You’re Doing it Wrong: Calendar Edition

Time Management Doing it WrongCalendars: We all have them, but we could probably all use them more effectively. They are the central component of our time management system, and yet we struggle to keep them organized. If you’re having a hard time taming your calendar, you might be doing it wrong! Check out these three common mistakes people make when it comes to calendars and how to fix them.

1. Not Using Start Dates

If you look at your calendar and see only due dates, it’s no wonder you’re stressed! Due dates tell us when something must be finished. Start dates determine when you plan to begin it! This week, challenge yourself to set a start date for every due date you put in your calendar. Start dates define when “later” is.

2. Paper vs Digital

When it comes to calendars, if it’s broke…fix it! Sometimes people struggle to keep using a certain kind of calendar even if it’s not working for them. If your paper calendar just isn’t cutting it, try out a new app on your phone. If a digital calendar is frustrating you, bust out the trusty paper pocket calendar (and don’t worry about being made fun of!)

3. Forgetting to set appointments for your Desserts

The enjoyable “Desserts” in your life deserve real estate on your calendar just like every other appointment in your life. If your root canal appointment makes it onto your calendar, but your weekend hike doesn’t…why is that? Putting your enjoyable tasks on equal footing with your work makes you more likely to actually give yourself the breaks you deserve.

Remember, your calendar should help add organization to the chaos, not further stress you out!

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Moms: The Ultimate Time Managers

Time Management for MomsThis past weekend we celebrated mothers. You know, those magical people who always seem to find the 25th hour in the day to get everything done. I’m not a mom yet, but I’m privileged to know some incredible women who make the “family balancing act” seem effortless. Check out how they do it! Even us non-moms can learn a lot from them.

Time Management Advice From Busy Moms

“How do I manage my time? One day at a time! I cut myself some slack and keep things in perspective. I’m also a huge proponent of keeping work and home separate whenever possible.”

Julie Weissberg
Music Teacher
Mini Maestros

“I taught my children young how to do a load of laundry and how to make a sandwich or toast and a quick batch of brownies.  Instead of doing everything for them, I helped them to be independent and able to do things for themselves.  My advice is when everyone is tugging at you to help them, be kind, but do what you can to help them help themselves.  Take a little “dessert” time daily to hug them and let them know they are loved!  Happy Mother’s Day!”

Gina La Benz
Independent Designer, Origami Owl
Volunteer and Outreach Coordinator, Chandler/Gilbert YMCA

“I find that planning all of our family dinners in advance helps cut down on shopping time. I plan out the week’s meals, and then write the shopping list on the same piece of paper. I also take care of as many errands as I can in one place. Prescriptions! Cosmetics! All come from the grocery store.”

Becky Wilkinson
Banner Good Samaritan

“I have had the unique experience of being a single foster parent. The main thing that helped me through the hectic schedule is: Writing It Down! If it took up time, I blocked it out on my calendar. I even had a “catch all” time blocked out for paperwork and misc items. Also, I’ve found you can turn cleaning into a bonding activity with older children by singing, dancing, and cleaning your way through the house. Most importantly, I had to let the perfectionist in me go. Some things are just not as important as spending quality time with the kids.”

Patty Conrad
Deal Assessor
Bank of America

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Hey Moms! (And Dads!) Looking for the perfect graduation present for your high school senior? Why not give them the gift of time management? The Time Diet: Time Management for College Survival

No, You Won’t Just Remember

The Time Diet Writing“I don’t have to write it down, I’ll just remember it.”  We’ve all heard someone repeat this famous line as an excuse for not keeping a calendar or written list of tasks. Sometimes, we need a reminder that no matter how good our memory is, we can always use a little help remembering it all. I definitely got that reminder this week. Check out my story, and the three excuses we tell ourselves to avoid putting pen to paper.

My Mistake

On Saturday, my husband and I hosted our annual holiday party. We had everything in place – appetizers, dinner, dessert – except one thing: a list to keep track of it all. We host a party every year and I never write down a menu, so I didn’t think it was important.

After the last guest went home, and I went up stairs feeling satisfied with our gathering, it hit me. I went to the fridge to be sure, and my suspicion was confirmed. We forgot to put out one of the side dishes. The vegetable salad with the tri-colored peppers my husband had meticulously chopped into tiny pieces sat untouched in its Tupperware.

