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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Photo Credit: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

College is around the corner! Make sure you son, daughter, niece, nephew, neighbor, or friend is prepared. Get them a copy of the 5-star reviewed “The Time Diet: Time Management for College Survival” today for $11.99. (update! Amazon has it on sale today! Save a couple bucks)

Time Management Book for Students

Time Management Book for Students

Is the Extra Mile a Waste of Time?

time management extra mileWe grow up hearing that we don’t get far in life without going the extra mile. That going above and beyond the call of duty is the way to be noticed, get ahead, and stand out, but is it really the best use of our time? This week I read an article called “Nobody Cares How Awesome You Are at Your Job” that made me re-think the assumption that exceeding expectations is always best. Here is what I discovered…

My Initial Reaction

In this article, the author cites a study in the Social Psychological and Personality Science journal that found people are disappointed when expectations aren’t met, but aren’t necessarily impressed when they are exceeded. The researcher makes a comparison to Amazon shipping- that if you order something with 4 day shipping and it arrives in 5, you’re upset, but if it arrives in 3, you aren’t impressed.

At first I was angry with this article. I thought the take-away message was that we should all strive for mediocrity, never try hard, and skate by on doing the least amount of work possible. But then I thought more about it.

Re-thinking Mediocrity

Since when is fulfilling a promise mediocre? Since when is doing exactly what you say you’re going to do not good enough? Perhaps it’s this kind of “above and beyond” thinking that creates an unrealistic super hero mentality. That we are all capable of doing absolutely everything, and if we don’t, we’re letting people down. Perhaps it’s wonderful that we aren’t overly impressed with over-delivered promises, because simply fulfilling an expectation should be good enough.

This super hero mentality also causes us to let some people down while we’re trying to overly impress others. We only have so much energy and so much time in the day, so if you’re spending more time than you should on one task, you’re probably not putting the necessary time into your other obligations. The people you’re letting down don’t really care that you over-delivered to someone else. Perhaps it’s best to make sure all of your obligations are met before trying to exceed any of them.

It Still Has a Place

Finally, I do believe that there is still a place for the extra mile. I like to go above and beyond for my friends when I know they aren’t expecting it, or when I’m particularly passionate about a project. However, when the “extra mile” becomes something we expect of ourselves all the time, it isn’t really an “extra” anymore. You’ve just made the journey longer.

Connect with The Time Diet for more time management tips

Photo Credit: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

College is around the corner! Make sure you son, daughter, niece, nephew, neighbor, or friend is prepared. Get them a copy of the 5-star reviewed “The Time Diet: Time Management for College Survival” today for $11.99. (update! Amazon has it on sale today! Save a couple bucks)

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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Photo Credit: Freedigitalphotos.net

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.

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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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Why 2pm is The Worst Time of Day

Time Management AfternoonIf you, like me, suffer from a mid-afternoon productivity slump, then you’ll appreciate this. (It should be noted that the following verse was written between the hours of 2 and 3pm)

Ode to 2:00

Oh 2:00 I hate you so
The worst time of the day
I get a bunch of nothing done
Much to my dismay

At 9 I’m full of energy
My to-do list is a snap
But once the clock strikes 2 o’clock
I’m poised to take a nap

I stagger to the coffee pot
And blearily rub my eyes
I watch the clock tick slowly past
The number I despise

Perhaps I overate at lunch
That soup and BLT
I know I’ll get my second wind
If I just wait till 3

Then after dark I’ll sit in bed
Wide awake again
Oh why can’t this 2:00 feeling
Come at 10 pm?

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Three Ways to Make Life Transitions Even Harder

Time management rough roadHave you ever driven on a paved mountain road only to turn left and suddenly be on a bumpy gravel path? Do you drive the same way? Or do you quickly adjust your speed and attention to the new driving conditions? Unfortunately, we aren’t always so quick to adjust to life transitions. Here are three ways we make our life transitions harder than they need to be:

1. Refuse to Accept Change

Sometimes when our daily routine is modified, we spend the first few days (weeks, months, years) refusing to belief that anything is different. We either fight the change, complain about it, grumble about how good it “used to be,” or some combination of the three. This not only wastes our time, but it causes undue frustration and stress.

2. Try to Solve New Problems with the Same Solutions

Once we realize things have changed, we must also realize that the way we approach problems will need to change too. What used to work might not work anymore. It’s like trying to nail a picture to the wall using a sledgehammer. Reach into your toolbox and look for something different.

