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.

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100 Practical Time Management Tips

This is The Time Diet’s 100th Post! Usually, I try to keep my time management blogs brief. However, this momentous occasion deserves a celebration! Presenting my list of 100 practical time management tips. Read them, skim them, or forward them to a friend. Even if you only pick five and apply them to your work day tomorrow, you’ll notice a gain in your productivity. Enjoy!

100 Time Management Tips

1. Set your own deadlines earlier than the “real” ones

2.  Close your email for an hour

3.  Get up earlier

4. Start a difficult task today

5.  Keep a list for daily tasks and consult it frequently

6. Lower your stress

7.  Write down your goals and post them prominently

8.  Keep a calendar

9. Set a start date for a dreaded task

10. Talk to a trusted friend or co-worker to gain another time management perspective

11. Schedule a Dessert into your day

12. Focus

13. Remove a Time Killer

14. Break up a larger task into smaller chunks

15.  Change your scenery by doing work in a different place

16.  Delegate something you’ve been holding on to unnecessarily

17.  Finish a small Vegetable task you’ve been putting off

18. Start something non-urgent to get ahead

19.  Time how long a dreaded task takes

20.  Talk to someone you admire

21.  Learn how to use new and efficient technology that will make work easier

22. Visualize completion to stay motivated

23. Ditch your excuses

24. “Unplug” for an hour and do your work away from your computer for a change

25. Spend time rather than “filling” it

26. If it takes less than 5 minutes, do it now

27. Stop worrying and start doing

28. Ask for help

29. Don’t confuse busy with productive

30. Use social media as a tool not a distraction

31. Define your home workspace

32. Ignore your cell phone once in a while

33. Match your most difficult task with the time of day your energy level is highest

34. Don’t reinvent the wheel, seek resources from others

35. Re-evaluate your tasks. Are your processes working? Or is there a faster way.

36.  Make time to say “thank you” frequently

37. Return that email you’ve been avoiding.

38. Don’t waste your time with things that don’t produce results

39. Don’t go into meetings assuming they will waste your time. Look for the benefits.

40. Give tasks your full effort. Anything less is a waste of your time

41. Anticipate your busy times and prepare for them

42. Keep a Slow Day List

43. Pick your most important Meat, Vegetable, and Dessert for the day and schedule those tasks first.

44. No task will ever be “perfect.” At some point, it just has to be done

45. If a time management application doesn’t work for you, ditch it.

46. Practice good Time Management Karma

47. If you have the money to pay someone else to do a task that will free up your time for more important things, do it.

48. Clear your workspace

49. Take care of small problems before they become big problems

50. Don’t strive to be the last car in the parking lot

51. Stay positive. Attitude truly is everything

52. Fun Desserts only count if you’re not thinking about work

53. Maintaining relationships takes time. Make the time. They are important.

54. Make sure “time-savers” actually save you time.

55. If an idea isn’t coming to you, stop and do something else.

56. If working from home is distracting, go somewhere else!

57. If you don’t want to be available 24/7, don’t answer email at 2am. You train people what to expect from you.

58.  Celebrate your accomplishments

59. Set a designated time for people to “interrupt” you. Then they’ll be less likely to do it while you’re working.

60. Working sloppily and working quickly aren’t the same thing

61. Be proactive, not reactive

62. Become skilled at ending phone calls politely and quickly

63. Measure your productivity in quality not quantity

64. When juggling multiple projects simultaneously, focus on one at a time.

65. Keep a cool head on a hectic day

66. Stop procrastinating

67. Actively search for inspiration

68. Schedule at least a little bit of physical activity every day

69. You may wear many different hats during the day (multiple jobs, family, mentor, etc.) Don’t try to wear two at the same time.

70. Do not say “yes” to obligations you can’t keep

71. Do not say “no” to potentially beneficial obligations just because you’re scared of them.

72. Focus on one thing rather than haphazardly moving from one task to the next

73. Start in the middle if you’re stuck at the beginning

74. Be flexible

75. Don’t avoid setting goals just because you’re afraid they’ll change

76. Never be caught with an idea and no means to write it down

77. Think of your day as being divided into 30-60 minute chunks. That’s less overwhelming than trying to schedule 24 hours at a time.

