The Root of Your Time Management Trouble

time management rootI like to think of time management struggles like gardening. Cutting down weeds does nothing. It’s not until we pull them out by their roots that we’ve solved a problem. In time management, we spend a lot of time dealing with the results of problems – an over packed schedule, a disorganized calendar—and forget to find where the problem stems from. Here are three questions to ask to uncover the root of your problem.

1. Why am I in this mess?

Instead of dwelling on the fact that you’re always late for work, or keep forgetting about appointments, look for WHY that might be the case. Are you going to bed too late? Did you over schedule yourself? Then look even further…Maybe you’re going to bed too late because you save all your email replies until just before bed and then get lost in your inbox. Often the cause of our troubles lies with a decision or habit we made long ago.

2. Is it likely to happen again?

Is your time management trouble a one-time issue? If so, stop worrying about it and move on. But if this situation is likely to come up again, how can you alter your habits? Looking for patterns in your day and in your year can help you assess what needs to change.

3. What can I do about it?

When looking for a solution to your dilemma, it’s important to accept the fact that the solution might be drastic. You might not like it, and it might mean making tough choices or sacrifices. But the alternative is to keep having the same problem over and over again. We simply don’t need that in our lives!

If you’re having difficulty uncovering the root of your problem, ask someone close to you for help. We don’t see ourselves the way others see us and sometimes our friends and family have insights into our lives that we could never grasp ourselves.

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How Google Robbed Me of My Saturday

Time Management GoogleOK folks, we need to have a discussion about what I call the “time management rabbit hole” AKA Google. You know what I’m talking about. It starts off innocently enough, asking one simple question to find a seemingly simple answer. Then, pretty soon it’s 4 hours later, you have 23 tabs open with more articles and opinions than you could ever hope to read in a lifetime…and you still don’t have an answer.

If you’re thinking “Wow, it’s like Emily knows my life,” you’re right, I do, because that was my Saturday and I think I figured out what I did wrong…

Lost in the Reviews

We’re thinking about buying a new refrigerator. Naturally, I want to get a good price on a quality appliance, so I thought I’d just nose around on a few sites to see what people are saying about different brands. This quickly became my entire day.

“This fridge leaks,” says one person.

“This one broke after 3 months,” says another.

“This appliance is seriously the most amazing thing I’ve ever owned in my life,” says someone else.

…all talking about the same model fridge.

Too Much Information

As I poured over all the reviews, discount appliance sites, and home improvement stores, I was under the illusion that I was getting “smarter” about refrigerators, but at the end of the afternoon I realized that while I knew more information, I wasn’t necessarily coming any closer to making a decision.

I’ve talked at length about how social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, etc… can turn into serious Time Killers if we’re not careful, but information overload can be a huge waste of time as well. We live in a world where endless information is available at the click of a button, and we’re trained to believe that that’s a good thing, but here’s what I realized today:

My Lesson

Good information is helpful. Excess or unreliable information is a waste of time. The next time you catch yourself falling down the time management rabbit hole of information, stop and ask yourself, “Is what I’m reading helping me make an informed decision? Or do I have all the information I need and simply need to step back and choose something.”

Hopefully you can save yourself a Saturday afternoon!

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A Golden Rule of Time Management

Time Management golden ruleThe ability to say no is a skill we all need, but knowing when to say no can be even more important. This week I was reminded of one of the golden rules of time management that keeps our schedules trim and our minds focused. Here is what happened..

Saying NO

At a board meeting last week, one of my friends informed everyone of a really cool business opportunity that came her way. We were all impressed and congratulated her, until she mentioned that she wasn’t going to take it because it didn’t fit in with the mission and focus of her business. If I was impressed before, I was amazed now.

Saying no is hard. We’re trained to say yes to everything because we never know where things will lead, and at the very least, it’s a good thing to add to the resume. But after casting a wide net of opportunity, we need to focus in on the things that are most important to us, and that means saying no to the things that aren’t.

Time is a valuable resource and every moment we spend on something beyond our focus is one moment we can’t spend on the essential activities that will propel us forward.

