is there a faster way.

36.  Make time to say “thank you” frequently

37. Return that email you’ve been avoiding.

38. Don’t waste your time with things that don’t produce results

39. Don’t go into meetings assuming they will waste your time. Look for the benefits.

40. Give tasks your full effort. Anything less is a waste of your time

41. Anticipate your busy times and prepare for them

42. Keep a Slow Day List

43. Pick your most important Meat, Vegetable, and Dessert for the day and schedule those tasks first.

44. No task will ever be “perfect.” At some point, it just has to be done

45. If a time management application doesn’t work for you, ditch it.

46. Practice good Time Management Karma

47. If you have the money to pay someone else to do a task that will free up your time for more important things, do it.

48. Clear your workspace

49. Take care of small problems before they become big problems

50. Don’t strive to be the last car in the parking lot

51. Stay positive. Attitude truly is everything

52. Fun Desserts only count if you’re not thinking about work

53. Maintaining relationships takes time. Make the time. They are important.

54. Make sure “time-savers” actually save you time.

55. If an idea isn’t coming to you, stop and do something else.

56. If working from home is distracting, go somewhere else!

57. If you don’t want to be available 24/7, don’t answer email at 2am. You train people what to expect from you.

58.  Celebrate your accomplishments

59. Set a designated time for people to “interrupt” you. Then they’ll be less likely to do it while you’re working.

60. Working sloppily and working quickly aren’t the same thing

61. Be proactive, not reactive

62. Become skilled at ending phone calls politely and quickly

63. Measure your productivity in quality not quantity

64. When juggling multiple projects simultaneously, focus on one at a time.

65. Keep a cool head on a hectic day

66. Stop procrastinating

67. Actively search for inspiration

68. Schedule at least a little bit of physical activity every day

69. You may wear many different hats during the day (multiple jobs, family, mentor, etc.) Don’t try to wear two at the same time.

70. Do not say “yes” to obligations you can’t keep

71. Do not say “no” to potentially beneficial obligations just because you’re scared of them.

72. Focus on one thing rather than haphazardly moving from one task to the next

73. Start in the middle if you’re stuck at the beginning

74. Be flexible

75. Don’t avoid setting goals just because you’re afraid they’ll change

76. Never be caught with an idea and no means to write it down

77. Think of your day as being divided into 30-60 minute chunks. That’s less overwhelming than trying to schedule 24 hours at a time.

78. Tune out your inner-time waster

79. Guard your personal time fiercely

80. Make sure the time you put into a task is worth the benefit you get out of it

81. Read with a pen to stay engaged and maximize swift comprehension

82. Don’t work where you sleep

83. Use cell phone alarms for appointments if you are forgetful

84. If it takes longer to make your to-do list than accomplish something on it, you’re spending too much time organizing

85. Don’t be afraid of failure

86. Don’t just set a paper on your desk. Either act on it, file it, or pitch it.

87. Resist the temptation to carefully script out each minute of your day. That just invites unexpected emergencies.

88. Be well-versed in your priorities

89. Find time to volunteer

90. A calendar and a list are useless if you don’t keep them with you

91. Don’t allow yourself a week for a task that takes one day. (Work expands to fill the time available)

92.  Coffee is great, but it’s a temporary, not permanent, substitute for sleep

93. If a task becomes a waste of your time, stop, even if you’ve already sunk a few hours into it.

94. Smile while you work

95. Set a timer rather than watching the clock

96. You can’t afford to be “too busy” to stop reading and learning

97. Frequently ask yourself, “Is what I’m doing right this second moving me closer to a goal?”

98. Don’t begin a long task haphazardly without a plan

99. Spend your time in a manner consistent with your goals, not in a manner you think is consistent with other’s expectations.

100. Remember, you can do more than you think you’re capable of!

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Photo Credit: Stuart Miles

The Smallest Tasks Make a Big Difference

It’s easy to put off small tasks. Sometimes we put them off until “later.” Other times we put them off so long that we just convince ourselves they aren’t important and forget about them all together. However, sometimes it’s the smallest tasks that end up making the biggest difference.

Below is an excerpt from a story in my new book, Life in Cut Time: Time Management for Music Teachers. Even if you’ve never taught music, or taken a music class in your life, you can surely appreciate the value of making time to take care of tiny little tasks that end up making a big difference to others.

Available on

If it Takes Less Than 5 Minutes, Do it Now!

Brandon was the kind of student who made teachers cringe when they saw him on their rosters. This student had been a menace to the school since his early days of kindergarten.

I tried everything with this student. I met with his parents and his classroom teacher. I had behavior plans and incentive charts. Nothing worked and my time and energy were quickly draining. At the end of the first semester, after I started to receive complaints from other parents that Brandon was inhibiting their child’s ability to participate, I had to have a heart-to-heart with Brandon’s mom about dropping her son from band.

After a lengthy conversation, we agreed to give him one last chance. This was against my better judgment, but I just couldn’t say no to this parent who was obviously also at her wits’ end.

A few weeks into the new semester, Brandon actually had a semi-good day. He came into class without causing a disruption, got out his trumpet, played along the whole time, and even volunteered to answer a question. I was shocked! I praised him over and over for his improved behavior, but he seemed unfazed.

As I wrapped up my work at the end of the day, I wondered if the day’s experience had been a fluke. I considered calling Brandon’s mom to tell her about the positive change I witnessed, but when I saw the lengthy to-do list on my desk, I realized I didn’t have time for another half-hour talk with her. I left school without giving it another thought.

When I got home that night, after stepping away from the situation for a bit, I realized I was being ridiculous. I had all of my band parents’ emails in my address book. It would take less than a minute to drop Brandon’s mom a quick email telling her about his progress. I signed into my account from home and pecked out a few sentences.

Dear Sheila,

I wanted to let you know that I saw a complete 180-degree shift in Brandon’s behavior in band today. I knew there was a motivated student in there somewhere and he definitely let that side of him show today. Thank you for working with him. If this behavior continues, I am confident he will find great success with band in the future.

There. Done. Less than 100 words and 1 minute of my time.

When I got to school the next morning, I was greeted with a tearful voicemail from Brandon’s mom.

Mrs. Schwartz, you have no idea how much your email made an impact on my son and our family. I am so afraid to read letters from the school because they are always bad. I have never had a teacher take the time to tell me that my son actually did something good or would ever be successful in anything. When I shared your email with Brandon, he flashed a smile from ear to ear. Thank you. As a mother, that is the best thing I can ever hope for.

She also left the same message for my principal who promptly called me into her office and thanked me for making such a positive impact at the school.

That day marked the end of my problems with Brandon. From that point on, he was the model band student. I could not have been happier. Sure, he still had his moments of inattention or defiance, but nothing more than I would expect from any 10-year-old.

That short email – the one that took less than 1 minute of my time and I almost decided I was “too busy” to send – ended up providing one of the best teaching moments of the year.

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Photo Credit: Zirconicusso