The Thing That’s Missing From Your Calendar

Time management calendar pieceDo certain tasks cling to your to-do list forever? I’ve had some odds and ends on my list for a while that I never seem to have time for. Today I finally figured out why…

I didn’t have them on my calendar!

“Between Time”

I give seminars, presentations, and workshops all day, with an occasional meeting sprinkled in here and there. Those types of things have prominent places on my calendar, but that’s not all I have to do during the day. I have to respond to emails, compile mileage reports, map out new presentations, etc… I call them “between” tasks, because I squeeze them in here and there between larger obligations.

Today I noticed that my “between time” has been more scarce than usual and some of these smaller tasks have been slipping. If these tasks are to be completed, I need to reserve space on my calendar, just like any other obligation.

Assign Your Smaller Tasks

So, this week, I’m designating where my “between time” is and fiercely protecting it, just like I would any time I’ve reserved for a meeting or workshop.

Take a look at the older tasks still clinging to your to-do list. Are they missing from your calendar? Assign them a time on your calendar this week so you can actually cross them off!

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Why Urgent Is Easy But Planning Is Hard

Time Management UrgentWhen you stare at your to-do list, you subconsciously look for three things:

Tasks that are easy
Tasks that are urgent and
Tasks that are important.

When only one task stands out as fitting all of those categories, deciding what to do first is a no-brainer. On the other hand, when everything feels urgent, we have a stressful problem I like to call “Priority Paralysis,” but what about when nothing feels urgent? Here are three reasons an urgent-free to-do list can be a problem and what to do about it!

1. We don’t know what to do first

Urgent vs non-urgent tasks make prioritizing easy, but if “urgent” is the only thing you look for when deciding which task to tackle, what happens when nothing presents an urgent deadline? You don’t know what to do first! This is why The Time Diet is based on categorizing. Pick a Meat task (difficult) Vegetable task (easy) and Dessert task (fun) to focus on during your day. That gives you some parameters to help structure your schedule in a way that ensures you’ll get ahead on your non-urgent tasks while maintaining balance in your day.

2. We’re likely to procrastinate

Another problem with an urgent-free to-do list is that we’re tempted to do nothing! It’s easy to procrastinate when none of our deadlines are urgent at the moment. Remember, if you only deal with tasks when they are urgent, that ensures that you’ll always be faced with a last minute stressful time crunch. Try scheduling “start dates” in your calendar for each “due date.” It’s easy to say we’ll begin something later, but a start date defines exactly when “later” is.

3. We waste time

When we aren’t up against the pressure of an urgent deadline, it’s easy to allow Time Killers to distract us. When people thrive on the pressure of a deadline, it’s often because there is  less time to be distracted and it forces them to focus and work more efficiently. This concept is called Parkinson’s Law, which says that work expands to fill the time we give it. Try removing Time Killers (smartphone, Facebook, etc…) even while you complete non-urgent work so you finish faster.

A non-urgent to-do list is definitely something to celebrate, but not ignore. You’ll never eliminate last-minute time crunch crises, but by efficiently organizing your non-urgent tasks, you’ll be able to decrease the amount of time spent up against a deadline.

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Time Management Book for Students

Time Management Book for Students

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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Our Unhealthy Obsession with Due Dates

One of the tenets of The Time Diet is that stressing out and worrying wastes our time. Half the stress of getting it all done comes from worrying about getting it all done. This attitude comes from our unhealthy obsession with deadlines and due dates. We are bombarded with deadlines in our lives. Bills are due! Projects are due! Paperwork is due! This is the kind of stuff that keeps us up at night and we’d be far more efficient if we spent that energy developing a plan of attack to actually complete this work. You see, every deadline you write in your calendar has a corresponding date that is much more important: your start date. While deadlines are often set by other people, the more important start date is set by you.

This past week was the first full week of the ASU spring semester. There is no better time to witness the stress of deadlines than this initial week of school (except maybe finals week, which has some pretty intense deadline stress too). You see, this first full week of classes is when all the course syllabi are handed out. As the professors carefully walk the class through their expectations for the semester, the students are frantically flipping through the syllabus looking for words like “20 page paper” or “Final Exam: worth 50% of your grade.” Those deadlines then take their place in the part of students’ brains reserved for stressful things where they will loom for the rest of the semester. When you multiply this process by the number of classes a student is taking, the resulting state of mind is the student version of deadline-stress which I like to call, “syllabus overload.”

Syllabus overload is a perfect example of the dangers of stressing out about deadlines with no regard for start dates. Rather than allowing deadlines to pile up in their brains, students should immediately get out their calendars, write down the deadline and then also write down the date they intent to start that project. Does your syllabus say you have a 15-page paper due half-way through the semester? You’ll want to allow 5 days to write it (3 pages a day as a general rule of thumb) plus a buffer of a few days to allow for unexpected things to come up. I would pick a date in my calendar no later than 10 days before this paper is due and write “start paper.”  Do this for every due date in all of your syllabi. Now, you still have a lot of work to do, but the deadlines don’t have to freak you out. All you have to do is look at your calendar and you’ll see your whole plan of attack all laid out. No more worrying about how in the world all your work will be done. You know when it will all be done. You just planned it!

The importance of start dates applies to more than just students. Anyone who has deadlines in their lives needs to also plan out their start dates. Take taxes for example. April 15th does not often invoke thoughts of happiness because it is ingrained in most people’s heads as the day taxes are due (except of course this year when they are due April 18th.) If you do your own taxes, you’ve likely stressed about this deadline many times. Instead of just writing “taxes due” in your calendar, pick a date that you will begin working on them and write “start taxes.” The simple act of designating a start date will do wonders for your stress level. Looking at a calendar of only deadlines makes us feel powerless. Looking at a calendar of self-created start dates makes us feel in control. The Time Diet is all about being in control. Good-bye deadline-stress!!

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