How To Stop 5-Minute Tasks from Taking Over Your Life

Time Management 5 Minute RuleThe “5 Minute Rule” is one of my favorite pieces of time management advice to keep your to-do list trim. “If it takes less than 5 minutes, just do it now!” However, how do you ensure that your day doesn’t become an endless barrage of short 5-minute tasks and you never get any “real” work done? It’s a valid concern. Check out these three tips to let The 5 Minute rule help your time management.

1. Set aside “focus blocks”

In The Time Diet, everything you do is either a Meat, Vegetable, or Dessert. If you’re focused intently on a Meat when a 5-minute task comes across your desk, try keeping it on your desk until you finish your train of thought. Then, before you reward yourself with a break, tackle the 5-minute task. Sometimes these tiny little Vegetables can be a great way to break from our Meats while still remaining productive.

2. Monitor your procrastination

Sometimes people search for tiny 5-minute tasks to do when they are really procrastinating on something else. (For example, a light bulb has a greater chance of being changed in my house if I’m trying to avoid writing my dissertation…) Be honest with yourself when assessing these tiny tasks. Are you doing them because they are important? Or are you just trying to avoid doing something else.

3. Make a process for your interruptions

If you’re continually interrupted with the same short little task, how can you create a procedure to handle these interruptions? Can you send calls straight to voice mail when you’re working? Can you create a signature file outside your office door to sort through at the end of the day? Can you post a list of “Frequently Asked Questions” on your door or in an email? Use your creativity.

Taking care of little tasks quickly is important, but so is keeping your focus. With some discipline and planning, you can keep your to-do list trim, while still maintaining your concentration.

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Photo credit: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The Busy Addiction and What I Plan To Do About It

Time Management BusyYou know how sometimes you read something and feel the author is speaking directly to you? That’s how I felt this week when I read a blog post called “Busy Isn’t Respectable Anymore.”

In it, the author explains that we glorify the word “busy” as something to be proud of, and it needs to stop. This particular quote stuck with me: “Busyness was just another addiction I clung to so I could avoid things that made me uncomfortable.”

The Addiction

Being busy is an addiction? Oh my goodness, he’s right! And just like any other addiction, it doesn’t happen over night. We become addicted to “busy” as we slowly convince ourselves that it’s our only option. We’re stressed and become focused on constantly doing something instead of purposefully being productive. We get caught up in quantity at the sake of quality and let go of the idea that it’s ever OK to be caught doing…nothing.

The Challenge

Well, I for one am going to accept his challenge of not answering the question: “How are you?” with the answer: “Busy.” I am not going to let that word define me, and I hope you won’t either. We all have a lot of things going on in our lives, but why should we let the sheer volume of things be the focus? Instead, I’m going to focus on being productive. I’m going to focus on enjoyment. I’m going to focus on the slow instead of the fast.

It’s The Time Diet equivalent of remembering to savor the bites you take instead of mindlessly shoveling food into your mouth. So readers, I hope you will take time this week and in the coming year to move beyond the “busy” in your schedule and reconnect with what really matters in your life. It’s a challenge I plan to undertake with you!

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3 Reasons To Be Nice (When You Don’t Have Time For It)

Time management smile“Hurry” has become a mainstay of our vocabulary, especially at this time of year! Seems like everyone is in a rush to get somewhere, or do something. Before you get caught up in the sense of urgency, don’t forget that there is always time to be nice (and if there’s not, then you’re moving too fast!) Here is what reminded me of that today:

Today, while out holiday shopping, I saw a mom with two young (tired) kids  in front of me at the food court. The cashier messed up her order several times, and then they ended up being out of the soup she wanted. At this point, I was frustrated for her. When the food finally came out, I was expecting a tirade, but instead, she smiled and said, “Thanks so much! Good luck handling all these crazy crowds today!”

If this exhausted, clearly time-crunched lady made time to smile and say thanks, I had no excuse to be grumpy! When you catch yourself being irritable while crunched for time, remember these three things:

1. Everyone else is busy too

Everyone has somewhere to be and things to do. You aren’t the only one affected by the crowd, or the traffic, or the (insert life crisis here.) Try to be understanding. Even if you do need to complain, there are ways to bring problems to someone’s attention without being a jerk about it.

2. Stuff happens…roll with it

Sometimes things will be completely out of your control. When this happens, it’s easy to look for someone to blame…but it’s probably not their fault either. Look for the humor in a situation, not a scapegoat.

3. A smile might just make someone’s day

When you’ve dealt with cranky people all afternoon, one smile from an understanding person can turn your whole day around. Be that person.

