My 10-Second Time Management Resolution

How long does it take you to complete your most dreaded “Vegetable” task on your to-do list? Easy, mindless Vegetable tasks are the easiest to put off because they “just take a few minutes.” However, if you knew exactly how little time they took, you’d be more likely to just get them over with.

While many people resolved to eat healthier in 2012,  my time management resolution is to stay on top of my Vegetable tasks before they build up and become more difficult Meat tasks.

My Time Management Resolution

The tasks I chose to tackle are keeping my office and kitchen clean. Filing a paper, or putting a bowl in the dishwasher hardly takes any time at all, but when I’m faced with a long afternoon of work to do, tidying up is the last thing on my mind.

But we all know how that story ends don’t we? Pretty soon, it isn’t just one bowl, it is a sink full of dishes. Pretty soon, it isn’t just one paper, it is a whole stack of papers. Then I’m left with two messes that will take a more substantial amount of time to tackle. My two easy Vegetables tasks have become Meats.

How Long Things Actually Take

Well this year is going to be different.

It takes exactly 10 seconds to file a piece of a paper.
It takes 6 seconds to put a dish in the dishwasher.

I know this because I timed myself.

Now, when I go to set a document down on my desk, instead of telling myself: “This will only take a minute to file. I’ll do it later.” I will instead say, “It takes 10 seconds to open the filing cabinet and put this away. I’m going to do it now.”

Why This Works

When we really don’t want to do something, we start to convince ourselves that things take longer than they actually do. If we know the exact amount of time it takes to complete a task,  it is easier to find the motivation to do it.

This year, pick your most annoying Vegetable, whether it is for work, home, or school, and time how long it actually takes you to complete. Then, when you catch yourself trying to put it off, ask yourself if it’s really worth saving it until “later” and letting it become a Meat task, or is it better to just take the allotted time now and finish it.

Good luck with your Vegetables and Happy New Year!

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Photo Credit: Dream Designs

Cutting Your Losses

The more hours of our day we sink into a failing task, the harder it is to admit that we may have made a mistake and move on. We continue to sink more wasted hours into the task in a fruitless attempt to make up for the time we’ve already wasted. The better plan is often to simply cut your losses, change your approach or scrap the task and make the most of the rest of your day.

Our brains don’t naturally work like this. When we have invested precious hours into something, we go into “loss prevention mode” in which we do anything we can to protect our investment. Unfortunately, in an effort to save wasted time, we just end up wasting more time!

It’s Human Nature

Here is an example of this concept using money rather than time from a study detailed in Psychology Today that says a lot about our time management:

In a hypothetical situation, participants were told that they had just invested 9 out of a total 10 million dollars developing a product when a competitor released a better and cheaper version. Knowing they could never compete with this new product, 80 percent of participants still said they would continue to invest the remaining 1 million dollars.

While logic would conclude it is better to lose 9 million dollars than 10 million, our natural instinct tells us to keep spending in vain in an attempt to recoup the lost money.

While this study had to do with money, I’m betting that if the study involved deciding whether or not to devote one more day, week, or month to a failed project, the results would be the same.

You’re Not Giving Up

There is a difference between giving up on yourself and cutting your losses when it comes to time management.

When a plan isn’t working, continuing to throw time at it won’t help. When you hit the pivotal moment in a task where you can either scrap it or keep going, ask yourself:

1) Will circumstances change in the future that will make my approach more likely to work?
2) Can I rework my plan without giving up on it entirely?
3) Is this plan the only way to achieve the results I want?  

If you answered “no” to these questions, then stop throwing more time at a failing task, cut your losses, move on, and try a different approach or a new direction altogether. You’re not “giving up” on yourself, but rather are making a calculated decision to make better use of your time.

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Finishing Unwanted Tasks

This week, I had a presentation to prepare for my PhD program that definitely tested my time management. Completing this presentation was both the most important and least appealing thing on my “Choose-To List.” As you know, that is a common and dangerous situation. What do you do when the task you least want to do is the task you most need to do?

