No Crystal Ball? Then Stop Worrying

time management crystal ball“What if I don’t get the promotion? What if my flight is late? What if my house doesn’t sell?” Our obsession with trying to predict the future takes up a lot of our time and energy. Until you have a crystal ball, that energy is better used elsewhere! Try these 3 tips to stop planning for the unpredictable.

1. Think of Yourself 5 Years Ago

It’s easy to get caught up in the present and forget that our tastes, interests and circumstances change all the time. Think of the person you were 5 years ago. Could you ever have predicted how your life would change in that time? What makes you think you’ll be able to predict what happens in the next 5 years?

2. Identify What You Can’t Control

As much as we wish we could control every event in our lives, we can’t. Identify what is in your control and what is out of your hands. Whenever you catch yourself worrying about a future event you have no say over, stop. Replace the thought with something you can control and redirect your thinking.

3. Embrace Change

Remember, sometimes the best opportunities end up being unexpected surprises that would have never made it onto your preplanned life itinerary.

You never know where an unforeseen path may lead, so embrace the adventure!

Turning off our “worry switch” is not easy. Rely on your support network of friends and family to help point out when you’re wasting time thinking about something you can’t control. This past week, my dissertation adviser caught me in a worry moment and said, “Emily, until you can bring me a functioning crystal ball, I want you to stop trying to predict the future.”

That sounds like a challenge to me!

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Handle the Unexpected Like a Super Bowl Champion

Time Management SuperbowlNo doubt, many of you spent part of your weekend watching the Super Bowl, and were reminded that sometimes, even in the biggest sporting event of the year, things don’t go according to plan. In case you weren’t watching, the power went out at the Superdome in the third quarter, leaving most of the stadium dark and halting the game. We all have unexpected events pop up in our lives that throw us off our carefully crafted plan. Follow these three tips to handle a crisis like a pro.

1. Don’t Panic

While it may seem obvious, staying calm allows you to think of a solution more quickly without losing valuable time to stressing out. When the lights went out, did you see some of the players pacing back and forth on the sideline? Their faces were visibly stressed. Most of us have the good fortune of not watching our unexpected events play out on national television in front of millions of people, but when something goes wrong, it can sure feel like the whole world is watching. Don’t let the pressure of the situation overcome your rational thinking.

2. Keep the Goal in Mind

Even though your plan might have to change, your goal remains the same. Don’t let a hiccup in your plan cause you to become distracted from what is really important. After the lights finally came back on in the Superdome, the Ravens lost hold of their size-able lead as the 49ers made a swift comeback. One could make the argument that perhaps the Ravens’ momentum was shaken by the sudden black out (or, perhaps the 49ers decided to actually start playing football, but I digress…)

3. Ask For Help

In times of sudden crisis, we sometimes feel the need to solve all problems ourselves. Don’t forget to rely on your support network to search for a solution. I’m betting that the manager of the Superdome didn’t know what specific problem caused the lights to go out, but he had a team of people working to figure it out. Know who your experts are and seek their help. You don’t need to face every crisis alone.

Ultimately, not every crisis will resolve well, but knowing how to stay calm and keep your mind on what’s important will increase your chances of succeeding…even if nobody gives you a big trophy and confetti ceremony afterwards.

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Shifting Gears from Plan to Do

Careful planners are often good time managers. They look before they leap, they aim before they fire, and they research before they implement. However, good ideas can easily stall out in the planning phase if we don’t eventually change gears into implementation. Knowing when to stop planning and start implementing is a key component of efficient time management. Don’t let these three factors hold you back.

3 Things That Slow Down Implementation

1. Fear of the Unknown

When we are trying something new, our lack of knowledge on the subject can be paralyzing. We may know so little about a new process or project, that we might not even know what we don’t know. In other words, finding out what questions to ask might be even more difficult than finding the answers to those questions. In this case, it’s important to set a goal for your background research so you don’t lose hours of productivity in unrelated Google searches. Set a goal of finding 5 essential questions you need answered in order to begin your task. Then, once you find the answers to those questions, move to implementation. When we know nothing it’s tempting to try to learn everything before beginning something new. However, much of the new knowledge you’ll acquire comes from the implementation process itself.

2. Fear of Failure

Sometimes when we get stuck in the planning phase, it’s because we are afraid of failing. The planning stage is safe. We feel productive without actually implementing anything. The “doing” is much scarier. I could sit here and recite oft-quoted, cliché advice about “failing forward” or how “the toughest journeys begin with one step” or how many times Thomas Edison failed before inventing the light bulb…but you’ve heard that all before. For me, I try to just embrace the fear rather than avoid it. Convert the fear to adrenaline. I’ve never parachuted out of an airplane before, but I would imagine that if people are afraid of jumping when they get into the plane, they are probably still afraid when they are about to take that first, big looooong step out of it. Do you trust your training, instructors and parachute and jump anyway? Or let the fear hold you back. (Parachutes…overcoming fear…oh goodness. I’m starting to sound like a motivational speaker)

3. Lack of Confidence

The final thing that leaves us stuck in the planning stages is our own lack confidence in our ability to complete the task. This is where I’m supposed to tell you that you can do anything if you just believe in yourself. Here is the thing: if you’ve done all your research, planned as much as you can and embraced the fear of starting something new, you now have three options:

1. Implement

2. Delegate

3. Abandon

Nobody really likes to talk about number 3 because it sounds like giving up. However, if after researching a new project, you come to the conclusion that your skill set is better suited for a different kind of task…then find that new task! Not all ideas are good ones and not all people will be successful at all things. The more time you waste on a project you’re never going to finish, the less time you can devote to pursing a task that is much more suited to your goals, abilities, and desires.