78. Tune out your inner-time waster

79. Guard your personal time fiercely

80. Make sure the time you put into a task is worth the benefit you get out of it

81. Read with a pen to stay engaged and maximize swift comprehension

82. Don’t work where you sleep

83. Use cell phone alarms for appointments if you are forgetful

84. If it takes longer to make your to-do list than accomplish something on it, you’re spending too much time organizing

85. Don’t be afraid of failure

86. Don’t just set a paper on your desk. Either act on it, file it, or pitch it.

87. Resist the temptation to carefully script out each minute of your day. That just invites unexpected emergencies.

88. Be well-versed in your priorities

89. Find time to volunteer

90. A calendar and a list are useless if you don’t keep them with you

91. Don’t allow yourself a week for a task that takes one day. (Work expands to fill the time available)

92.  Coffee is great, but it’s a temporary, not permanent, substitute for sleep

93. If a task becomes a waste of your time, stop, even if you’ve already sunk a few hours into it.

94. Smile while you work

95. Set a timer rather than watching the clock

96. You can’t afford to be “too busy” to stop reading and learning

97. Frequently ask yourself, “Is what I’m doing right this second moving me closer to a goal?”

98. Don’t begin a long task haphazardly without a plan

99. Spend your time in a manner consistent with your goals, not in a manner you think is consistent with other’s expectations.

100. Remember, you can do more than you think you’re capable of!

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Photo Credit: Stuart Miles

The 26-Hour Workday

When we are faced with a mountain of work, we frequently long for more hours in the day. “If I only had more time!” we cry in despair. We assume that if we simply had more time available to us, it would be far easier to accomplish all of our necessary tasks. Unfortunately, this isn’t always true.

For the last few weeks of the school year, I was counting down the hours until summer. I had so many projects I wanted to start and was thrilled I would soon have 6-8 hours a day to devote to the cause. However, summer is now here, and while I have crossed many things off my to-do list, I can’t say as I’ve been the productivity machine I thought I’d be. I have more time available now, and yet I seem to be accomplishing roughly the same amount each day that I did during the last month of the school year. Why?

Parkinson’s Law

Parkinson’s Law states, “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” When presented with more time, it is easier to allow our current work to expand than to actually utilize our extra hours to get more done. Having more time in your schedule only actually helps if you’re able to focus and use that time effectively.

After analyzing my schedule, here are three things I’m going to do to better utilize my summer time:

1) Get up earlier

During the school year, I get up at 5:00am. In the summer, since I have a more flexible schedule, I’ve been getting up at 8:00am. Not only that, but I take twice as long to get ready in the morning since I’m not strictly watching the clock. This all adds up to losing about 4 hours of my precious, energetic morning time that I could spend doing something meaningful; like getting in the workout I swear I “never have time for.”

2) Shrink my to-do list

In anticipation of my summer schedule, I added many more items to my to-do list that I never found time for during the year. However, I didn’t stop to think if those extra items were necessary. I found myself trying to move in ten different directions at once, and then wondering why I was losing my focus. Instead of adding tasks to my to-do list, I should have been looking for ways to add more time to the items already on it!

3) Focus

One of the benefits of my hectic schedule during the school year is that I didn’t have much time for distractions. Now, with a little more time, I find myself out of practice with fending off Time Killers. I have to retrain myself to stop checking my email constantly and picking up the phone every time it rings, even if I’m in the middle of something.

More time doesn’t always mean more accomplishments. Make sure you have a clear focus and aren’t wasting your time with unessential or unimportant tasks before trying to add more hours to your workday.

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Photo Credit: Graur Codrin

Tackling the I Don’t Wannas

There is something tremendously freeing about finishing something you don’t want to do. It’s as though a weight has been lifted from our shoulders and we suddenly feel so much more in control of our time management. The problem, however, is mustering up the motivation to actually finish these tasks, especially when no one else is checking up on you.

I’ve been putting off starting my next Time Diet book (this one is for teachers!)  I had everything planned and outlined, but I had been coming up with every excuse in the world to avoid sitting down with my computer and actually starting the first chapter.

A few days ago, I finally sat down and said, “OK, I’m not getting up from this desk until I have three pages finished.” It was tough, but I did it, and when I was done I wanted to shout it from the rooftops! I was so proud of those three little pages.

My Summer Plan

This has now become my summer mission. I was a little intimidated about summer’s rapid approach. I have no “boss” in the summer. If I don’t finish enough work every day to keep me on track with my goals…nothing happens. Nobody checks up on me and tells me to work harder. It takes a tremendous amount of self-discipline to stay motivated and I was a little worried that I wouldn’t be up to the task.

Now I have a goal: Six days a week, I will write at least 3 pages in my book this summer.