Think of It Like Shopping

If saying no is still difficult, think of it in terms of money and shopping. If you were out shopping and saw a pair of pants you loved, but they didn’t fit, would you still buy them? Probably not, because you’d rather use the money to buy something that does fit and that you’ll actually wear. Think of your time in the same way. You have limited time and need to save it for the things that best fit  your focus and priorities.

Remember this golden rule of time management: if everything is a priority, then nothing is a priority.

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Time Management Book for Students

Time Management Book for Students

3 Steps to a Lighter Calendar

Time Management Light CalendarDid you give your calendar a Spring Cleaning? It’s easy to get stuck in a time management rut when it comes to obligations that consume our day. Sometimes we end up doing things just because we’ve always done them, not because we get any enjoyment or useful result from our actions. This week, I challenge you to give your calendar a good purging. You only need three steps:

1. List Out Your Activities

Sometimes we don’t realize how much we do until we list it all out in one place. Compile a list of all the things on your calendar. Include things like work, family commitments, networking groups, organizations you belong to, classes you attend, etc… Next to each activity, list the realistic time commitment it requires. For example, if you attend an hour long yoga class once a week, your realistic time requirement might be 2 hours when you factor in travel and shower time.

2. Look for the Results

What do you get out of each activity? The answer might be anything from “a paycheck” to “enjoyment” or “fitness.” If the “What do I get out of this?” question is difficult to answer, consider whether that activity has overstayed its welcome on your calendar. Our priorities and needs shift over time. If an activity is no longer providing enough of a benefit for the time you put in, why does it still take up valuable space in your schedule?

3. Find the Least Important

We assume that we’re only supposed to cut unimportant events from our calendars, but sometimes we complete an activity inventory and everything still seems important. In this case, you have to find activities that are least important, or least important right now. Just because you want to do something doesn’t mean you have time to do it. Life requires choices and stretching yourself too thin diminishes your enjoyment of the other things on your schedule.

Make re-assessing your priorities a regular habit so activities don’t linger on your calendar longer than they remain useful and worth it!

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Ask Yourself These Three Questions Before Starting Something New

Time management for new tasksAre you waiting for the perfect time to start a new project? Enter a new chapter of your life? Start on a lofty goal? When we are nervous about an undertaking, we put off starting by waiting for the perfect intersection of time, money, and experience. Realistically, you’re lucky to have even one of those three, (and it’s unlikely to be the first two.) Instead, you have to acknowledge that timing will never be perfect and just jump in anyway. Ask yourself these three questions to see if you’re ready:

Is this something I want?

Sometimes when we find ourselves looking for excuses instead of opportunities it’s because we are more in love with the idea of accomplishing our goal rather than actually doing it. Are you willing to put in the work required? If not, better to admit that now.

Do I have people to help?

You may never have enough time money or experience, but luckily you can get those things with the help of other people. Do you have a support network? If not, seek one out ASAP.

Am I Ok with messing up?

When trying something new you’re unlikely to get it right the first time. In fact, you might fail pretty epically and need to start over. Learning from past mistakes and trying again is all part of the process, but it’s important to have realistic expectations up front. If your only definition of success is getting it right the first time, you’ll need to adjust your expectations before beginning.

There is no such thing as the “perfect time” for anything, and waiting around for a perfect opportunity is a guaranteed way to ensure you’ll be waiting forever.

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Have You Tried This Trick to Cut Out Distractions?

Time Management Protected TimeTell me if this sounds familiar: You have ONE thing that you’d really like to accomplish today. You sit down to do it…only to be interrupted by a phone call. Then you have to rush to a meeting, then you go on a few errands, end up filing the day’s mail…and before you know it, the day is over and your task is left unfinished!

Where did the time go? There is no perfect solution to stop daily distractions, but a trick I learned in my years teaching elementary school certainly can help. Let me explain…

Protected Time

In the school where I taught, reading was a huge priority. However, the hour-long reading block was frequently interrupted by assemblies, testing, the vaccine clinic, etc…so we instituted something called “Protected Time.”

Protected Time was an hour during which no events, tests, drills or other distractions were planned. It was so teachers knew they had that one untouched hour they could count on to focus on reading skills with their students. At first it was easy to see all the problems with this. (How will this affect the master schedule!? How can we be so inflexible!) But when you start looking for solutions instead of problems, it’s amazing how quickly things work out.

