The ABC’s of Time Management

I frequently hear time management advice that tells us to prioritize our days based on the “ABC” system. A’s are things we have to do, B’s are things we’d like to do and C’s are things it’d be nice to do if we had time left over. I’m sure this system works for some people. Here is why The Time Diet works better for me.

Most of my things end up being A’s! I try not to waste my time doing unessential things, so everything ends up being a “have to do.”

I could easily spend my entire day doing “have to dos” and never have time for anything else. This leaves me stressed out because all of a sudden “everything” has become a priority. It also seems like anything fun or enjoyable in your day will become a “C.” It isn’t fair to ourselves to always place our own enjoyment as a last priority. That’s how we get burned out.

I prefer to think of my day in The Time Diet food groups of Meats, Vegetables and Desserts.

Meats: Thinking-intensive things that are difficult to accomplish

Vegetables:  Less thinking-intensive things that are easier to accomplish

Desserts: Enjoyable things

When planning your day, it’s important to plan a balanced diet of tasks so you balance out your difficult work with easier and more enjoyable things.

In The Time Diet, everything you have to do is “important” otherwise you wouldn’t be doing it! By balancing your work according to difficulty, you’re less likely to become overwhelmed and more likely to finish more work than if you’d simply tried to tackle all of your deadlines at once.

Is prioritizing important? Of course it is! However, trying to prioritize without taking difficulty into account is not being fair to ourselves.

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Photo Credit: Digital Art

How to Tackle Huge Projects

In The Time Diet, I frequently say how important it is to break up your “meat” tasks and set small goals for yourself to stay motivated with your time management. Yesterday, I stumbled across an example of exactly why this is true. In keeping with The Time Diet analogy, I appropriately found this example on a restaurant menu.

On Friday night, my husband and I went out to dinner. I saw “sliders” on the menu and thought that little mini hamburgers sounded delicious.

“No,” I thought to myself. “It’s way too easy to eat too many of those!” One hamburger has about the same meat as two sliders, but nobody eats just two sliders! They are so little, you end up eating more meat than you realize.

Then it dawned on me. The same is true for time management!

When we have a huge “meat” project looming, it can be overwhelming. (We’ll call this the “hamburger”). However, if you break up that same work into smaller projects and spread it out over time, you won’t feel like you’re working as hard. You’ve essentially turned your big “hamburger” into “sliders.” You’re completing the same amount of work, but instead of tackling it all at once, you’re nibbling at it.

How to Break up Work

When you are dividing your work into smaller parts, remember to do the following.

 1) Plan in advance
It is important to divide your big project into smaller chunks as soon as possible. The longer it stays in your head as one huge task, the more you’ll begin to dread it.

2) Construct a timeline
Write in your calendar when you plan to complete each chunk of work so you’ll have it done by the deadline.

 3) Stick to your timeline
Creating a timeline for your work doesn’t do any good if you don’t hold yourself accountable to the checkpoints you set for yourself.

Good luck with your Time Diets this week!

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Photo Credit: Grant Cochrane

Happy Birthday Time Diet!

In lieu of cake on The Time Diet’s 1st Birthday, I present to you five of my favorite “Desserts” that keep my day balanced when I have a ton of work to do. Remember: even those of us with the best time management skills can’t work 24/7 without burning out. That’s why maintaining a balanced diet of: Meats (difficult tasks) Vegetables (easier tasks) and Desserts (enjoyable things) is so important.

My Favorite Time Management Desserts

1) Playing with my dog

When I get home from work, one of the first things I do is spend five or ten minutes playing with my dog Maggie. A dog can’t talk. A dog can’t tell you you’re not working hard enough or doing a good enough job. A dog just gives you unconditional love whenever you need it. If you don’t have a dog (or a cat I suppose…), I recommend getting one. Today.