Here are three things to keep in mind as you’re planning to tackle your own “dreaded” task.

1) State Your Plan

I just publicly stated my plan of writing 3 pages per day this summer. I could have kept this goal to myself, but then I’d only be accountable to me. Now, I’m also accountable to all of you. Get a friend or family member on board with your plan too.

2) Set Aside Time

Saying you’ll do something is only half the battle. Saying specifically when you’re going to do it turns a goal into a plan. As you’re crafting your schedule for the day, don’t just add your task to the end of your lengthy to-do list. Set a specific time that you’re going to work. Think of it as an appointment with yourself.

3) Recognize Excuses

When you don’t want to do something, it’s very easy to start making excuses. Learn to recognize when you’re doing this and stop. Making excuses is easy. Finding a way is rewarding.

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Check out The Time Diet’s latest video. “The Best Graduation Gift Part 2”

Blog Photo Credit: David Castillo Dominici

We Are All In This Together

We have a tendency of getting so wrapped up in our time management troubles that we sometimes forget that many of these troubles are not unique to our lives.

I find it fascinating that there is a set of shared experiences that so many of us go through on a daily, weekly or yearly basis.  When we get entrenched in the stress of our lives, it’s important to step back and realize, “Many others have gotten through this and so will I.”

This weekend I attended a baby shower for my one of my good friends. At one point in the afternoon, I found myself stepping back and surveying the scene in the living room. Here was a group of moms and dads, both new and “experienced,” commiserating on their shared set of experiences of being a parent. The new grandmas were giving the new moms advice on getting through the first few months of 2am feedings and making time for themselves.

There was a definite feeling of “we all got through and so will you because it’s worth it.”

I realized how important it is to seek out these sorts of experiences in our lives lest we feel like we are struggling with our time and stress management problems all by ourselves.

Talking with other doctoral students is always refreshing because it reminds me that we are all struggling with making time for the same sorts of things. Looking at my Facebook newsfeed today reminds me that no matter how much we all say we’ll get our taxes done early, there will still be a significant contingent of people all scrambling this week to finish up.

The next time you catch yourself worrying about how in the world you’ll find time for X,Y or Z, take comfort in the fact that you aren’t anywhere near the first person to have that dilemma. Reach out and find those people. They might not make the work happen faster, but they will give you the motivation of knowing it’s possible.

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Photo Credit: Savit Keawtavee

March Fo(u)rth!

Have you been putting off starting that one big project? You know, the one that has been at the bottom of your list forever just waiting for “some day” when you’ll finally get to it? Well, that “some day” is today. Just ask your calendar.

March Fo(u)rth!

Today is the only day of the year whose date is a complete sentence, and its message is important.

“March forth and conquer that last lingering task on your list. Reclaim your day and your productivity!”

(OK, so maybe it doesn’t say all of that…but that is how I choose to interpret it!)

We all have those tasks that seem to cling to the end of our list and never go away. The worst ones are the tasks that no one is “checking up” on for us.

If I miss deadlines for work, I’m definitely going to hear about it. If I turn in a paper late for my doctorate, my professors will ask for it. However, other types of tasks tend to get pushed to the bottom of my priorities when I know I’m not accountable to anyone else.

I have told myself that I need to try to set up a book signing for my new book, but I’ve been putting it off. Nobody was pressing me for it and it was easy to push it down my priority list. But no more!

Today, I will March Forth to the local bookstore to get the ball rolling. It will only take about an hour of my time and I will be so happy to finally check that task off my list.

What will you march forth and do today?

Btw, if you enjoy amusing calendar dates, you won’t want to miss  “pi day” on March 14th (3.14) and Star Wars day on May 4th (may the “fourth” be with you.)

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Photo Credit: Michael Marcol

Time Management is Like a Box of Chocolates?

With Valentine’s Day around the corner, no doubt many of you will be receiving a box of chocolates. This holiday always reminds me of one of my favorite cliché movie lines (which I am only actually quoting here because some of my readers were still in diapers when Forrest Gump was released).
“Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get.”

Here is how that applies to time management.

Always put your all into tasks because you never know where they are going to lead.

Opportunities have a way of presenting themselves in unusual ways and you never know where different tasks and experiences will lead you. That’s why, before you dismiss a task as a frivolous waste of time, look deeper. Sometimes the potential is sitting just beneath the surface.

