The Time Diet is based on the idea that you are the one in control of your time. The problem is that sometimes it doesn’t feel like that! Have you ever been in the middle of something and been interrupted when a friend, colleague or family member asks, “Hey, do you have a second?” Before you even have a chance to answer they will launch into whatever it is they need from you and now your focus is interrupted. Also, I guarantee that it will take longer than a “second.”
It’s not that these interruptions are trivial. They are often questions or problems that someone would like you to weigh-in on. The Time Diet recognizes that the needs of others are important and that it’s unfair to put off a task that directly impacts the productivity of someone else. However, it’s important that fulfilling the needs of others does not constantly interrupt your own work. The next time someone asks you if you “have a second” when you’re in the middle something, just say no! After you politely but firmly explain that you are in the middle of a task, set up a time to talk to this person later. This could be as simple as asking them to email you their question, or telling them that you’ll call them after dinner. It is important to say when you’ll give this person attention. Just telling them to “wait until later” sends the message that their needs are unimportant.
By the same token, don’t catch yourself being the person that’s interrupting! It’s important to respect other people’s time just like you want your time to be respected. If your question is not urgent and you know the person you need is working, leave them a note or quick message instead. Your friends and colleagues will thank you for it!
Part of a successful Time Diet is remaining in control of your schedule and your attitude toward time management. A good way to do this is to anticipate when your hectic and difficult times are going to be and plan ahead for them. For example, I know that every year toward the middle of October, I start to worry about how I’m going to get everything done before the semester ends in December. The reality of all these impending deadlines starts to set in and I start to go into panic mode. Luckily, I know this is going to happen so I can plan ahead to deal with it.
The second half of a semester is usually more stressful than the first, so I try to get as much done ahead of time in the beginning of the semester as possible. I may have a lot of things to do in December, but at least I’ve started them! I also know that by the time mid-October comes around I am desperate for a get-away, so my husband and I planned a 3-day trip to San Francisco. There was so much work I could have been doing during those 3 days, but this trip was a much-needed “dessert” and it was well worth it.
When do your hectic times occur during the year? Is there anything you can do now that will help ease the stress and workload of those times? If nothing else, you can at least look back on all the hectic times you’ve survived in the past and move forward with the knowledge that you’ve gotten through it before and you’ll get through it again. As for me, I know I’ve gotten through other stressful Octobers before and by the time December gets here I’ll have everything done that needs to be done. Besides, if I’m not working, I want to be relaxing, not worrying about what deadlines are coming up!
I have been putting off filling out my report cards. As a teacher, I have to give my students grades every quarter and the first quarter of school ends this Friday. Filling out their report cards is not really difficult, since I know what grade each student is receiving already, it is just a tedious process to actually fill out cards for all 165 students that I teach. I knew I didn’t want to save these for the last minute, so I set aside my whole Saturday afternoon to get them all done. After all, compared to teaching, this is just mindless paperwork, how hard can it be?
Well, I got through about an hour of report cards on Saturday before my eyes started to glaze over at my computer. This was so boring! I could barely concentrate on what I was doing anymore, and I was started to get sleepy at 2pm! I realized it was unrealistic of me to think I’d get these done in one sitting, and that I’d have to spread out the work over the next few days. I put the report cards away, and instead starting working on my reading for next week’s grad school classes.
In The Time Diet, everything you do every day is divided into three basic “food groups.” Your “Meats” are your important and often difficult, thinking-intensive tasks, your “Vegetables” are also important, but usually require far less thinking, and your “Desserts” are your fun things. The key in The Time Diet is choosing tasks from each food group every day so your diet is balanced. It is easy to see why too many days of only Meat tasks and too many days of only Dessert tasks would be undesirable. Meat tasks take a lot of our thinking and can be overwhelming if you try to do nothing but Meats for too long. Dessert tasks are a lot of fun, but if you only do fun things all day long, you’ll never get anything done.
Vegetable tasks need to be treated the same as Meat and Dessert tasks. It may seem like doing nothing but Vegetables all day long is the perfect solution. You’re still being productive, but you’re not overwhelmed with hard work. On the contrary, a day of all Vegetables is worse than a day of all Meats or a day of all Desserts. If you do only Vegetables all day, you’ll quickly feel bored, frustrated, and lose interest in your work completely. Vegetables need to be spread out over time, just like Meats and Desserts. Sure, I could have plowed through all those report cards on Saturday afternoon, but it would have taken more and more energy to focus as time went on and I would have ended up being very frustrated. Your parents were right: you do need to eat your vegetables, you just don’t need to eat them all at once.