Just Say…Yes?

time management say yesOver-committing is a huge time management problem. I find myself constantly telling perfectionist over-achievers to “just say no” when faced with the offer of a new responsibility. However, when I say this, a tiny part of me winces because I know that a lot of the cool things I’ve done in my life are a result of just saying YES. I think I’ve figured out how to balance these two answers…

Why We Over Commit

Just to be clear: over committing is a terrible thing. Sometimes we say Yes when we very much need to say NO instead. Here are a few examples:

  1. We don’t want to let the other person down

Sometimes we say yes because we really like the person asking for the favor and we don’t want to let them down. Here is the problem. If you say Yes to something you don’t have time for, you’re just going to end up letting this person down anyway, except it will be MUCH later, giving the person little time to develop a back up plan. Saying no doesn’t make you a bad person. It makes you human.

  1. When it’s not your job

There is a difference between being helpful and being taken advantage of. If a colleague at work asks you how to do something, absolutely be a good coworker and help them out! But if you find yourself consistently doing someone else’s job, direct that coworker/customer to the appropriate resource or person. You don’t want to let your own work slip while doing someone else’s.

  1. When you don’t know how

Sometimes we KNOW we should decline a request, but we don’t know how! We’re afraid we’ll sound rude so we say yes to just make it go away. You train people how to treat you and if you always say yes, that’s what people will come to expect. If you know you can’t handle the request, be clear, kind, and direct while declining.

What About Saying Yes?

Those are some situations it’s entirely acceptable to say no. Here is one when you should say YES.

…when you’re scared.

Sometimes we’re faced with an offer that we decline because we “don’t have time,” except that’s not the real reason. The real reason is we’re scared. We’re scared it will have been a waste of time. We’re scared we won’t know what we’re doing. You never know where those things are going to lead until you take a chance.

A few examples from my life

  1. I saw an email last year from my synagogue looking for cast members for their annual play. I initially dismissed it as an “I don’t have time” situation, but then I realized I was just nervous I wouldn’t know anybody so I signed up anyway. It was SO much fun! Sure, it was one evening a week, but the enjoyment I got out of the experience far outweighed the time commitment.
  1. During my PhD studies a professor asked if there were any volunteers to teach an online class on Garage Band. I had used the program before, but knew NOTHING about teaching online and was really scared that I would fail. Year later, it has been a wonderful experience, I’m learning SO much about teaching in an online space, and it’s led to many other cool opportunities.
  1. After one of my workshops a few years ago, an attendee came up to me and said, “Emily, I don’t really need help with time management, but I REALLY want to learn to speak like you. Do you do public speaking coaching?” My first thought was “um, absolutely not. I have no idea why I’m good at this let alone know how to teach you to be good at it!” But instead I said “Why, yes I do!” Now, three years later, I know exactly why I’m good at speaking and have gotten really good at coaching others to do the same. Thanks random workshop attendee!

And finally, one that didn’t pan out:

In my graduate studies, I saw an ad asking for people to have a regular column in the school newspaper. I was a little nervous about the time commitment, but it sounded like a cool opportunity, so I applied and got the job. Except…it didn’t turn out to be a cool opportunity at all. I kind of hated it. It didn’t lead to anything else and the newspaper ended up completely changing its format the next year anyway. Bummer. But really, what’s the worst that happened? I wasted a few hours of my life while improved my writing skills? Oh well.

 Take Away

Moral of the story: learn how to say No when you need to. Learn how to YES when you need to. Constantly evaluate your priorities and make sure you’re doing things that support them.

Like the blog? You’ll love the books! Check out these titles by Dr. Emily Schwartz

Time Management for College Survival

The Time Diet: Digestible Time Management

How to Speak so People Will Buy

 

Busy: The Worst 4 Letter Word

time management four letter wordBusy. There are many four letter words I don’t want my children to say, but “busy” ranks at the top of the list. We have a cultural obsession with the word busy, and it needs to stop. Busy just means you’re filling time. It conveys nothing about results, efficiency, or productivity. Here are a few ways we can start to shift our value system away from busy.

Reward results, not time

We say “smarter not harder” yet the last car to leave the parking lot belongs to the employee who is most “dedicated.” Instead of judging a coworker or employee based on how full their calendar is, judge them on the quality of work completed.