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Photo Credit: Flickr

Stop Being Busy

One of the single biggest time management mistakes people make is to confuse being busy with being productive. When you are busy, all you are doing is filling time. You are working, so it gives the temporary illusion that you are getting something done, but you’re not.  If you want to actually make progress on a goal you have to be productive.

(Check out my video about being busy and productive Here)

When school let out last week, several of my colleagues asked me how I planned to keep busy this summer. I don’t plan to “keep busy” this summer. I plan to be productive.

This summer, I have many goals but my biggest one is to prepare my book for publication. My manuscript is finished but as I’m quickly finding out, writing the book is one of the easier parts of the publishing process! I’ve decided that the only way I’m going to finish this summer is to find time every day to devote to the book. I could spend this time reformatting all of my headings and playing with the cover font. I am technically “working” on the book, but I’m only being busy. I’m not taking concrete steps to move toward my goal. Sure, the cover font needs to be dealt with at some point, but the more pressing issue is finding an editor and researching publishing outlets. If I want to be productive on my book right now, I need to work toward those goals. (On that note, if you know of a trusted editor, let me know!)

Busy is Easy, Productive is Hard

The problem we have is that being busy is easy. Being productive is hard.   Here are three simple steps to make sure your work sessions are productive:

1)      Have a Goal- Without a goal, our work has no purpose. Have a concrete goal that you are working toward.

2)      Have a Plan- Your goal is worthless if you don’t have a plan to get there. What small thing can you do each day that will move you toward your goal?

3)      Re-assess Your Plan – After you create your plan, you can’t blindly continue down your path. If something isn’t working, re-assess and change your approach.

Remember, sometimes your plan won’t always work and it might feel like you are taking a step backwards, but that’s OK. A step backward means you’re learning from your mistakes and sometimes that’s part of being productive. When you’re busy, you’re only taking steps sideways. You’re still moving, but you’re not going anywhere. Only productivity actually moves you toward your goals.

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Planning for the Unexpected

For the past month, I have been loath to touch any door handles, high-five any of my students, or take so much as a walk around the block without my hand sanitizer. Why? Because every single person I know has been sick in the past few weeks.  (That statistic may have been slightly inflated for dramatic effect.) We all know that getting sick is a huge drain on our time management and can definitely disrupt our Time Diets without careful planning. Never fear! Catching this year’s virus du jour doesn’t have to mean a pile of missed deadlines.

First of all, the time to start planning for getting sick is not when you are already bed-ridden with a temperature of 104. Part of maintaining a successful Time Diet involves creating your own deadlines so you aren’t waiting until the last minute to start an important task. As an elementary school teacher, I have to assume that I am going to come in contact with pretty much every germ imaginable on an every-day basis. This is why I try to finish any task at least 2-3 days before I actually need to. That way, if I get sick and am out of commission for a few days, I have less of a chance of missing any deadlines.

Stay Calm, Prioritize, Delegate

But what about when we run into something more than just a little stomach bug? What happens when a major crisis falls in our lap? Something like a severe illness or family emergency? Life doesn’t stop and we still have tasks to complete. How do we cope?  Your Time Diet doesn’t have to go out the window when an unexpected emergency comes up. Just remember 3 things:

1) Stay Calm– This is huge. Remember half the stress of getting it all done comes from worrying about getting it all done. In times of unexpected crisis, remember to breathe and don’t panic. Everything you need to do will happen. Worrying just breeds more stress and that is the last thing you need!

2) Prioritize– An unexpected emergency can often devour most of your time and you must realize early on that you won’t necessarily be able to complete everything on your choose-to list and that’s ok. The world will keep spinning. The trick is to prioritize so you are able to devote the precious little time you do have to the most important things.  It is important to note that the most important things are not necessarily always the ones with the closest deadlines.

3) Delegate– It is all too easy to develop “super-human syndrome” in which we think we have to do everything on our own. This is especially true in times of emergency or crisis! Let others help you! Maybe some Meat tasks are things only you can take care of, but what about all of your Vegetables? When people know you are out of commission for a little while and offer to help, they really mean it. Ask a few willing friends and family members to help take a few things off your plate. (If delegating in general is something you know you struggle with, check out this article: How to Effectively Delegate )

A few years ago, my husband was in an accident that landed him in the hospital….on the other side of the country….a week before our wedding. One minute I was crafting a guest seating chart, the next minute I was on a red-eye flight from Los Angeles to Washington D.C. with a woefully under-packed suitcase. All of a sudden, the million things on my choose-to list didn’t seem so important. My number one priority became making sure the groom made it to the wedding in one piece. My family and friends back home clamored together to finish the things I would no longer be able to do. They tied up the favors in beautiful ribbon, confirmed everything with the venue and finished planning the rehearsal dinner, but you know what? If they hadn’t, the world would not have stopped spinning. I took care of what was most important.

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