Stop Substituting

When faced with a task we don’t want to do, our first inclination is to just do something else instead. I caught myself doing that yesterday. I didn’t want to work on my presentation, so instead I did some grading, cleaned my house, worked on some different homework, and went grocery shopping. All of those things also needed to be completed, however, none were as important as my presentation. I substituted tasks I should be doing with tasks I’d rather be doing. That’s why at the end of the day, I didn’t feel as productive as I could have.

Make it Enjoyable

Sometimes we need to go out of our way to make a dreaded task more enjoyable. You all know about my love of Starbucks. I went out and bought myself a Salted Caramel Mocha Frappuccino to sip while I’m working on my presentation. Nothing seems quite as terrible when you have a delicious cup of happiness next to you!


The single best way I know to motivate myself to do something it to visualize it being completed. In this case, I visualized myself crawling into bed at night and thinking, “Wow, I don’t have to worry about the presentation anymore! It’s all finished.” It’s not going to become any more appealing to work on, so I might as well just finish it now and be done with it. Half the stress of finishing work comes from worrying about finishing it. I was going to worry about my presentation until it was done. The sooner I finish it, the sooner I can stop worrying about it and my stress level decreases.

This week, take charge of your unwanted tasks.  Visualize them being finished, do everything you can to make them more enjoyable and stop substituting them with other, less important things. Your productivity will thank you.

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Photo Credit: Naypong


How To Manage Your Time Like a Genius

You could be the next genius in your field if you learn to manage your time like one!
I’m of the opinion that being a “genius” or “talented” are traits only partially gained at birth and that excellent time management skills play a big part in most very successful people. Let’s look at their secret.

Time Management From Amadeus to Zuckerberg

On my trip to Salzburg, Austria I had the opportunity to tour the birth place of one of classical music’s greatest talents- Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. On display are many letters that Mozart wrote back and forth to his sister, including one in which he described in detail what his typical work day entailed. Here is an excerpt of what he wrote:

“My hair is always done by 6 in the morning and by 7 I am fully dressed. I then compose until 9. Then I give lessons from 9-1…I can never work before 5 or 6. I am often prevented by a concert. If not, I compose until 9…..When I come home early I will often lose myself in writing until 1 o’clock and then wake up again.”

I was amazed at his work ethic. Having been told my whole life that Mozart was a musical genius, it’s easy to think that this brilliant music just poured out of his head with ease. I’m not suggesting that if I too spent the majority of every day composing that I could also produce music of Mozart’s quality. There is definitely something to be said for sheer talent. However, Mozart devoted hours upon hours to writing his music. He ate, breathed and slept music. It was his life. This wasn’t just dedication, it was obsession.

Fast forward about 250 years and you’ll find the same obsession in today’s great minds. The movie The Social Network depicts the tireless energy Mark Zuckerberg put into creating Facebook. We can sit around and debate the movie’s gross inaccuracies of the “real” story, but one thing seems to be clear- this man ate, breathed and slept Facebook. He too was obsessed and used this obsession to push his idea into existence.

Both of these men were obsessed with their craft and their time management plan seemed to be “work whenever possible.” My question is, is this the kind of dedication it takes to do great things? Is the quest for a healthy, balanced life unrealistic?

I don’t think so. In his book Outliers, Malcom Gladwell popularized the idea of the 10,000 Hour Rule; that you need to do something for 10,000 hours to be truly great. I don’t believe that those 10,000 hours need to necessarily be all in a row. The key is persistence. You’ll never reach those 10,000 hours if you consistently get off track, let Time Killers steal your focus and give in to procrastination. However, you’ll also never reach those 10,000 hours if you try to do them all at once and burn out too quickly. Seth Godin describes this as getting past The Dip.

The lesson to take from these great minds is not their obsessive use of their time, but their obsessive belief in their work. Their time management secret is actually a motivation management secret. Work with fierce determination toward your goal and you’re on track to greatness.

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My Facebook Challenge

This summer, a time management battle of epic proportions is being fought on a quiet little street in Phoenix Arizona. The stand off is between my productivity and my most addictive Time Killer: Facebook.

During the school year, I have a fairly healthy relationship with my Time Killers. I am able to focus on my work for a good chunk of time and then take a break to check my email, grab a snack and check out what’s going on in Facebook Land.