From Hobby to Opportunity

For example, a few years ago, I wrote my husband a song for Valentine’s Day (yes, that’s cheesy and no, you can’t hear it!) I knew next to nothing about recording music, but I wanted this to sound good, so I learned everything I could about the music software Garage Band. At the time, I remember thinking this project was consuming far more of my day than necessary, but it was interesting and fun.

After I finished that project, I realized what a great teaching tool Garage Band could be and started to use it in my classroom…

…which led to me giving several presentations about music technology at our state conference…

…which led to me helping my school district design and implement a music technology class…

…which led to me being asked to teach a Garage Band class at Arizona State University.

I could have never imagined this little project several years ago could have lead to so many cool things, but it did!

If something is interesting and fun for you, make the time to pursue it. By the same token, if something you have to do appears boring and wasteful at first, how can you use the knowledge you’re gaining to do something more beneficial?

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Photo Credit: Simon Howden

Finding Your Time Management Groove

“In the zone” “On a roll” “In the groove.” No matter what you call it, we all know what it’s like to be in a highly productive state. Ideas seem to just flow, time seems to stand still. It’s as though…(dare I say it)…you enjoy doing your work.

This kind of work is great for our time management because we are the most efficient and productive. However, it can often be difficult to transport ourselves into this productive state when we need it most!

This concept is referred to as “flow” by a Hungarian psychologist named Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (whose name is harder to spell than it is to pronounce.) He talks about flow as a period of “completely focused motivation,” and he even has three tips about how to reach this highly-desirable state.

1) Be involved in an activity with a clear set of goals
Working toward a goal is far more motivating than simply meandering through your day. Be sure to set both short-term and long-term productivity goals for yourself so your work is purposeful.

2) Have a good balance between the perceived challenges of the task at hand and your own perceived skills
In other words, if you have the confidence that you can complete a task, you’re far more likely to do it efficiently. If the task is too easy, you’ll be bored. If the task is too difficult, you’ll be frustrated. The path to productivity is one that has just the right amount of challenge.

3) The task at hand must have clear and immediate feedback
Few people like to work just for the sake of working. Seek frequent feedback. Is your task producing the desired result? Better to find out at the beginning of a task that you need to change course, rather than waiting until it’s finished to realize you made a mistake!

While these three factors may not always be within your control, the more you can harness them the better. Optimizing your “flow” causes your work to be completed much faster.

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Photo Credit: Dan

How to Jump Start Your Energy

In order to have excellent time management skills and complete everything on your daily list, you need three things: 1) Time 2) Motivation and 3) Energy. If you’re anything like me, that third ingredient, energy, is sometimes hard to come by.

I’ve been in a real energy drought this week, mainly because I had such a relaxing holiday break that jumping right back into 100% productivity is a shock to the system. It’s felt like trying to go 0 to 60 in a broken down station-wagon.  I certainly don’t have the magic energy solution (or I’d be enjoying early retirement on a beach somewhere in Hawaii) but here are some things that work for me.

1) Fight Boredom
Boredom is one of the worst energy zappers.  If you aren’t interested in what you’re doing, your energy level will plummet. Make boring days more interesting by changing up your routine. Try switching the order you usually complete your tasks. Turn your work space around, or my personal favorite, open a window! Getting a little sunshine is a great change to a dull workspace. This article suggests some other ways to make small changes to find more energy such as taking a different route to work.

2) Drink Water
I can’t function without my morning cup of coffee, but I also can’t function without a few refills on my water bottle throughout the day.  Drinking water keeps you alert and hydrated. When my energy level starts to fade mid-afternoon, a few gulps of ice water is the first thing I try.

3) Move Around
We’ve all heard that exercise gives you energy, and that’s great, but when I’m on a deadline I don’t have the time to hop in my car and go to the gym. Instead, try standing up and walking somewhere briskly, even it is just across the room or around the corner. When I’m trying to knock things out and work in the afternoon, I’ll get up and go to the mail room to check my mailbox, even though I know there is nothing there, just for the energy boost.

4) Fake it!
When I stumble into my car to drive to work at 6am, I’m always amazed at how peppy the announcers on the radio are. Here I am still trying to wake up and they have already been at work for the better part of two hours. Then it occurred to me: when your job depends on having energy at the crack of dawn, you must get pretty good at faking it. Sometimes just pretending to be awake and energetic can be helpful, rather than sulking in your tired state. Pretending may not work all the time,   but wallowing in your lack of energy does nothing for your productivity.

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Photo Credits:
Idea Go
David Castillo Dominici

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