Being nice doesn’t take any extra time. It might take a little extra energy, but that energy is returned to you doubled from the people who appreciate your kindness

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Gobblegeddon and The Importance of Double Checking

Time Management Double CheckDouble checking plans and arrangements always seems like a hassle…until it averts a time wasting disaster! This week, I learned an essential lesson about the importance of double-checking and why two minutes of forethought can save hours of time later. To chuckle at my little calamity, and hopefully prevent this from happening to you, read on…

A Red Eye Gone Wrong

One of the cool things about writing a time management blog is that when crappy things happen to you, the silver lining is always, “Well, at least I’ll get a blog out of it!” That was my first thought after what will henceforth be known as the Great Thanksgiving Travel Debacle of 2013.

Let me preface this story with the fact that my husband and I travel a lot. We know exactly how long it will take to get through security at various times of the day and make a sport out of trying to get an “A” boarding pass on Southwest without paying for early check in. I am usually the queen of double-checking everything when it comes to travel….until this week.

We were booked on a United red eye flight to Florida. We weren’t checking bags, we were busy getting last minute holiday things taken care of, so we didn’t bother to check-in online and print our boarding passes like we usually do. When we arrived at the ticket counter in plenty of time to make the flight, we heard the 5 words no air traveler ever wants to hear…

“That flight just took off.”

What?!?! Apparently, amidst the multiple schedule changes this flight had suffered, we hadn’t seen the email about it being moved up by an hour. Minor details. After several hours of trying to rebook and begging for a standby seat, we finally secured seats on the first flight out in the morning.

Should Have Double Checked…

This left me plenty of time to think about the importance of double checking as I tried to sleep across three chairs and an end table curled up in the terminal with a few other stranded travelers between the hours of 1:00am and 5:00am.

Double-checking always seems so obvious after the fact. It’s not until after something goes wrong that we think, “Really? I didn’t have 2 minutes to spare to ensure that this didn’t happen?”

When people heard of our flight woes, their first assumption was that we got caught up in the huge winter storm that week (affectionately dubbed “Gobblegeddon” by some media outlets.) Nope. This was all 100% preventable.

As we head into one of the most hectic months of the year, remember to take the extra minute and double check your plans before walking out the door. That little extra caution can save you loads of headache later.

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Photo Credit: Freedigitalphotos.net

Which Type of Procrastinator Are You?

We all put things off from time to time, but how to kick the habit depends on why and how you procrastinate. Which of the following 3 procrastinators are you?

The Dare Devil

Time Management DaredevilDare Devils thrive under pressure and live for the thrill of a last-minute crunch time. They find it difficult to stay motivated until the last possible second so they put off their work until the deadline is looming. Then, they work like crazy, forsaking sleep, food, family time, etc…promising themselves they will never do it again.

The Solution

One reason people thrive under pressure is it becomes easier to tune out distractions during crunch time. Are you more likely to check your email and glance at Facebook when you’re working on an urgent deadline or non-urgent one? Exactly. Remove distracting Time Killers so they don’t tempt you. Then you’ll be able to work with the focus of an urgent deadline without having to actually live so close to the edge.

Time Management ProcrastinatorThe Rationalizer

Rationalizers are experts at convincing themselves that their work doesn’t have to be done right now. They will find excuses, make bargains with themselves, or downplay the importance of a deadline.

The Solution

Excuses are harder to make when your goals are staring you in the face. Why are you working so hard? Who inspires you? What are you trying to achieve? Make sure the answers to those questions are top of mind when you’re working. Post your goals near your workplace. Seek out people you admire and constantly remind yourself of the important motivators that drive you.

The Overwhelmed Ostrichtime management ostrich

Sometimes we have tasks that are so monstrous, it seems we never have time to start them. When we see the task on our to-do list we skip right past it, hoping it will just go away if we don’t look at it – the time management equivalent of burying your head in the sand.

The Solution

Break a large task into tiny chunks and write those chunks down on your to-do list. Don’t even write the big task at all. It’s too intimidating. Then rejoice in the satisfaction of crossing those little chunks off one by one. This helps accomplish large tasks in 20 or 30 minute time periods since realistically, you can’t always devote a whole day to accomplishing a huge task.

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Photo Credit: Freedigitalphotos.net

Why Does Time Move Faster as We Get Older?

Time Management FlowerThis weekend, while sitting around watching football with friends, we started talking about how life seemed to move so much slower when we were little (the Oregon Ducks were dismantling Tennessee, so the game had become pretty uninteresting at this point.) Do you remember waiting for your 5th birthday to arrive? Or the summer before you started 1st grade? Didn’t it seem like forever? Why is that? Never fear. I turned to NPR to figure out the “why” and this blog will provide the “so what.”