The anger I felt was perhaps unjustified given the situation, but this was not about the salad. In my Time Diet workshops, I reinforce the importance of writing things down, and here I had not taken my own advice. A simple written menu would have ensured we remembered to put out all the food in the hustle-bustle of hosting a party. I’m reminded of the three reasons to write things down:

1) You always forget just when you “know” you’ll remember

I keep a detailed calendar and pride myself on staying on top of my deadlines. This party was not something I was worried about. It’s six different food items, how hard could it possibly be? I “knew” I’d remember everything, but that is exactly when things started to slip my mind. In the heat of the moment, even the simplest things become easy to forget. It’s important to take a few seconds to write down your tasks so you’re sure you meet your deadlines.

2) Just because it’s worked in the past, doesn’t mean it’ll work forever

Each time you don’t write down a deadline, but manage to remember it anyway, you train yourself that it’s OK. You build a false confidence that you don’t need to write anything down because your memory is excellent. Inevitably, you reach a point where you don’t remember it anymore, and now you haven’t trained yourself to be organized. I had myself convinced that I could throw a party for 50 of our friends without writing anything down. That was silly.

3) Writing things down doesn’t take a ton of time

We have all seen those people who make immaculate to-do lists that look like works of art. We’re convinced that it took longer to make the list than accomplish anything on it and we tell ourselves that list-making is a waste of time and it’s better to just start doing than to waste time organizing. If you set out to waste time making a list, you certainly can, but it doesn’t need to be like that. Organization only takes a few seconds. It doesn’t need to be fancy or elaborate. It just has to be consistent.

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The Big Picture Plan

A huge part of having good time management skills is getting things done in an efficient manner, however, it’s easy to get caught up in day-to-day planning and lose sight of your overarching goals. Having a big picture plan can help refine your focus and give you the peace of mind that you are on track.

This week I started to get antsy. I’m juggling multiple projects right now and I was starting to feel increasingly worried that I didn’t have a handle on how everything was going to be finished. I was being productive each day, but my days felt disjointed and haphazard. (Sound familiar?)

I knew I needed a clear, big picture plan. I sat down with a calendar and mapped out which projects I was going to be focused on each week. I sketched out my plan all the way through August. Now, I must say, I feel far less anxious about my workload.

Rules for a Big Picture Plan

1) Use a New Sheet of Paper

Your big picture plan can’t be on the same calendar you use to keep track of normal deadlines. That is far too cluttered.

2) Don’t Write Down Every Single Obligation

The purpose of the big picture plan is to show you broad projects to focus on. This is not the place to script out exactly which hours you’ll devote to which project.

3) Try to Pick 1-2 Focus Tasks

No doubt you will still need to juggle multiple tasks at once, but choosing one or two tasks that will be your priority during a set time period really helps to rein in your focus. This doesn’t mean you can’t work on other things. It just means you’ll know what your priorities are.

Here is an example of the tasks I put in my big picture plan for May.

May 1st-5th: Prep Time Diet Workshop

May 6th-14th: School concerts

May 15th– 25th: Record online class videos

May 26th-31st: Work on summer class

What tasks will you add to your big picture plan?

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Technorati Keywords Time Management, Efficiency,

Photo Credit: Chanpipat

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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Technorati Keywords Time Management, Efficiency,

Photo Credit: Michael Marcol

The ABC’s of Time Management

I frequently hear time management advice that tells us to prioritize our days based on the “ABC” system. A’s are things we have to do, B’s are things we’d like to do and C’s are things it’d be nice to do if we had time left over. I’m sure this system works for some people. Here is why The Time Diet works better for me.

Most of my things end up being A’s! I try not to waste my time doing unessential things, so everything ends up being a “have to do.”

I could easily spend my entire day doing “have to dos” and never have time for anything else. This leaves me stressed out because all of a sudden “everything” has become a priority. It also seems like anything fun or enjoyable in your day will become a “C.” It isn’t fair to ourselves to always place our own enjoyment as a last priority. That’s how we get burned out.

I prefer to think of my day in The Time Diet food groups of Meats, Vegetables and Desserts.

Meats: Thinking-intensive things that are difficult to accomplish

Vegetables:  Less thinking-intensive things that are easier to accomplish

Desserts: Enjoyable things

When planning your day, it’s important to plan a balanced diet of tasks so you balance out your difficult work with easier and more enjoyable things.

In The Time Diet, everything you have to do is “important” otherwise you wouldn’t be doing it! By balancing your work according to difficulty, you’re less likely to become overwhelmed and more likely to finish more work than if you’d simply tried to tackle all of your deadlines at once.

Is prioritizing important? Of course it is! However, trying to prioritize without taking difficulty into account is not being fair to ourselves.

