Worry is the Thief of…Time Management?

When we are stressed about something, we try not to think about it. However, there is a difference between avoiding a worry that is stealing our focus, and putting off a dreaded task indefinitely. One is a healthy way to avoid stress. The other can lead to a time management disaster.

It’ll Get Done!

In college, I had a friend who functioned as sort of a “stress police” for me. Whenever she caught me stressing out about an assignment, she would say, “Don’t worry about it! It’ll get done!”

I think about those words frequently. I want so badly to believe they are sage advice. How nice it must be to simply not worry about the work we have to do and trust that it will just…happen. As I add more roles and responsibilities to my life, I want even more to believe that the “It’ll all get done” attitude is the way to go. I’ve come to the conclusion that the attitude itself isn’t so bad. It’s just missing a step. It’s missing the plan.

Hiding Your Worries

When we are staring down a big, difficult task that stresses us out, we will sometimes try to put it out of our heads and think about other things. This relieves the stress in the short term, but just delays the inevitable. It’s like throwing a sheet over the dishes in the sink. You can no longer see them, but the mess is still there. This isn’t necessarily bad. Sometimes you have to throw a sheet over your mess so it doesn’t stress you out while you’re working on other things. However, you need a plan for when to take the sheet off. Otherwise, you have just created a nasty procrastination habit that is going to cause more problems for you later.

When you find yourself worrying about a dreaded task, stop. Either:

1. Start the task now or

2. Create a written plan for when the task will begin

The Plan is Key

Once you have a realistic plan, then you can allow yourself to say, “Don’t worry about it. It’ll get done!” Now, you’re not relying on things to just “happen,” you have a concrete plan for how they are going to happen. Of course, something can always go wrong, but you have little control over that, and we all know how useless it is to worry about something we can’t control. So go ahead! Allow yourself to stop worrying about that upcoming task! As long as you have a plan for its completion.

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Photo Credit: Chanpipat, Free Digital Photos

Surviving My Facebook Break

For the past week, I decided to take a break from Facebook for the sake of my time management. I’m not against the social networking site at all. In fact, I think it is extremely important to have little distractions like this that allow us to zone out for a few minutes and give our brains a rest. However, my Facebook usage was getting out of hand and starting to affect my productivity. I decided that we needed a break in our relationship. Here is how my week went:

Day 1: Realized that no Facebook meant I would have to wait to post the pictures of the wedding I went to last weekend. Received upset email from my sister-in-law that I wasn’t posting pictures (she couldn’t be at the wedding.) This was going to be harder than I thought.

Day 2: Felt antsy and almost snuck a peak at my phone over breakfast. Instead, nosed around on the Internet and found some awesome SEO articles to peruse and then went to Starbucks for a work session. Productivity increase of at least 300%.

Day 3: Husband tells me that he saw on Facebook that my sister’s boyfriend got into a bicycle accident. Realized that Facebook is one of my major sources of news. Made a brief and supervised exception to my Facebook fast to look at the picture of him smiling in his hospital bed donning a bike helmet. Husband quickly shoos me off his account and tells me to stick to my rule as I vow to call my sister first thing in the morning and discuss with her proper ways of sharing breaking news with family members.

Day 4: Worked on the syllabus for the class I’m teaching in the fall. Felt the temptation to click over to my browser and scroll through Facebook land. Resisted the temptation and went for a walk around the block to get the mail instead. Felt re-energized and finished 45 more minutes of work. Win.

Day 5: Wanted very badly to tell everyone how well my productive week was going in a Facebook status update. Briefly contemplated the hypocrisy that would entail. Met new friends in person and realized that Facebook has replaced email as my go-to digital address book. Social networking sites do have useful purposes other than wasting time.

Day 6: Found myself going on Twitter a lot more in place of Facebook. Wondered if this was somehow cheating because Twitter is also a social networking site. Realized that it wasn’t cheating because everything I do on Twitter is to build my business. I don’t use a personal Twitter account.

Day 7: First day I could honestly say I didn’t miss Facebook. While working on a paper for grad school I didn’t once click over to my browser. Finished my work much more quickly and rewarded myself with a Happy Hour with friends. Annoying Facebook habit= broken.

So what did I learn through all of this? Facebook, as well other Time Killers, has a time and a place. Time Killers are like the cookies of your Time Diet. They are fine to have once in a while, but you shouldn’t eat them for breakfast. I am now confident that I can use Facebook as a way to keep in touch with people, share pictures and send messages without letting it interfere with my work and productivity.

Final Score: Emily: 1 Facebook: 0

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Time Management, Facebook, Social Networking

The Last 5 Percent

Why is it that we’ll spend all day working on something, and then stop right before it’s actually finished? We’ll finish 95% of the work involved, and then leave that last 5% until later. Oh “later”….that infamous black hole of time home to so many unwanted tasks!

The problem, of course, is that “later” gets here and we don’t feel any more like finishing up that work. In fact, we feel even less like doing it than we did before! We aren’t in the zone anymore. You create a lot of momentum when you’re working on that first 95% that carries you through to the finish. However, if you stop and try to come back to it later, you won’t have all of that built up momentum to carry you through. It’s like taking a roller coaster car off its track right before that last little hill, then putting it back later and wondering why it isn’t moving.