One Theory

A neuroscientist explained to NPR that one theory of why time moves faster later in life is that when we’re young, we experience a lot of “firsts.” First day of school, first bike ride, first trip to the beach, etc…During these experiences, you soak up every last detail — the sights, the smells, the sounds — because everything is new. You have no prior experience to compare anything to.

Then, as we accumulate a lot of the same experiences, they all start to run together. We stop noticing details. We become heavily entrenched in our routines.

Be An Observer

So how do we stop this? How do we put the brakes on the runaway train? Be an observer. Be a “notice-er.” When you walk outside, take a second to observe how the sun feels on your skin. As you take a sip of coffee, take a moment to observe how good it smells. This is not to say you should meander through life slowly gazing at everything you pass. No, let’s be honest, you have to get stuff done too, but being a more careful observer can help bring back some of the novelty to your life’s experiences.

And don’t put too much pressure on yourself to appreciate just the big moments. I remember during my first trip to Disney World a few years ago, I kept thinking, “Are you appreciating this right now, Emily? Like, really appreciating it? Because you won’t be back here for a while. Appreciate harder.” It’s so much pressure! Being a careful observer will help you appreciate the little things and make valuing your life’s experiences a habit.

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Photo credit: Freedigitalphotos.net

3 Ways to Find Balance in the Busy

Time Management BalanceWe all strive to live a “balanced” life, but what does that really mean? Living a balanced life is more than just physically removing yourself from work once in a while.

Balance has just as much to do with your mental state as it does the hours in your schedule. If you’re thinking about work 24/7, it doesn’t really matter that you “allowed” yourself to go out to dinner with friends on a weeknight, or splurged on that 3-day weekend getaway. Try these three tips to allow yourself to mentally let go of your work on a regular basis.

1. Enjoy “Guilt-Free” Desserts

When you take a little time for yourself, do you feel guilty? An enjoyable Dessert task in your Time Diet is hardly enjoyable at all if you spend the whole time berating yourself for not being productive. Instead, broaden your definition of productivity to include doing things for yourself and recharging your batteries.

2. Ditch Your Connectivity

Just because you can take a moment to check your work email while out to dinner doesn’t mean you should. Allowing yourself to be constantly connected to work via your smartphone makes relaxing difficult.

3. Make Enjoyment a Priority

Do you only allow yourself to enjoy the “left over” time at the end of the day when you’re exhausted and worn out? Make Desserts a priority in your calendar just like everything else. It’s easy to work late and skip your favorite yoga class because there “isn’t enough time,” but remember, we make time for the things that are important to us.

Motivated and driven people are naturally going to worry about their job “off the clock” from time to time, but the more we can strive to compartmentalize that worry and turn it off once in a while, the better.

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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
Nurse
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

Making Time for Gratitude

Few things kick start our motivation quite like receiving acknowledgement of a job well done. However, it’s easy to get so caught up in our busy lives that we forget to express our gratitude to others. Try these simple strategies to make time to say “thanks” on a more regular basis.

1. Make it Simple

Saying “Thank You” doesn’t have to be an overly complex or lengthy task. It does not require a page-long note or expensive gesture of flowers. It’s too easy to let expressing gratitude sit at the bottom of our to-do list when we build it up to be a monumental act. Instead, make it short and simple with a quick email. If you prefer to use a hand-written note, keep a stack of inexpensive note cards in your desk drawer so you won’t have to buy or go searching for one.

2. Make it Immediate

How often have you thought to yourself, “Wow, I really appreciate <insert person>’s work. I should really thank her…tomorrow.” While it’s never too late to express your thanks, it’s easiest and most effective when it’s fresh on your mind. Remember the 5 Minute Rule? If it takes less than 5 minutes, do it now. This applies to taking 30 seconds out of your day to let someone know they are appreciated.

3. Make it Regular

When a task is a habit, you don’t have to think about it and you’re more likely to actually make it a part of your day. One of my bosses had “Thank You Thursday” where she made a point to express her appreciation to a different person every Thursday morning. Now, the alliteration in that concept might be more than you can bear, but you get the point. If you can make saying “thanks” just another part of the task, rather than a task on to itself, you’ll find yourself doing it much more often.

Thank you, readers, for making The Time Diet part of your weekly routine. When I first started this business two years ago, I could have never imagined how much it would grow and evolve and that is all thanks to you. You pass along the blogs that speak to you, give me feedback, and refer me to organizations that could use my workshops. I deeply appreciate all of your support!

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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