If I typed every email one handed, that would make my work take three times as long, and I’d probably need to stay at work much later than everyone else because I would be so “busy.” Does that mean I’m more dedicated? Or a better worker? Of course not.

That’s not to say every employee who stays late is just a slow worker. Many people are simply overworked and have too much to do with too few resources. Which leads to my next point:

Stop rewarding efficiency with more work

Have you ever found a more efficient way to complete a task, only to find out you’ve been given double the work next time around? Rewarding efficient work with more work isn’t much of an incentive to find faster ways to do things. Continuing to load up employees with work until they reach their breaking point is a recipe for burnout. What if employees who found more efficient strategies earned an extra vacation day instead?

Foster a culture of balance

Your coworker needs to leave half an hour early to pick up his child from daycare. Do you question his job commitment? What if it was to go to the gym instead? Do you question it now? Unfortunately, many employees don’t make time for family or health commitments because they fear they’ll be taken less seriously at work. Wouldn’t it be great if work/life balance was encouraged at work instead of feared?

Reading back through this blog, I realize there aren’t a lot of individual action steps to make this situation better. Maybe because busy is a cultural problem, rather than an individual problem. It takes many small individual steps to change a collective mindset, so maybe we can each be a small part of the solution.

Connect with the Time Diet or read more titles from Emily Schwartz:

What’s Your Order of Operations?

time management prioritiesDo you remember middle school math? Turns out your math teacher knew a thing or two about time management. I’m not talking about ways to pass the time while bored in the back row. I’m talking about the “order of operations.” It’s important for math, and it’s important for your productivity too. I’d like to share my morning order of operations with you.

Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally

In math, we learn that the order we do things matter. That’s why we learn the following order: Parenthesis, Exponents, Multiply/Divide, Add/Subtract. You probably learned “Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally” to remember this. (Math teachers, PLEASE tell me they still teach this. Or am I old now?) If you try to solve an equation by doing the addition before the multiplication, you’ll get a different answer than if you follow this order.

My Morning Routine

Trying to get out the door one morning this week, I realized the same principle applies to time management. It shouldn’t shock you that I’m a pretty efficient person, but with the addition of our second child, I’ve had to adjust a few routines (I had a second baby this month, did I mention that? Baby Zachary was born 3 weeks ago!)

After a little experimentation, this is my new “order of operations:”

  1. Pack lunches for all family members the night before
  2. Get myself completely ready before the kids wake up
  3. Get toddler up and dressed and eating breakfast while husband does the same for baby
  4. Drink coffee while toddler eats breakfast
  5. Play time with both kids including a few books and puzzles before school
  6. Load kids into the car for preschool drop off before continuing on to work. Eat my own breakfast on the way.

Creating Your Own Order

Sounds pretty good right? I’ve been practicing while I’m still on leave so it’s easier when I have to do this for real. Here are two things you can consider while creating your own order of operations:

Priorities

There are two parts to this routine that don’t have to be there, but I put there because they are important: coffee and playtime. I know I could easily throw my coffee in a travel mug and drink it on the way, but I feel like so much more of a complete and relaxed person if I can spend 5 minutes sitting down and drinking out of a real mug. Playtime isn’t technically essential either, but it is to me. It’s important to me to start my day off with quality time with both kids so I make it a priority in my schedule.

What are your priorities? Put those in your schedule first and work around them.

Efficiency

It would be so much easier to stumble downstairs in my pajamas and get ready last, but with a toddler, that’s not efficient. Let me break this down for you non-parents out there.

Time needed to get ready by myself: 15 minutes.

Time needed to get ready with a toddler standing next to me: 1.5 hours

Hence I get ready first before the kids get up. What tasks are more efficient for you to complete first?

You can apply an “order of operations” to any part of your daily life, not just mornings. Do you have a routine for when you sit down at your desk? When you go through emails? When you clean your house? Feel free to share!

Connect with The Time Diet for more time management tips

Finding the Balance Between Perfect and Practical

time management balanceWhile watching a Netflix documentary about algorithms last night (yeah, my evenings are that exciting) I couldn’t help but think how so much of what they described in terms of maximizing a computer’s efficiency also applies to maximizing our work day efficiency. If you’ve ever felt like you spend way too much time doing one particular task, read on.

