The Question You’re Not Asking About Your To-Do List

Time Management To Do List QuestionWhen prioritizing our to-do lists for the day, we often ask ourselves questions like, “What is the most important?” “What is the most urgent?” “What is my number one priority?” These are all valid questions, but a question we don’t ask enough is:

Which task will have the most noticeable impact?

Here are two reasons this question is essential to planning your day:

1. We Can’t Do Everything

When we get extremely busy, we start to wonder how in the world we’re going to finish everything on our lists, but we fail to accept that maybe everything on the list doesn’t need to be finished. In that case, you’ll need to search for the tasks on your list that provide the most bang for your buck.

Think of it like cleaning a house. Washing the dishes in your sink and cleaning your upstairs bathroom are both important tasks, but if company is coming for dinner in 30 minutes and you only have time for one, which one would you choose? I’m guessing your guests will spend more time in your kitchen than your master bathroom. Use the same line of thinking when it comes to other tasks in your day. If I accept that I can’t do everything, which task is most noticeable and has the biggest impact?

2. We Need Motivation

We’re motivated by success. When we labor away and see no results from our work, it’s difficult to stay motivated. That’s why choosing tasks with a noticeable impact can help keep a dreaded project moving along. Dealing with the stack of papers on your desk might not be the most essential part of a project you’re working on, but if it will keep you motivated to finally be able to file them away, then they might be worthy of your prioritization.

Aiming for maximum impact in your tasks can help streamline your to-do list. You might be so pleased with the results, that you’ll realize the other tasks weren’t really necessary anyway.

Connect with The Time Diet for more time management tips

Are You a Time Management Carnivore?

Time Management Lion-Do the most important task on your to-do list first.

-Everything on my list is important.

-What now?

When I started The Time Diet almost three years ago, my goal was to combat this type of thinking. The “priority paralysis” described above causes stress, unfocused work, and forces people to somehow decide which is more important:  finishing a task for work, or taking time to relax and do something enjoyable.

With The Time Diet, I took importance out of the equation in favor of balance. I teach people how to label their tasks as either a Meat, Vegetable, or Dessert and choose a balanced selection of tasks each day. I’ve found, however, that the definition of Meat Task has morphed a bit, and it has created far too many time management carnivores. If you feel like all you do are Meat Tasks, let me help!

A Meat Task is Something Difficult, Not Just Important

In The Time Diet, your Meats are your difficult tasks, your Vegetables are your easier tasks, and your Desserts are your enjoyable tasks. The importance of a task has nothing to do with how it’s classified. If you look at your list and everything seems to be a Meat, ask yourself: “Is everything on this list really of equal difficulty?” Perhaps you are falling into the trap of labeling tasks with urgent deadlines Meats, even if they are easy to complete.

Meat Tasks can Have Vegetable Components

Even if you are staring down a big, difficult Meat task, it’s unlikely that every single component of that task is difficult. Learning to break up big tasks into much smaller pieces allows you to appropriately label easier parts as Vegetables.

A Vegetable for You Might be a Meat for Someone Else

I hesitate to give too many examples of Meats, Vegetables, and Desserts because the designations change drastically from person to person. If writing comes easily to you, drafting an email or a memo might be a simple Vegetable, but to those who struggle to find the right words, it might be a formidable Meat. For a fitness enthusiast, going to the gym might be an enjoyable Dessert, but to others it might be their least-desirable Vegetable.

Finding Your Balance

Remember, the whole point of The Time Diet is to ensure that your schedule consists of a balanced diet of Meats, Vegetables, and Desserts each day so you don’t become overwhelmed with difficult tasks and neglect to make any time for yourself. Learning to properly label these tasks requires practice, and the discipline to remain focused while working through your list. Thank you readers! I hope that The Time Diet has played at least a small part in helping you conquer your time management goals.

