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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The Big Picture Plan

A huge part of having good time management skills is getting things done in an efficient manner, however, it’s easy to get caught up in day-to-day planning and lose sight of your overarching goals. Having a big picture plan can help refine your focus and give you the peace of mind that you are on track.

This week I started to get antsy. I’m juggling multiple projects right now and I was starting to feel increasingly worried that I didn’t have a handle on how everything was going to be finished. I was being productive each day, but my days felt disjointed and haphazard. (Sound familiar?)

I knew I needed a clear, big picture plan. I sat down with a calendar and mapped out which projects I was going to be focused on each week. I sketched out my plan all the way through August. Now, I must say, I feel far less anxious about my workload.

Rules for a Big Picture Plan

1) Use a New Sheet of Paper

Your big picture plan can’t be on the same calendar you use to keep track of normal deadlines. That is far too cluttered.

2) Don’t Write Down Every Single Obligation

The purpose of the big picture plan is to show you broad projects to focus on. This is not the place to script out exactly which hours you’ll devote to which project.

3) Try to Pick 1-2 Focus Tasks

No doubt you will still need to juggle multiple tasks at once, but choosing one or two tasks that will be your priority during a set time period really helps to rein in your focus. This doesn’t mean you can’t work on other things. It just means you’ll know what your priorities are.

Here is an example of the tasks I put in my big picture plan for May.

May 1st-5th: Prep Time Diet Workshop

May 6th-14th: School concerts

May 15th– 25th: Record online class videos

May 26th-31st: Work on summer class

What tasks will you add to your big picture plan?

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Photo Credit: Chanpipat

We Are All In This Together

We have a tendency of getting so wrapped up in our time management troubles that we sometimes forget that many of these troubles are not unique to our lives.

I find it fascinating that there is a set of shared experiences that so many of us go through on a daily, weekly or yearly basis.  When we get entrenched in the stress of our lives, it’s important to step back and realize, “Many others have gotten through this and so will I.”

This weekend I attended a baby shower for my one of my good friends. At one point in the afternoon, I found myself stepping back and surveying the scene in the living room. Here was a group of moms and dads, both new and “experienced,” commiserating on their shared set of experiences of being a parent. The new grandmas were giving the new moms advice on getting through the first few months of 2am feedings and making time for themselves.

There was a definite feeling of “we all got through and so will you because it’s worth it.”

I realized how important it is to seek out these sorts of experiences in our lives lest we feel like we are struggling with our time and stress management problems all by ourselves.

Talking with other doctoral students is always refreshing because it reminds me that we are all struggling with making time for the same sorts of things. Looking at my Facebook newsfeed today reminds me that no matter how much we all say we’ll get our taxes done early, there will still be a significant contingent of people all scrambling this week to finish up.

The next time you catch yourself worrying about how in the world you’ll find time for X,Y or Z, take comfort in the fact that you aren’t anywhere near the first person to have that dilemma. Reach out and find those people. They might not make the work happen faster, but they will give you the motivation of knowing it’s possible.

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Photo Credit: Savit Keawtavee

Hurry Up And Slow Down

When speaking of time management, people are always looking for ways to get things done faster. While it may seem counterintuitive, sometimes the best way to do things faster is to slow down.

I’m not talking about the metaphorical, “take time to smell the roses” kind of slow down. I mean to physically stop moving so fast.

 The Daily Rush

The other day, as I was bounding out of my car to get to my evening class, (coffee, laptop and books in tow,) I stopped myself.  Why in the world was I racing as though trying to catch a train? I wasn’t late, and the classroom wasn’t going anywhere without me.

I realized that I do this a lot. I go quickly up the stairs to my office, I switch lanes frequently in traffic trying to find the fastest one, and I get frustrated trying to navigate past “slow moving” people while running errands. I know I’m not the only one who lives my day in one giant rush.

We can tell ourselves that this haste is necessary to save time, but really, it’s not. The 5 seconds that you save by rushing to get somewhere are canceled out by the extra feeling of stress that rushing causes. There are three negative side effects of the stress of rushing:

1)      Sloppiness

2)      Forgetfulness

3)      Un-focused work

Move Purposefully

Instead of rushing around, slow down and embrace the calm notion that you’ll still get everything done today without the need to hurry from place to place. Don’t think of it as moving slowly. Think of it as moving purposefully. You have goals for your day and you’re not going to dawdle, but your daily life shouldn’t be akin to the 50-yard dash.

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Photo Credit: Michelle Meiklejohn

Time Savers That Aren’t

Don’t be  “April Fooled” into thinking things are time savers when they really aren’t. If we’re not careful, these things can be extremely detrimental to our time management.

On my way home this week, traffic had slowed to a crawl on a busy road that was being resurfaced. I could see the construction zone up ahead, and knew that if I could just be patient, I would be past it soon enough. However, after a few minutes, I started to get antsy.

Just sitting in the car and hardly moving seemed like an awful waste of time, so I decided  to try to find a faster way home. This involved navigating across four lanes of stopped traffic, turning onto a new street, detouring far out of my way, and getting a little bit lost. As I was turning around in the third dead-end residential street I had come across, I caught myself thinking, “Ug, well at least I’m moving and not wasting my time on that same street any more!”

Not a Time Saver

I had fallen into a time management trap. It seemed like detouring around the construction zone was going to save me time, but in reality, I probably would have been better off staying on the original street.

This got me thinking: What other things do we do in our lives that seem like they should save us time, but don’t?

For example, when you multitask, is your work taking twice as long instead of going twice as fast?

Are you sending an email when a phone call would be far more efficient?

Is setting up your calendar taking longer than actually doing anything in your calendar?

This week, I am going to take a long, hard look at what I’m doing and make sure my “time savers” aren’t actually “time spenders.” I encourage you to do the same! Let me know what you find out.

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Photo Credit: Digitalart