Time Management Algorithms in Our Lives

The documentary defined “algorithm” as a procedure or set of rules a computer follows to complete a problem solving operation. (Example: you type “awesome time management blog” into Google, and Google performs an algorithm to take you to my site.) We have similar procedures we complete to solve problems in our day-to-day lives: how we complete projects, how we respond to emails, how we research a problem, etc.

The film went on to explain, however, that an algorithm’s success has two parts: the extent to which it is accurate and the extent to which it is fast. For example, Google could have the best search algorithm in the world, but if it took half an hour to find a web page for you, nobody would ever use it.

Good Enough

An example was the air traffic control process at London’s Heathrow airport. A complex algorithm is used at the airport to decide when each plane should pull back from the jet way, taxi to the runway, and take off to maximize efficiency. Here is the thing though: the mathematicians know the algorithm isn’t perfect but it works well enough and fast enough that they use it anyway.

The concept is called a heuristic algorithm, and it refers to a process that isn’t perfect, but is good enough because it’s fast and efficient.

What is Good Enough for YOU?

It got me thinking about whether I need to add any “heuristic algorithms” to my life. What am I spending way too much time on in the pursuit of perfection, when in reality, good enough would have sufficed if it was finished three days ago?

Perfect is great, but if it takes too long to get there, it isn’t practical. I recognize that this concept is particularly difficult for perfectionists, and some of us have perfectionist tendencies in one realm of our lives and not the other.

This week, I challenge you to find a healthy balance between perfection and practical. And if you have time, do check out “Algorithms: The Secret Rules of Modern Living” on Netflix.

Connect with The Time Diet for more time management tips

Are Late People Just Optimistic? Not So Sure

time management optimistI ran across an article this week that made me angry. It basically made the case that people who are chronically late do so because they are optimistic. The tone of the article spins tardiness into a positive quality which made my blood boil. The more I thought about it though, I realized this article also gave me insight into why I arrive early to many places, and it wasn’t the reason I was expecting.

Optimistic People

I’m usually pretty good at resisting articles with tempting headlines shared on Facebook, but I couldn’t resist this one: “Optimistic People All Have one Thing In Common: They’re Always Late.” The article makes the case that when people are late, it’s because they are optimistic that everything will go smoothly in their lives and they’ll be able to fit more activity into an allotted time than they really can.

My punctual side immediately screamed, “That’s not true! On time people are optimistic too! We’re just optimistic while also respecting other people’s time!” Then I thought more about this. When I’m deciding what time to leave my house for a meeting across town, I first check Google Maps for the estimated time, but then think, “What if I get stuck behind an accident?” “What if I can’t find parking?” “What if a street fair has closed a street?” “What if a dog runs out into the middle of traffic and I hit it and have to make sure I have enough time to help get it to a veterinarian?” (That last one is not a made up scenario for dramatic effect. These are actual thoughts that run through my head. Welcome to my life.)

In other words, I assume something will go wrong on my drive across town. One might say that’s being realistic. Another might say it’s being negative. I don’t think anyone would say it’s being optimistic.

Negative or Realistic?

So what is a “worst case scenario” person to do? Do we take a lesson from our tardy friends and go through life with an “everything will be great” type of attitude? I don’t think that’s necessarily the solution, but I personally am going to attempt to re-frame my negative thoughts in a positive light.

Instead of dwelling on all the things that could make me late, I will try to focus on the importance of respecting other people’s time, and using the extra minutes to fire off a few emails or read a few pages in a book should I arrive somewhere early. Does that make a huge difference? Maybe not, but I refuse to believe that being “realistic” requires negative thinking.

Connect with The Time Diet for more time management tips

How My Apple Watch Has Helped Me Manage My Time

time management apple watchMy husband is pretty wonderful. He got me the Apple Watch I wanted a few months ago for Christmas. When it was on my wish list, I didn’t think of it as a time management tool, but turns out it has helped me with my focus and productivity in a big way.

My Reasons

When I first laid eyes on the Apple Watch, I wanted it for 2 reasons:

  1. My phone is a little big to carry in my pocket all the time and I often don’t hear it in my purse
  2. My toddler daughter tries to steal my phone any time it’s out.