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Photo Credit: Digital Art

How to Get Ahead

A slow workday is a great time to try to get ahead with your time management in hopes of easing the burden of your busy times. “Getting ahead” can mean doing things like organizing, planning, creating new systems and getting a jump on important Meat and Vegetable tasks. Think back to your most stressful weeks at work or school:
What were the tasks that took a majority of that time?
Is there anything you can do now that will make those tasks easier later?

I asked myself those questions this week.

I am a teacher and just finished the first week of school. I know that if I don’t start the year organized, I will never be able to catch up once the semester gets rolling. My husband works in travel and he knows that once the busy travel season hits, he’ll be knee-deep in work. We brainstormed some ways that we can use our slower times to ease the stress of our busy times. This is what we came up with:

Finishing Vegetable Tasks Early

This semester I am teaching an online class. I know that once the class starts, I will be spending a majority of my time grading and answering questions. To help ease that stress, I did as many of the organizational “Vegetable” tasks this class will require in advance so I won’t have to worry about them later. This included setting up all of my contact sheets, grading rubrics and supplemental materials. Now I won’t have to worry about all of that mid-semester!

Delegating to Technology

My husband works in travel. Each account his office processes has numerous deadlines to keep track of- deadlines for air, deadlines for hotels, deadlines for visas, etc…When many groups are traveling at once during the busy season, it can be a lot to keep track of by hand. That’s why this week, in their slower time, they set up a program that automatically calculates all of these deadlines and sets up reminders based on the expected travel date. They wouldn’t have had time to set this up during the busy season, but now their work will be much easier!

Organizing Differently

A large part of my time as a band teacher is taken up with keeping track of which students have their music and instrument on a given day and finding materials for them to use when they forget. There is nothing more frustrating than just beginning a rehearsal only to have to stop when a student walks in without his music. To fix this, I used my slow time to set up a binder for each instrument with a set of music for students to use when they forget. This binder also includes a piece of paper for them to sign their name when they need to use it. Now I don’t have to worry about stopping to mark down who forgot their materials. The students do that for me!

What things can YOU do early that help you in your busy times? Leave your idea as a comment! Maybe it will inspire someone else to do it too.

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Photo Credit: Michael Marcol

Organizing Your Life

Has this ever happened to you? You’ve perfectly planned out your afternoon to finish several pressing tasks. As you sit down to work, you’re feeling extremely proud of your time management skills. Nothing is going to stop you today! Then, you actually try to begin your work and you can’t find that one form, spreadsheet or piece of paper you need to get started. Pretty soon you’re spending your afternoon tearing your desk and filing cabinet apart instead of working.

Time management and organization go hand in hand. If you want to get your work done as efficiently as possible, you have to be able to find it quickly. That’s not to say that in order to be organized you must maintain a perfectly manicured filing system. Everyone’s system will look different and the most important thing is that it works for you.

This year, I started teaching at 3 different schools during the week and I quickly discovered that my old system of organization was no longer going to work. It was difficult to predict which piece of paper I’d need at which school. I’d find myself wasting an afternoon at one school because I’d left my work at the previous school. I decided the only way to combat this problem was to have a mobile filing cabinet. I bought a rolling cart and put three large files in it- one for each school.  Whenever I received an important piece of paper, I’d put it in the rolling cart. I periodically clean out the files and put them in my desk at their corresponding school. My poor rolling cart ended up being a little cluttered, but this system works for me and I rarely have trouble finding what I need.

When creating your own system of organization, remember:

1) Not every scrap of paper is important

Often, the papers that cause clutter are not the important ones, they are the ones you’ve already used and don’t need anymore. Frequently go through your papers and throw out things you don’t need.

2) Alphabetical filing cabinets aren’t everything

If you can’t force yourself to maintain a filing cabinet, then don’t use one as your primary system of organization. Instead, use bins, trays, notebooks, or whatever else works for you. Filing cabinets that aren’t used properly can become the worst black holes for lost things. If that isn’t your style, use something else.

3) Keep things close that you use frequently

If you use something everyday, there is no sense in keeping it in a notebook on the other side of the room. I keep my most-used contact sheets pinned to my wall by my phone.   Save yourself time by keeping the things you use most frequently in a place that is easily accessible.

4) Get organized in your down time

Your system of organization is most important during your busy times, but it needs to be in place before then. It’s too late to build a life boat when the ship is already sinking. Use a less-stressful time to re-vamp your organization so you’ll be prepared when your hectic time hits.

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