Of course reserving some protected time of your own would be much easier if everyone in your work life could agree to the same hour, but remember….solutions people, not problems

Planning Yours

How can you reserve yourself an hour of protected time to work on things that require focus? Can you close your door at work? Turn off your smart phone? Close your email? Let others know that you’re unavailable during that hour? How you protect your time will vary based on your situation, but I urge you to try it.

After all, we work hard to protect so many other things in our lives, isn’t your time worth protecting too?

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Photo credit: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

My Journey Into Gray

Time management careerThey say that in order to get high blog traffic, your best bet is to make your blogs short with a catchy title. And don’t write about yourself too much because then the readers won’t be able to see themselves in your words. This blog breaks all those rules. I apologize. I hope you’ll read it anyway and share it with your friends because I believe this message is vital to living the life you want to lead and I wish someone had shared it with me earlier.

Black and White

When deciding how to spend our time, it’s easy to look for the black and white options. I will either pursue this career or that career, this path or that path, this choice or that choice…as though life were always that dichotomous. Sure, our time is limited and we can’t do everything, but our opportunities aren’t as cut-and-dry as we’d like them to be. If we’ve chosen to accept black and reject white, we might miss out on all the potential gray has to offer. Adopting the “gray philosophy” has changed my life and opportunities dramatically and I know it can for you too.

My Journey Into the Gray

I spent the first several years of my professional life with black and white tunnel vision. I have a degree in education, so I became a full time teacher in a public school district with a good reputation. Then I decided to get an advanced degree in education with the hope of teaching college at a small school in a small town and then move up to a large school in a large town. That’s the well-trodden path that others have forged for me. If you do A, B, and C then X, Y, and Z will happen.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with that path, but I realized I was on a straight freeway when I was really looking for a curvy backroad – the kind that might lead to a dead-end, or right back to where you started, but could also lead to an amazing scenic overlook you never expected. That’s when I decided to start my own consulting business.

I did not jump in with two feet with the “sink or swim” mentality that some entrepreneurs recommend. I put my toe in the water with a blog and a few workshops here and there while continuing to teach full time. As my business grew and I quit my teaching job to pursue my doctorate, I felt pressured to keep my worlds separate. “Nobody outside of teaching cares about my teaching background,” I thought, “and nobody in education will understand the opportunities I’m trying to explore outside the classroom walls.”

I thought I was on two very separate paths but I’m now starting to see that they aren’t separate at all; I’m just forging my own in the middle.

New Possibilities

Since leaving the classroom, I have continued to grow my consulting business with both students and adults. I use my expertise in education to coach college students on time management and speak to high school and college audiences about how to succeed. I became a consultant with a bank delivering financial literacy seminars to student and adult audiences. I also travel around the country delivering professional development workshops for a non-profit that offers adaptive assessment software to school districts. And I teach music as an adjunct professor at Arizona State University. And I sell my three books on Amazon.com as I’m writing my fourth.

Where in the world is the manual for that career path? Where is the black and white? What do I tell people when they ask, “What do you do?”

I have no idea where this “path” will lead, but I do know that if I had continued to view my life as a series of black and white options, if I had continued to believe that teaching in the K-12 classroom was the only thing I could do with a degree in education, I would have been blind to so many exciting opportunities.

Expand Your Own Tunnel Vision

Your career path probably isn’t as narrow as you think it is. Don’t let your focus on one path blind you to possible detours and side streets that could lead to slightly different and new possibilities. Just because it isn’t “typically” done doesn’t mean it can’t be. Don’t be afraid to waste your time on an activity or opportunity that doesn’t fit the mold. Be creative. Be open to new things. Most importantly, find what you love doing and then find a way to get paid for it, even if it means taking the road less traveled or forging your own path. (See how I waited until the end for the trite Robert Frost poem reference? Go ahead and admire my restraint.)

Thanks for making it all the way to the end! I’d love to hear your comments. Either comment below or email me at Emily@TheTimeDiet.org. Thanks friends! Now go enjoy your week and feel free to tip-toe off the path and see where it takes you.

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