Now that summer is here, I’m having an extremely difficult time not letting my social network distract me. Whereas normally I could easily sit down at my computer for an hour of focused work, I now find myself checking Facebook every 5 minutes. The constant interruption of focus is starting to really annoy me and I know it’s affecting my productivity.

I have a theory as to why my ability to be distracted has suddenly surged. During the school year, I spend the first 8 hours of my day surrounded by people at work. I also spend about 6 hours a week surrounded by my ASU classmates. Now, in the summer, I spend most of my day working in my home office…by myself. I know that my summer Facebook addiction is due to my craving of social interaction!

A Week Without Facebook

To win my Time Killer battle, I am going to go without Facebook for the next week. I will not check it on my phone, I will not have it open on my computer and I won’t even ask my husband to update my status for me. (“Emily is really missing Facebook right now…”) All “Desserts” are fine in moderation, but I have let this Time Killer have too much power. My challenge this week is to give Facebook a break and find another way to find some social interaction without constantly interrupting my work.

Be sure to check back next Sunday to read about how I did with my challenge!

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Knowing When to Stop

Not everything goes according to plan. Few people would disagree with that statement, but that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily easy to deal with! Planning out your day in advance is an essential part to having great time management skills, but we have to be prepared to quickly adjust the plan when unexpected speed bumps arise in our day.

On Thursday, my husband had a dinner to attend for work. I had a lot of work to finish up so I was really looking forward to having the house to myself and enjoying a productive evening. I had a whole “itinerary” of tasks planned out.

First on my list was editing a track for the school talent show next week (oh the things on an elementary music teacher’s to-do list!) I sat down with my laptop, but quickly became frustrated when I couldn’t get the microphone to work. I should have just stopped and moved on to the next thing on my list but did I? No. Instead, I spent the next hour fighting with technology, Googling tutorials, and restarting my computer. When I finally decided to give up for the evening, I was so frustrated that I ended up watching reruns of the “The Office” to help fight the urge to throw my laptop out the window. So much for my productive evening!

Avoiding Frustration

We work most efficiently when we are motivated, not frustrated. This is why when we hit a major point of frustration with a task it’s sometimes best to walk away, give it a rest, and start something else. However, there is a difference between something being frustrating and something being difficult. If we stop each task when we get to a difficult part, pretty soon we’ll only have the hardest parts of all our work left on our choose-to list. Frustration is different from difficulty. When you’re frustrated, it’s not necessarily because something is hard to do, it’s because something just isn’t clicking. I had used my microphone setup a hundred times, but for some reason it wasn’t working this week. Maybe your technology isn’t working either, or you have a headache or you’re getting irritated with your co-workers. In this case, it’s best to just walk away and come back to it later before your frustration consumes all of your desire to be productive.

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When Perfection is a Waste of Time

Even those of us who don’t label ourselves a “perfectionist” have our moments of obsession with getting something just right. We generally think that being a perfectionist is an admirable quality. However, in The Time Diet, it can also lead to massive amounts of unnecessary wasted time. There are times when perfection matters and there are also times when “good enough” truly is good enough. Knowing the difference is important in time management.

This week I have a research paper due for one of my grad school classes. Completing an entire original research study in one semester is generally considered to be an impossibility so my professor has asked for a rough draft to grade us on. She has stressed that this paper does not have to be close to final form yet, she just wants to see our progress. The perfectionist in me has had a difficult time with those instructions. I have declared myself  “done” with this draft no less than 8 times over the past week. I have saved the document, opened up an email to send it to my professor, and then decided I want to add one more quote or change one more word.

No Such Thing As Perfection

The problem is that this kind of perfectionism is a giant waste of time. In this case, my work does not have to be perfect and the relentless pursuit to make it so is not worth it. My time is far better spent finishing up other work. While I made countless edits to my draft, my other equally important work sat on my desk untouched.

No work will ever be perfect. There will always be something you can change, something you can add, or something you can fix. At some point, you have to just say enough is enough and move on. As I’m posting this blog, my draft is sitting in my professor’s inbox waiting to be read. It is not perfect. Even when I fix it up and submit it to a journal, it will still not be perfect. However, it is “good enough”, and right now that’s good enough for me.