2) Grabbing a Coffee

When I sense myself coming close to hitting a wall with my work, I head for the nearest Starbucks for a coffee (a tall, non-fat, light whip, Java Chip Frappuccino, add banana to be exact!) I don’t know whether it is the extra jolt of caffeine or the delicious chocolate drizzle on top, but something about sitting for a few minutes and sipping on my Frappuccino tells me that everything is going to be OK. I know you have a treat that makes you feel like that too.

3) Listening to My Favorite Song

When you need a “time out” from work, make sure your favorite song is never far away. Today’s gadget culture makes it easy to have your favorite music in your pocket at all times. Never underestimate the effect it can have on your mood and stress level. For me, my “let’s do this!” song is Lady Gaga’s “Edge of Glory” and my “escape from the world” song is the second movement of Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concert No. 2. Listening to either one on my 10-minute drive between schools instantly improves my day.

4) Yoga Class

I am not a fitness guru. In fact, despite the fact that I am 6 feet tall, I was never really good at basketball or any other sport. However, I joined a gym so I can take a yoga class. I enjoy it, it relaxes me and I feel like I can conquer anything when I’m done. I can’t find time to do it every week, but when I do, I’m happy. Find the physical activity that makes you feel that way and make time for it whenever possible.

5) Watching “The Office”

I’m usually not one to promote watching TV extensively, but everybody needs that one show that guarantees a laugh. For me, it’s “The Office.” My husband and I like to watch it together, because the only thing more fun than laughing is laughing with another person. When I’m stressed about work or school, watching Michael Scott butcher common phrases and social norms makes me forget about the pile of work waiting for me tomorrow.

Do you have a favorite Dessert I didn’t list here? Leave it as a comment! I’d love to know.

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Photo Credits: (in order): by “Idea Go”, Emily Schwartz, by “Paul”, by “Ambro”, by “Arvind Balaraman”, by “Salvatore Vuono”

Using Time Buckets

When we’re faced with 24 hours in the day and a long list of things to do, figuring out when to accomplish those tasks can be a bit overwhelming for our time management skills. Breaking your day up into 3 or 4 “mini days” is much easier to manage, helps you organize your time and keeps your Time Diet on track.

I like to call these mini days “Time Buckets.” A Time Bucket is a chunk of time in your day that you have available to complete tasks. In my head, I picture myself picking up a task from my “choose-to” list and actually putting it into whichever bucket it belongs.

When figuring out your Time Buckets, it’s best to look for natural divides in your day. They may vary from day to day or week to week depending on your schedule. For example, let’s look at what tomorrow, Monday, holds for me. I get to work on Mondays at 7:30am and I see my first class at 8:45am. This time is my “morning prep” and I call it “Time Bucket #1.” After my classes start, all of my time is devoted to teaching my students, so that time is already accounted for. I try to keep my lunchtime open and only use it for work if I really need to. I call my husband at lunch and chat for a few minutes. It is the “Dessert” in my day.

After the kids go home, I have until 4:00 before I need to leave to get to class at ASU. This chunk of time is “Time Bucket #2” When I get home from class, it will be 8:00. I then have a chunk of time from 8:00 until I go to bed. That is “Time Bucket #3.” I used to have 24 hours to figure out what to do with, but now I’ve narrowed that time down to 3 distinct Time Buckets that I actually have available to complete work.

Putting Tasks in Your Time Buckets

When deciding which tasks to put in which Time Buckets, you have to consider what your energy level is like during each of those times. You want to avoid completing your most difficult tasks when you have the least energy! I have the most energy in the morning during Time Bucket #1, so that is when I complete all the essential work for my job. During Time Bucket #2, I’m usually pretty exhausted, but I eventually catch my second wind. That is why I start off Time Bucket #2 with easier things, like catching up on the day’s email and/or phone calls. Then I move on to more difficult work for grad school. By the time I get to Time Bucket #3 in the evening, my energy is gone. I spend this time unwinding, eating dinner and doing a few easy household chores.

How are your Time Buckets divided? Yours will probably be very different from mine. Just remember to take into consideration your energy level during each chunk of time. We all have times in our day when we feel more alert. Make sure you are using that time to your advantage!

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