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

How To Turn “Meaning To” Into “Done”

Time Management Reminder“I’ve been meaning to get to that!”

Have you uttered that phrase recently? When we say this, it’s usually our way of saying, “Hey, look, I know that what you’re asking of me is important, and it’s been on my mind frequently, I just haven’t made it a priority yet.” The next time a task you’ve been meaning to do is on your mind, ask yourself the following three questions to turn meaning to into done.

1. Can I do it now?

When an important task is on your mind, it’s easy to say, “I’ll do it later” but what is stopping you from doing it right now? Is there a reason you can’t pick up the phone right now and make that call? Or type up that document? Or send that email? You might not feel like doing it now, but will you feel any more like doing it 24 hours from now? Instead of thinking about how long it will take, or how much you wish you didn’t have to do it, focus on how good it will feel to not have this task tugging at your mind anymore.

2. If not now, when?

Sometimes, we think of important tasks when we’re in the middle of something else and it would be distracting and counterproductive to drop what we’re doing and switch gears. In this case, instead of saying “later,” pull out your calendar and commit to “when.” Even if it’s a tiny task that doesn’t seem like it deserves it’s own place in your agenda, add it anyway. It’s much harder to put something off when you’ve validated its importance with a spot in your calendar.

3. If not when, ever?

If you’re still having trouble making this task a priority, is it really necessary? Remember, we make time for the things that are important to us. If you can’t make time, perhaps it’s because what you thought was important is really just something you wish was important or should be important. Either acknowledge it as something you value and start making the time, or accept that it’s something you can live without, and let it go.

Last week, I joined Toastmasters. I’ve been meaning to do it for the past year or so and just haven’t. I finally decided it was important, so I found a club, put it on my calendar, went to the meeting, and loved it. What have you been “meaning to do” this month? What are you waiting for?

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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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What Marathon Are You Running Today?

Time Management MarathonWhen was the last time someone gave you a medal for a job well done? We don’t always get a chance to celebrate the results of our hard work, but when we do, it is certainly a feeling to relish. Just because we don’t always get a trophy, or a certificate, or even a pat on the back in recognition of our work, that doesn’t mean we can’t celebrate our successes on our own and reward the time we’ve put in to make it happen.

Today, I had the distinct pleasure of watching some of my friends run the PF Chang’s Half Marathon in Phoenix. I am not a runner, but I do bring a high level of sideline enthusiasm. As I watched them run past mile marker 11, closing in on the finish-line, I thought back to all of the time they had put into training – all of the early morning runs, the hours spent at the gym, and the afternoons spent resting their sore legs on the coach. I imagined how accomplished they felt as they neared closer and closer to finally crossing that finish line that had lingered in front of them through months of training.

I thought about how we’re all running our own marathons in our lives. We’re all working hard each day toward something. We’re all making sacrifices with our time, planning out our work schedule, and wondering how long it’ll be until we reach our goals. But, unlike a marathon, sometimes those goals and the paths to get there are vague and undefined.

Define Your Finish Line

The finish line of a race is very clearly marked, but what about other successes in our lives? How do we know that we’ve ever “made it” and that our hard work has paid off? Nebulous goals like “success” need tangible check points so we can both keep track of our progress and also give ourselves a pat on the back for a job well done. If you never take your nose away from the grindstone long enough to celebrate your successes, you may find yourself burned out long before you get where you thought it was you wanted to go.

Develop a Training Plan

If you want to run a marathon, there is no shortage of training plans available to help you prepare for a race of that magnitude. However, sometimes your path might be less trodden and more difficult to figure out. That doesn’t mean you can move forward without a plan. A novice runner seeks advice from an expert before developing a training schedule, and you similarly will save yourself time and energy by seeking advice from someone who has experience in whatever it is you want to do.

Bring Your Cheerleaders

When I asked where I should stand as a spectator at the half marathon, I was told to stake out a spot somewhere during the last two miles, because that’s when the runners need it most. Sure enough, when I asked my friend about the race, she told me that she had wanted to start walking, but knew I was going to be standing at the next mile marker and wanted to be running when she passed me. Our friends keep us going when we want to quit. Their encouragement motivates us and keeps us smiling. However, we can’t forget to ask for the support. I am not a marathon runner. I don’t really see it as a spectator sport and would never have thought to come stand on the sidelines, but my friends asked me to and I was more than eager to help out.

Whatever marathon you are training for in life right now, set yourself up for success with the right tools and cross the finish line with a smile.

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Photo Credit: Free Digital

No, You Won’t Just Remember

The Time Diet Writing“I don’t have to write it down, I’ll just remember it.”  We’ve all heard someone repeat this famous line as an excuse for not keeping a calendar or written list of tasks. Sometimes, we need a reminder that no matter how good our memory is, we can always use a little help remembering it all. I definitely got that reminder this week. Check out my story, and the three excuses we tell ourselves to avoid putting pen to paper.