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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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Reassess Your Schedule

Is all this stuff I’m doing really worth it? We don’t ask ourselves this question nearly enough and it is one of the biggest problems that lead to being stuck in a time management rut.

Our lives change from year to year, month to month and day to day. We try out new things, explore new ideas and rearrange our priorities. What was important to us two years ago may not still be important to us today. This is why it’s crucial to constantly re-evaluate the things we do and decide whether or not they are still worth our valuable time!

To see if something is worthy of a place in your schedule, you need to weigh the total time an activity takes versus the benefit it provides you. If you find that you’re not getting enough benefit from a task to justify the time you put in…then why are you doing it? It doesn’t belong in your Time Diet. That would be like indulging in a high calorie dessert that just wasn’t very delicious. What’s the point?

My Experience

My school district offers frequent professional development classes in the evenings. In the past, I have taken as many of these classes as I can. They are a great opportunity to learn new teaching skills and I’m able to put the small stipend we get for attending toward my grad school bill! When I saw that a new “Podcasting 101” class was being offered in March, I didn’t even think twice about signing up. Why not? I took these classes last year all the time. Here is the problem- my life is different this year than it was last year and I didn’t think about that.

Last year I was working on my masters, this year I’m working on my doctorate. Last year I was just beginning my journey in blogging, speaking and writing about time management, and now working on The Time Diet takes a significant amount of my time during the week.  Last year taking these district classes was worth it, this year it’s not.  Don’t get me wrong- I still really enjoy learning new things, but my evening time is now better spent working on my research papers and finding new speaking engagements. Theses classes are also offered in the summer when my schedule is far less hectic. That is when I need to sign up for them!

I failed to re-evaluate my priorities before adding another thing to my plate. I ended up spending 8 hours doing something that was not the best use of my time. I will not make that mistake again!

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Learning to Say No

“No, I’m sorry. I won’t be able to do that for you.” Has it been a while since you’ve said that? Do you always find yourself saying “yes” to things you know you don’t have time for? You might need a refresher course in the ability to say “No.”

In time management, there are two ways to find more time:

1) Do the same amount of tasks more efficiently or

2) Do fewer things

We spend a lot of time focusing on figuring out ways to do #1, that we often forget that #2 is also an option. I’m not suggesting you go to your boss and inform him or her that from now on, in order to reduce your stress level, you will only be completing half of your job description. No, when looking for things to cut out, think of those extra favors that people ask you to do. We feel obligated to say yes to all of these things. We don’t want to let others down and we are afraid of destroying our image as a “super human” who can do it all. However, if you truly need to trim down your schedule in your Time Diet, you need to be better at saying no.

Here is the truth: nobody can do it all. Not even you. With excellent time management skills, you can accomplish more than you ever thought possible, but everyone has their limit. The next time someone asks you to do something “extra” that you know will take more time than you have available, use the following tips to help say No:

How to Say No

1) Be Prompt: When saying No to a favor, tell the person as soon as they ask you. It is tempting to say “maybe” in hopes that more time will magically open up in your schedule. This is not fair to the other person. Telling them No right away lets them know you respect their time and gives them ample opportunity to find another person to help them out.

2) Be Honest: You all know how much I loathe the line “I’m too busy.” If you have to tell someone No, don’t use “I’m too busy” as a reason. Remember, the person asking you a favor is also “busy” just like everyone else in the world. We make time for what is important to us and if this favor were absolutely essential, you would make time for it as well. Instead, say something like, “Adding this to my plate right now would really overload me. I’m going to have to say No to this one.”

3) Be Direct: Say No kindly but firmly and then move on with your life. Don’t continue to fall all over yourself with things like, “I’m so so sorry I couldn’t do that for you, it’s been a really bad time for me” or “any other time you need anything at all from me just ask.” Statements like this make you appear as though you don’t value your own time and are not in control of your own time management decisions.

It is also important to remember that if you say “Yes” to favors that you are realistically able to make time for, it makes saying “No” much easier when you need to. You need to find the balance of being the go-to person people can count on and being the person who values their own time and is selective of their tasks.

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