For a more detailed explanation of The Time Diet time management system, check out “The Time Diet: Digestible Time Management” on

Connect with The Time Diet for more time management tips


Photo credit:

Three Ways to Ensure You’ll Waste Time on Unimportant Tasks

Time Management TrashcanDo you often feel as though you just don’t have time for everything? Well, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the fact is, you don’t. None of us do. Nobody has time to do everything, we only have time to do what’s important. The difficulty lies in figuring out what is important enough to deserve our time, and what’s not.

Everyone will have different criteria to decide what stays on their list and what goes, but there are certainly some ways that will be more effective than others. Here are three strategies to avoid that will ensure your list is cluttered with unimportant tasks:

1. Spend Time on Things You Think Should Be Important, But Aren’t

I’ve never been the neatest person in the world. Keeping a tidy office and a spotless home are not things that come naturally to my husband and me.  We’ve tried cleaning schedules, chore lists, and phone reminders, but inevitably, we’ll be in the middle of some brainstorm when it’s time to vacuum under the furniture, and it just doesn’t get done. After much fretting about this, it occurred to me: if this were truly important to us, we’d make the time for it. Just because having an immaculate house is important to some people, doesn’t mean it has to be important to us.

I feel no shame in telling you that if you were to come over to our home today and run your hand along the baseboards, they would be dusty. The glass sliding door has a few nose prints on it from where the dogs peer outside. We’ll probably take care of those nitty-gritty things the next time we throw a party, but in the mean time, I am 100% fine with spending my limited time on other things.

2. Spend Time On Tasks That Don’t Produce Results

Habits are great. They help us complete tasks without thinking about them and free up valuable brain power for other things. However, when you’ve allowed an inefficient task to become a habit, then you have a problem. When people contact me about speaking engagements, my natural reaction is to write them back with a lengthy customized message including all of the information they could ever possibly want. I thought this was working OK, until I came across a wonderful book from the National Speakers Association called Speak More!. One of the chapters suggests responding to inquires with short messages that set up a time to speak on the phone.  This both saves time and increases the chance of a response. Guess which method I use now!

Reflect on your habits to make sure they are using your time efficiently and producing the results you want. A great way to do this is to talk to others and be an avid reader. Have an open mind to consider new ways of doing things. Our default action is to do what is comfortable and familiar but that isn’t always the most efficient approach.

3. Give Yourself the Leftover Time

There is no leftover time. Period. If you’re waiting to first finish all of your important tasks before giving yourself a Dessert from your Time Diet, you’ll be waiting forever. There is always one more thing that can be done. Instead, schedule your Desserts frequently into your day, even if they are short and bite-sized. How you spend your time is a reflection on what you feel is important. What does that say about the value you put on yourself if “you” tasks like hobbies, exercise, a walk with your family, or time with your friends never makes it off the bottom of your priority list?

Connect with The Time Diet and receive weekly blog and event updates


Photo Credit:

Time Management for a Merrier Holiday Season

Time Management HolidayIt’s December, and all of the dashing through parking lots, decking the halls, and increased number of deadlines can create a time management crisis that makes us feel less than jolly. Just follow these tips to rein in your holiday schedule so you have time to enjoy the season with your friends and family.

1. Ask for Help

At the beginning of December, we optimistically think that we can handle everything ourselves. Despite the longer work hours and lengthier to-do lists, we think we’ll be able to do it all without any help. Then, sometime around the 17th or 18th of December, we start to crack.

Don’t let it get to that point. Ask for help in advance. Don’t put off big projects until the day before your vacation hoping they will just…happen. Be realistic at work and delegate when you need to. Instead of throwing a huge party for your family and friends, ask everyone to bring a dish and embrace the decreased workload that comes with a potluck.

2. Make One Trip

During the holiday season, all retailers and grocery stores try to tempt you into their shops. It’s easy to think you need to make it to all of them, but this makes your shopping take three times as long. It’s not worth saving ten cents a pound on the Christmas turkey if you have to drive 40 minutes out of your way to go get it. Your sister will appreciate the sweater from the store down the street just as much as the one from the mall in the next town over.