My Mistake

On Saturday, my husband and I hosted our annual holiday party. We had everything in place – appetizers, dinner, dessert – except one thing: a list to keep track of it all. We host a party every year and I never write down a menu, so I didn’t think it was important.

After the last guest went home, and I went up stairs feeling satisfied with our gathering, it hit me. I went to the fridge to be sure, and my suspicion was confirmed. We forgot to put out one of the side dishes. The vegetable salad with the tri-colored peppers my husband had meticulously chopped into tiny pieces sat untouched in its Tupperware.

The anger I felt was perhaps unjustified given the situation, but this was not about the salad. In my Time Diet workshops, I reinforce the importance of writing things down, and here I had not taken my own advice. A simple written menu would have ensured we remembered to put out all the food in the hustle-bustle of hosting a party. I’m reminded of the three reasons to write things down:

1) You always forget just when you “know” you’ll remember

I keep a detailed calendar and pride myself on staying on top of my deadlines. This party was not something I was worried about. It’s six different food items, how hard could it possibly be? I “knew” I’d remember everything, but that is exactly when things started to slip my mind. In the heat of the moment, even the simplest things become easy to forget. It’s important to take a few seconds to write down your tasks so you’re sure you meet your deadlines.

2) Just because it’s worked in the past, doesn’t mean it’ll work forever

Each time you don’t write down a deadline, but manage to remember it anyway, you train yourself that it’s OK. You build a false confidence that you don’t need to write anything down because your memory is excellent. Inevitably, you reach a point where you don’t remember it anymore, and now you haven’t trained yourself to be organized. I had myself convinced that I could throw a party for 50 of our friends without writing anything down. That was silly.

3) Writing things down doesn’t take a ton of time

We have all seen those people who make immaculate to-do lists that look like works of art. We’re convinced that it took longer to make the list than accomplish anything on it and we tell ourselves that list-making is a waste of time and it’s better to just start doing than to waste time organizing. If you set out to waste time making a list, you certainly can, but it doesn’t need to be like that. Organization only takes a few seconds. It doesn’t need to be fancy or elaborate. It just has to be consistent.

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Shifting Gears from Plan to Do

Careful planners are often good time managers. They look before they leap, they aim before they fire, and they research before they implement. However, good ideas can easily stall out in the planning phase if we don’t eventually change gears into implementation. Knowing when to stop planning and start implementing is a key component of efficient time management. Don’t let these three factors hold you back.

3 Things That Slow Down Implementation

1. Fear of the Unknown

When we are trying something new, our lack of knowledge on the subject can be paralyzing. We may know so little about a new process or project, that we might not even know what we don’t know. In other words, finding out what questions to ask might be even more difficult than finding the answers to those questions. In this case, it’s important to set a goal for your background research so you don’t lose hours of productivity in unrelated Google searches. Set a goal of finding 5 essential questions you need answered in order to begin your task. Then, once you find the answers to those questions, move to implementation. When we know nothing it’s tempting to try to learn everything before beginning something new. However, much of the new knowledge you’ll acquire comes from the implementation process itself.

2. Fear of Failure

Sometimes when we get stuck in the planning phase, it’s because we are afraid of failing. The planning stage is safe. We feel productive without actually implementing anything. The “doing” is much scarier. I could sit here and recite oft-quoted, cliché advice about “failing forward” or how “the toughest journeys begin with one step” or how many times Thomas Edison failed before inventing the light bulb…but you’ve heard that all before. For me, I try to just embrace the fear rather than avoid it. Convert the fear to adrenaline. I’ve never parachuted out of an airplane before, but I would imagine that if people are afraid of jumping when they get into the plane, they are probably still afraid when they are about to take that first, big looooong step out of it. Do you trust your training, instructors and parachute and jump anyway? Or let the fear hold you back. (Parachutes…overcoming fear…oh goodness. I’m starting to sound like a motivational speaker)

3. Lack of Confidence

The final thing that leaves us stuck in the planning stages is our own lack confidence in our ability to complete the task. This is where I’m supposed to tell you that you can do anything if you just believe in yourself. Here is the thing: if you’ve done all your research, planned as much as you can and embraced the fear of starting something new, you now have three options:

1. Implement

2. Delegate

3. Abandon

Nobody really likes to talk about number 3 because it sounds like giving up. However, if after researching a new project, you come to the conclusion that your skill set is better suited for a different kind of task…then find that new task! Not all ideas are good ones and not all people will be successful at all things. The more time you waste on a project you’re never going to finish, the less time you can devote to pursing a task that is much more suited to your goals, abilities, and desires.

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Photo Credit: Flickr