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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Time Management Karma

No doubt you heard about the “golden rule” while growing up: treat others as you would like to be treated. MaybImagee you didn’t realize that it also applies to time management.

Treat other people’s time as you want your time to be treated.

I’m not saying you should always put the needs of others before your own, but it is all too easy to always put them last, and that just isn’t fair.

For example, have you ever been working on a project and had to stop because you needed one little piece of information from someone else? You send out an email or make a phone call and leave a message. Then you wait…and wait…and wait. You know that an answer will take about 30 seconds of that person’s time, but waiting for that 30-second answer is putting you days behind on your work.

Or what about this: Have you ever planned your day around meeting a friend or a colleague, only to have them cancel at the last minute for something they surely new about ahead of time?

These are examples of other people interfering with our carefully managed time. It’s easy to get angry, impatient and frustrated but sometimes we need to take a long, hard look in the mirror and ask ourselves, “Am I treating other people’s time the way I want mine to be treated?”

Mistakes happen, people get busy, emails get buried and appointments get double booked.  The key is to apologize and then don’t make it a habit. People want the importance of their time to be acknowledged. Think twice before you make a last-minute cancellation or move your colleague’s email request into the “do it later” pile.

If you respect other people’s time, you may find that yours is respected as well.

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Removing the Weight From Your Schedule

Having excellent time management skills requires a feeling of control. As soon as the feeling of control goes away, your stress level increases and you become far less productive. That’s why it’s sometimes better to devote time to the task that’s weighing on you the most, even if it isn’t necessarily the most important thing you have to do at the moment.

For example, I had a big presentation coming up that, for whatever reason, was weighing on me. I found that while I was trying to work on more immediate and pressing things, this presentation was all I could think about.

I’d been having extremely productive workdays, but I didn’t feel productive. I may have been accomplishing important things, but the one thing that was stressing me was still looming.

Even though it wasn’t my most pressing deadline, I needed to devote a little time to this presentation or I was going to continue feeling stressed and not in control of my day.

I finally just dedicated a few hours to sketching out ideas. Seeing my thoughts down on paper gave me so much more confidence in my ability to finish this project. Pretty soon, I had a solid outline of what I planned to talk about, and my stress level had significantly decreased.

My presentation was far from finished, but I now felt I had a handle on it and had a clear mind to devote to other more pressing tasks.

Do you have a looming task that is stressing you out? Carve out a little time to get started now, even if the deadline is far away. Otherwise, the pressure of this impending task will just continue to build and start to interfere with your ability to focus on other things. The best way to remove the stressful weight of a task from your shoulders is to just do it.

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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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The topic for today’s blog was sent to me by a Time Diet reader. Do you have an idea you’d like to see discussed in an upcoming blog? Email me at TheTimeDiet@gmail.com