3. Plan Some Quiet Time

In the hustle and bustle of the season, it’s easy to get swept up in it all and forget to step back and enjoy it. Free time will definitely not just happen at this time of year. You have to make it. Set aside a few evenings to stay in and relax. There will always be shopping to do, or parties to attend, or community events to check out. You probably already have enough mandatory extra activities, such as overtime at work or an increase in deadlines at the end of the year. Make up for it by skipping out on one of the optional activities and staying home instead.

It’s tempting to fill up our calendars with loads of holiday cheer, but the best way to enjoy the holidays is to simply step back and breathe.

Need a perfect gift for a college student on your list? Why not give them the gift of productivity? Check out “The Time Diet: Time Management for College Survival” for just $11.99

Receive weekly blog and event updates, plus be notified when “The Time Diet: Digestible Time Management” becomes available on Amazon

How Many Hats Have You Worn Today?

If you feel as though you’re expected to be multiple different people during the day and fill many different roles, you’re not alone. Most of us wear many different hats in our lives and it is a real challenge to our time management. Learning to wear only one at a time can greatly increase our efficiency and decrease our stress in three ways.

1. Easier to Focus

When people become overwhelmed with work, they commonly report feeling pulled in many different directions at once. When you try to be too many things at once, you can’t focus on any of them. You can be an accountant, and a salesperson, and a trainer, and a webmaster, and a student, and an athlete BUT you can’t be all of those things at the same time.  When you put on one hat at the beginning of the day, try to finish as many of those responsibilities at once before removing that hat and putting on another one. This isn’t always feasible in a fast-paced work environment, but the more you can try to organize your time based on the roles you play, the less scattered and more focused you’ll feel.

2. Maximize “The Zone”

“In the Zone,” “In the Groove,” “In Flow”…No matter what you call it, being on a productivity streak feels really good. We’re so engaged and focused, we hardly notice that time is even passing at all. This state of focus is great for motivation and productivity, but it’s hard to achieve when we’re jumping back and forth between tasks haphazardly. Sticking with one role as long as you can before switching to another helps maximize your chances of getting into a productivity zone and fending off Time Killers.

 3. Remove the Blur

Wearing one hat at a time can be particularly helpful in removing the blur between your work life and your personal life. Separating those two worlds can be difficult, especially if you frequently work from home. However, this can quickly lead to a feeling of burnout when your work invades every corner of your life and you have no place to escape. When you take your work hat off and put your “family and friends” hat on, leave it that way.  Enjoy a meal without griping about your schedule. Enjoy a Saturday afternoon without worrying about the stack of work awaiting you on Monday. If you don’t own a “relaxation” hat, get one.

Connect with The Time Diet to receive weekly blog and event updates

Which to Sacrifice? Time or Money?

Your time is your most valuable resource you have. It is your own “productivity currency” of which you only have a limited supply and must ration carefully. However, sometimes we are faced with situations in which we must quite literally put a dollar amount on what our time is worth. If we always sacrifice money to save time, we’ll end up broke. If we always sacrifice time to save money, we’ll end up not accomplishing our goals. Finding the balance is key.

 My Dilemma

This year, when I went to renew my parking pass for ASU, I was faced with two options:

1. Purchase a cheap pass for a couple hundred bucks in a remote lot and take the free tram to campus.

2. Pay an additional $600 for a pass in the lot right outside my office.

My Solution?

My gut reaction? Buy the expensive pass. I had the luxury of having that money in savings already, and I felt that my time was too valuable to spend sitting on a tram every day. I wanted the convenience of being able to waltz right from my car into the building at any time of day.

Then I stopped to weigh the value of the pass versus the convenience of the pass in terms of “dollars per hour.”

Dollars Per Hour

I actually only needed the pass about three days a week. The tram takes about 15 minutes each way. I calculated that if I didn’t buy the expensive pass, I’d be saving $12.50 for every hour I spent on the tram. Now I had a decision to make:

If someone approached me on the street and said, “Hey, I have a part time job for you. It only requires 90 minutes a week, and I’ll pay you $12.50 an hour. All you have to do is sit in an air conditioned space and do nothing” I’d have a hard time saying no.