Time Management Solution

This isn’t to say you should never take breaks. No, you need breaks in your work to keep you going. I’m saying the worst time to take a break is when you are almost finished. Rather than spend the time and energy to get back into the project later, the temptation to say, “You know, this is probably good enough” is too great.

Last week, my husband and I finally admitted to ourselves that our TV was broken and bought a new one. We spent all day picking one out, buying a stand for it and setting it up. The last thing we needed to do was move the old TV into the garage (not an easy task considering it is one of those old TVs that weighs about 200 pounds.) However, I didn’t want to! I had a brand new TV sitting in front of me and I wanted to watch it! We could move the old one later. My fabulous husband talked some sense into me and said, “No, we should just move it now and be done with it.”

I was so glad we did! There was no way we’d feel like moving that thing later and now we didn’t have to worry about it. Don’t let yourself leave that last 5% until later. It’ll just loom over your schedule like a giant bulky television in the middle of your living room.

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Top 5 Reasons We Procrastinate

“I’ll do it later” is the enemy of time management and eliminates our control over our Time Diets. Why do we procrastinate? Here are the 5 most common reasons and what we can do to stop!

1) We Don’t Want to Do the Task

The biggest reason people put something off is because they don’t want to do whatever it is they have to do. When we don’t want to do something we become really good at convincing ourselves that we’ll want to do it tomorrow instead. In fact, we come up with fabulous excuses such as, “I’ll feel more inspired tomorrow” or “Tomorrow, I’ll feel more well rested and it will be easier” or “This will be first on my list tomorrow.” However, when tomorrow finally gets here, we don’t feel any more like doing the task than we did the day before. Don’t let yourself fall for these excuses.

2) We Like the Pressure of a Deadline

We’ve all felt that intense stress and pressure when we’re working up against a deadline. The problem is, some people thrive on it. How do those of us who work best against a deadline fight procrastination? Make your own deadlines! If you make your own deadline a few days before the real one, you still get the feeling of working under pressure without being in danger of actually missing your deadline! Afraid you won’t stick to a self-created deadline? Tell as many people as possible about it to help hold you accountable.

3) We Focus on Due Dates, Not Start Dates

When someone asks us to do something, the first question we ask is, “When would you like it to be finished?” The second follow up question we often forget to ask ourselves is, “When am I going to start this?” Without a definite start date in mind, we run the risk of putting a task out of our minds until the due date is staring us in the face. Saying you’re going to do something is not the same as planning when you’re going to do it. Never write a due date in your calendar without also writing a start date.

4) We Don’t Have an Idea

We’ll often procrastinate on creative tasks because we haven’t thought of the perfect idea yet. Here is the problem: You could spend a lifetime waiting for the perfect idea to pop into your head. Sometimes you need to just start writing. Your first idea doesn’t have to be perfect but at least it’s something! It’s easier to revise a mediocre idea than continue to stare at a blank page.

5) It’s a Habit

If you’ve been a procrastinator your whole life, it can be extremely difficult to break yourself of this bad habit. I’ve even heard people justify their procrastination by saying, “I’ve always procrastinated and I’ve never been late with anything.” That’s like saying that you don’t need to buy car insurance because you’ve never been in a car accident. If you consistently wait until the last minute to do things, you will miss deadlines. It’s only a matter of time. Not to mention the fact that procrastinating triples your stress level when “crunch time” comes around and you’re more likely to have a productivity crash afterwards from sheer exhaustion. Stop making excuses and start doing things now.

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My 100 Dollar Mistake

The Time Diet Rebate

If it takes less than 5 minutes, do it now. I’m usually very good at following that simple piece of time management advice, but not in this case.

About two months ago my husband’s cell phone that he’s had for 6 years finally died so we went to the Sprint store to pick out a brand new one. After much deliberation, we decided on the HTC EVO. The price tag was a little hefty, but it came with a 100-dollar mail-in rebate (and the phone was just so cool!)

Now, let me say how much I hate mail-in rebates. Why would a company not just give me the 100 dollars off to begin with? Because they hope that I’ll forget to send it in and they can just keep their 100 dollars. That seems deceitful and mean so I usually don’t buy things with rebates, however… let me reiterate how cool this phone is.

When I got home, I should have filled out the rebate right then, but I didn’t. That was my pivotal mistake. Instead, I put it on the counter where it soon acquired other papers on top of it, which was later moved to the desk where it joined a sea of other papers and got lost. I just found the rebate yesterday and realized it expired. There goes 100 dollars!

The 5 Minute Rule

Why is such an easy rule so hard to follow? If something takes less than 5 minutes to do, it’s best to do it right away. There is no reason not to! However, these tiny little tasks are actually the easiest to put off. When something will only take us a few minutes, it is very easy to convince ourselves to just do it tomorrow. The problem is that when “tomorrow” gets here, we don’t feel any more motivated to do that little task than we did the day before. A small task that should have only taken 5 minutes ends up being forgotten or put off until infinite “tomorrows” and then inevitably comes back to bite us.

Here is my challenge to you today: find one 5-minute task you’ve been putting off and do it.  Make that quick phone call! Respond to that email! Change that light bulb in the bathroom! Don’t put it off until another tomorrow. You’ll thank yourself later.

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