…ok, ok. Three reasons. It’s the cool thing, and I’m a sucker for the appeal of Apple, and if you try to tell me there is a smarter non-Apple smart watch out there I will politely nod and smile, and go back to my MacBook Air, iPhone 6, Apple TV ways.

But I digress.

A Productivity Solution

After using the Apple Watch for a few months, I discovered an interesting productivity side benefit. I’m used to keeping my phone out when I work. I’m on the go so much, that my cell is my primary mode of communication so I never want to miss a call.

When my phone is out, however, I’m all too tempted to go on Facebook, or check the weather, or scroll through the latest news stories, or do any of the other 10,000 things we do on phones now that aren’t texting or phone calls.

Now that I have the watch, I keep my phone out of sight and I’m far less distracted! I know that if I get a call, my wrist will buzz and I won’t miss anything. I disabled the email alerts so the only thing that comes through are texts and phone calls.

Your Turn

Don’t have the couple hundred bucks for a tiny phone you wear on your wrist? No big deal. You can do the same thing and put your phone out of reach while you’re working, but I probably never would have taken that self-discipline leap, or realized how helpful it could be, without the watch pushing me there.

So what about you? Do you feel the need to stay in communication but can’t stand distracting allure of your smartphone? How do you balance the two?

Have you checked out the newest book from Dr. Emily Schwartz?

Time Management Workbook for Students– a teaching or parenting tool for high school and college. Get it on Amazon.com today!

Time Management Student Workbook

Connect with The Time Diet for more time management tips

Procrastination or Good Excuse?

time management starsAre you waiting for all the stars to align in order to start a dreaded task? Sometimes we procrastinate on a task without realizing it. We say we have good reasons for not starting our work, but if we dig deeper, we notice those “reasons” are really excuses. Learn how to tell the difference.

What Are You Waiting For?

Picture this, you’re staring down at your to-do list, and see a task that’s been sitting there for a while. You “want” to start it, but insist that you should wait until you’re less tired…or you’ve heard back from 3 more people, or it’s not raining, or not Monday, or not Friday, etc… Does this sound familiar?

We have to realize there will NEVER be the perfect set of circumstances to be productive. There will always be a distraction, or one more piece of information you could have had, or bit of research you could have gathered, but at some point you have to admit you have enough to start and just…start.

Questions to Ask

Instead of asking “Do I WANT to start this task today” ask yourself “CAN I start this task today.”

Notice the question isn’t “Do I have time to FINISH this today?” Sometimes we put off large tasks forever because we don’t think we’ll be able to finish it in a day. Break these tasks into smaller pieces so you can tackle 1-2 hour chunks at a time.

If you look for excuses, you’ll find them. If you look for reasons to be productive, you’ll find those too.

Connect with The Time Diet for more time management tips

Photo Credit: Freedigitalphotos.net

4 Time Management Strategies for Finding a New Job

time management job searchWe’re not even two weeks into the new year, so you’re probably still going strong on those new year’s resolutions. Did you resolve to find a new job? If so, you might be a little overwhelmed with the magnitude of that decision. Don’t despair. This year might be just the time to move your career to the next level, so don’t waste another second. Follow these four steps to streamline your career searching process.

1. Follow up

Before you start cold calling companies, maximize your network to see who you may already know that’s connected to a potential employment opportunity. Reach out to past colleagues, classmates, even past professors, to see if they can help connect you to a potential job. Most people are eager to help their friends and would welcome the chance to pass along an opportunity. Becoming active on LinkedIn is another way to quickly see which companies your friends and acquaintances represent.

2. Save all cover letters

For most jobs, you’ll likely need a unique cover letter that addresses specific qualifications of each job description, but that doesn’t mean you need to start from scratch each time. Scan past cover letters to see if you can re-use portions, or even adjust a few sentences to make the letter fit each opportunity.

3. Don’t get lost in the listings

With the popularity of online job postings, it’s easy to get “lost in the listings” and spend hours upon hours browsing for possible opportunities before preparing application materials. The quickest way to get serious about your job search is to start applying. Each time you tweak your resume or write a new cover letter, the processes gets easier.