3. Don’t Seek Help

No matter how strange your new situation may seem- whether it’s a new job, new family arrangement, new schedule, or new location- you’re not the first person to go through this transition. Why reinvent the wheel when so many others have gone before you? Reach out to other people who have made a similar transition and ask how they handled it.

If you’re a long time Time Diet reader, you know I’m going through my fair share of transitions right now (finishing the PhD, baby on the way, etc…) That’s why I love this blog. It’s a way we can all support each other.

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The Social Media Song: How to Deal With A Lack of Focus

Have you ever had one of those days where you had the best of productive intentions, only to have them derailed by a lack of focus? Happens to me all the time, so I wrote a song about it – specifically, about how the Internet hates to see me be productive. Can you relate? Check it out:

So how do we fix this problem? If your Time Killer has become such a habit that you’re having trouble regulating it, you might try giving it up completely for a while. For example, go on a Facebook or Netflix fast for a few weeks and then slowly add it back in in a way you can control. Or, do what I do and write a silly song about it. Your choice.

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How To Make Time To Network

Making time to Network“It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” We’ve all heard that phrase before and understand why it’s important. Networking can get us a job, an internship, more business, new business, and expand our professional circle. But who has the time? Cultivating new relationships seems time consuming and when we’re already busy, it seems like one extra thing that can’t fit in our schedule. Try these three tips for more effective networking:

1. Network everywhere

A 3 day conference, a weekly networking lunch, or a monthly mixer are all great ways to meet new people, but if your schedule is tight, network wherever you are! Talk to the person sitting next to you on the airplane, chat with the person in front of you at Starbucks, or say hello to that lady you always end up next to in your 7am yoga class. Networking in an informal setting is a time-saving way to meet new people.

2. Follow up

When you take the time to meet new people, unless you also make room in your schedule to follow up with them, you’re not maximizing your effort. I recently attended a workshop with business coach Mary Cravets, who pointed out that unless you make time to follow up, you haven’t actually made time to network. Reach out to the people you meet with either a quick email, note, or phone call. This isn’t the time to say, “…and by the way, can you help get me a job?” This is the time to lay the foundation for a relationship that you’ll keep up over time.

3. Be patient

Networking doesn’t produce results overnight. If you don’t see results right away, don’t assume your networking isn’t working. Be patient. Building relationships doesn’t take a lot of time all at once, it takes a little bit of time consistently over a while.

Networking is an important skill that requires practice. What steps will you take this week to expand your network?

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Did you know that Emily is a public speaking coach in Phoenix? Get that standing ovation next time you speak.  Learn more

How Night Owls Can Work With Morning People

Time Management Morning PersonTime management is difficult enough when we’re just keeping track of ourselves. When you have two or more people collaborating on a project together, planning can seem next to impossible. That’s because each person has an individual working style that may or may not match with the others on the team.  Here are the three most common working style conflicts that come up between collaborators and how to address them.

The Night Owl and the Morning Person

You’re ready to go first thing in the morning. Your collaborator needs 6 cups of coffee to get the day started and prefers to stay after hours when he’s most productive. You each think the other simply needs to “will themselves” to do their best work at the “right” time of day.

The first step to overcoming the night/morning disparity is recognizing that you each work differently and that’s OK. There is no magic rule stating that everyone must reach their optimal productivity zone at the same time. Then, try to find a way to work independently as much as possible. Meet together at a time mid-day, and then complete independent work whenever works best for you.

Priority A and Priority B

When two team members fight, sometimes it’s because their priorities weren’t lined up from the beginning. Team member A might view team member B as a lazy slacker who isn’t pulling his weight, when in reality, team member B is just devoting time to the tasks he feels are most important.

At the beginning of a project, be sure to make everyone’s goals and priorities clear so that everyone begins on the same page and is working toward the same thing. Be sure to listen to each other and be aware that others may bring a different set of experiences to the table that justify different goals and priorities.

Details vs. Big Picture

Another common reason that collaboration breaks down is when one person is focused on the details, the other person is focused on the big picture, and neither one realizes the difference. The Big Picture person will view the Detail person as wasting time on frivolous tasks, while the Detail person will view the Big Picture person as lazy and in danger of letting things slip through the cracks.

Recognize these differences and embrace them. Instead of changing your expectations for the other person, use your knowledge of your skills to better divide the workload. Let the Big Picture person take care of tasks related to the more broad vision, and the Detail person can take care of nitty gritty tasks the other person doesn’t care about.

The most important step in all three of these situations is recognizing that people work differently and there is no one “right” way we should demand of everyone!

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