I ended up buying the cheap pass. I now appreciate the mandatory “break” I get in my day while being shuttled from place to place. I can even use the time to check my email or flip through the newspaper.

By looking at the situation in terms of dollars per hour, I was able to weigh convenience, time, and money to come to a rational decision. How much is your time worth?

Connect with The Time Diet and receive weekly blog and event updates

Free Arizona Event!

Check out The Time Diet at Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe AZ, on Monday, September 10th at 7:00pm for the free program, “Time Management for Student Survival” Pick up your copy of The Time Diet: Time Management for College Survival, on sale now at Changing Hands and

Photo Credit: Phaitoon, Emily Schwartz

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?

Connect to The Time Diet and receive weekly blog and event updates.

Technorati Keywords Time Management, Efficiency,

Photo Credit: Chanpipat

My Productivity Bracket

Have you filled out your bracket yet? Basketball? No. I’m talking about your productivity bracket.

We all know what it feels like to be pulled in a million different directions. When we accomplish work, it didn’t just…”happen.” It beat out many other priorities that day. This bracket is a tribute to the countless  time management battles we all fight each day. What tasks would you add to your bracket?

Connect with The Time Diet and receive weekly blog and event updates

Technorati Keywords Time Management, Efficiency,

Time Management Karma

No doubt you heard about the “golden rule” while growing up: treat others as you would like to be treated. MaybImagee you didn’t realize that it also applies to time management.

Treat other people’s time as you want your time to be treated.

I’m not saying you should always put the needs of others before your own, but it is all too easy to always put them last, and that just isn’t fair.

For example, have you ever been working on a project and had to stop because you needed one little piece of information from someone else? You send out an email or make a phone call and leave a message. Then you wait…and wait…and wait. You know that an answer will take about 30 seconds of that person’s time, but waiting for that 30-second answer is putting you days behind on your work.

Or what about this: Have you ever planned your day around meeting a friend or a colleague, only to have them cancel at the last minute for something they surely new about ahead of time?

These are examples of other people interfering with our carefully managed time. It’s easy to get angry, impatient and frustrated but sometimes we need to take a long, hard look in the mirror and ask ourselves, “Am I treating other people’s time the way I want mine to be treated?”

Mistakes happen, people get busy, emails get buried and appointments get double booked.  The key is to apologize and then don’t make it a habit. People want the importance of their time to be acknowledged. Think twice before you make a last-minute cancellation or move your colleague’s email request into the “do it later” pile.

If you respect other people’s time, you may find that yours is respected as well.

Connect with The Time Diet and receive weekly blog and event updates

Technorati Keywords
Time Management, Efficiency,

Photo Credit: Photo Stock

Removing the Weight From Your Schedule

Having excellent time management skills requires a feeling of control. As soon as the feeling of control goes away, your stress level increases and you become far less productive. That’s why it’s sometimes better to devote time to the task that’s weighing on you the most, even if it isn’t necessarily the most important thing you have to do at the moment.

For example, I had a big presentation coming up that, for whatever reason, was weighing on me. I found that while I was trying to work on more immediate and pressing things, this presentation was all I could think about.

I’d been having extremely productive workdays, but I didn’t feel productive. I may have been accomplishing important things, but the one thing that was stressing me was still looming.

Even though it wasn’t my most pressing deadline, I needed to devote a little time to this presentation or I was going to continue feeling stressed and not in control of my day.

I finally just dedicated a few hours to sketching out ideas. Seeing my thoughts down on paper gave me so much more confidence in my ability to finish this project. Pretty soon, I had a solid outline of what I planned to talk about, and my stress level had significantly decreased.

My presentation was far from finished, but I now felt I had a handle on it and had a clear mind to devote to other more pressing tasks.

Do you have a looming task that is stressing you out? Carve out a little time to get started now, even if the deadline is far away. Otherwise, the pressure of this impending task will just continue to build and start to interfere with your ability to focus on other things. The best way to remove the stressful weight of a task from your shoulders is to just do it.

Connect with The Time Diet and receive weekly blog and event updates!

Technorati Keywords
Time Management, Efficiency,