4. Assess if you need a new job

Before you pour hours and days into a new job search, make sure you really want one. Perhaps what you really need is a new project at your current job, or to distance yourself from a specific colleague. Minor frustrations become big problems when left unaddressed, so make sure to look for solutions in your current situation before deciding to take the leap.

Finally, remember that finding a new job is daunting, but exciting! Savor the feeling of starting a new chapter in your career and best of luck.

Connect with The Time Diet for more time management tips.

The Time Management Rule That Almost Killed My New Book

Time Management Student WorkbookI’m starting off 2016 with some really exciting news! I officially have a new book out starting NOW. “Time Management Workbook for Students” is a little different than my previous publications. This work consists of 30 exercises for high school and college students to not only TEACH time management but help them APPLY it to their lives. It’s basically a teacher/professor/parent’s dream come true. If you’re a teacher or parent of a high school or college student, you’ll definitely want to check this out as supplemental course textbook, or summer homework assignment.

Now for the bad news…this book has been 90% finished for about 6 months. #TimeManagementFail. Here is what happened and what we can all learn from the process.

The Last 10%

I’ve found, that as a general rule, the first 10% and the last 10% of any project are the hardest to complete. The first 10% is difficult because you’re just starting out, you haven’t found your groove yet. That’s understandable. It’s that last 10% that is frustrating. You’re almost done, but for some reason you stop. Some call it laziness, some call it fear of completion, I like to think of it as a nasty trick our brains play on us.

Teachers who use my “Time Management for College Survival” book as a text in their classroom kept telling me they wanted another book that was easier to assign as homework. I worked for months on a workbook that contains 30 worksheets designed to help students with their organization, focus, and motivation. I used feedback from teacher friends and students I’ve met on the road, and was really pleased with the result…except I didn’t finish it.

What Happened

In my brain, I was done with the project. I mentally checked it off the list, but it wasn’t quite finished. Then, the more time that passed, the more I lost track of it. By the time I went to finish it, I wasn’t in the “groove” of that project anymore. I forgot where I left off, forgot my train of thought, and forgot where I was going with the ending.

I finally had to devote a whole weekend to finishing it off. An easy Vegetable task had become a difficult Meat. Here is what I did wrong:

My Missing Steps

I left out steps in my to-do list. I knew I needed to research, outline, edit, etc…but I forgot about the extra “stuff” that goes into a book: coordinating with the graphic designer, assigning an ISBN, formatting, things like that. I didn’t add those tasks to my to-do list and forgot about them until I had mentally checked out.

For your big projects, don’t forget to add those last finishing details to your list of needed tasks, so you don’t end up like me with an awesome project that’s almost done for half a year.

BTW- if you’re a teacher looking for a time management text for your class, I can do bulk Purchase Orders for your school bookstore if you email Emily@TheTimeDiet.org. Thanks!

My Weekend Trick To Finishing House Chores

time management house choresSome days I feel like I work about 6 bazillion jobs (only a slight exaggeration.) I have enough people crowding my inbox and my time during the day, that house chores usually take a back seat until the weekend (reality: until forever.) This weekend though, I tried something different and was really proud of the results.

My problem with house chores is I always build them up to be much bigger than they are. This weekend, I woke up and set a timer for 1 hour. I decided I was going to clean as much of the kitchen as I could in an hour, and then I was done. An hour isn’t too bad, I figured. It’s one TV show, one Southwest flight to LA, one round trip to work.

How I Spent My Hour

I quickly scrubbed whatever I could, had some time left over, so I even dried and put away the dishes. When the timer went off, I looked around and couldn’t believe how much I had accomplished. Normally, this work would have taken the whole morning because I would allow myself to be distracted, but something about the tick-tock of the timer forced me to just buckle down and do it.

What Do You Put Off?

What thing do you put off? What task always ends up last on your list? Using a timer is far from a novel or unique idea, but it’s a trick I always forget to use and am always pleased with the results.

Lest you think this only works for chores, I used the timer trick writing this blog. I gave myself 10 minutes to write my initial draft. It forced me to get sentences down on my laptop and edit them later rather than allowing my mind to drift while I searched for the perfect words. Try using a timer this week, either for work or home, and let me know what you think!

Connect with The Time Diet for more time management tips