Are You a Time Management Carnivore?

Time Management Lion-Do the most important task on your to-do list first.

-Everything on my list is important.

-What now?

When I started The Time Diet almost three years ago, my goal was to combat this type of thinking. The “priority paralysis” described above causes stress, unfocused work, and forces people to somehow decide which is more important:  finishing a task for work, or taking time to relax and do something enjoyable.

With The Time Diet, I took importance out of the equation in favor of balance. I teach people how to label their tasks as either a Meat, Vegetable, or Dessert and choose a balanced selection of tasks each day. I’ve found, however, that the definition of Meat Task has morphed a bit, and it has created far too many time management carnivores. If you feel like all you do are Meat Tasks, let me help!

A Meat Task is Something Difficult, Not Just Important

In The Time Diet, your Meats are your difficult tasks, your Vegetables are your easier tasks, and your Desserts are your enjoyable tasks. The importance of a task has nothing to do with how it’s classified. If you look at your list and everything seems to be a Meat, ask yourself: “Is everything on this list really of equal difficulty?” Perhaps you are falling into the trap of labeling tasks with urgent deadlines Meats, even if they are easy to complete.

Meat Tasks can Have Vegetable Components

Even if you are staring down a big, difficult Meat task, it’s unlikely that every single component of that task is difficult. Learning to break up big tasks into much smaller pieces allows you to appropriately label easier parts as Vegetables.

A Vegetable for You Might be a Meat for Someone Else

I hesitate to give too many examples of Meats, Vegetables, and Desserts because the designations change drastically from person to person. If writing comes easily to you, drafting an email or a memo might be a simple Vegetable, but to those who struggle to find the right words, it might be a formidable Meat. For a fitness enthusiast, going to the gym might be an enjoyable Dessert, but to others it might be their least-desirable Vegetable.

Finding Your Balance

Remember, the whole point of The Time Diet is to ensure that your schedule consists of a balanced diet of Meats, Vegetables, and Desserts each day so you don’t become overwhelmed with difficult tasks and neglect to make any time for yourself. Learning to properly label these tasks requires practice, and the discipline to remain focused while working through your list. Thank you readers! I hope that The Time Diet has played at least a small part in helping you conquer your time management goals.

For a more detailed explanation of The Time Diet time management system, check out “The Time Diet: Digestible Time Management” on

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Which to Sacrifice? Time or Money?

Your time is your most valuable resource you have. It is your own “productivity currency” of which you only have a limited supply and must ration carefully. However, sometimes we are faced with situations in which we must quite literally put a dollar amount on what our time is worth. If we always sacrifice money to save time, we’ll end up broke. If we always sacrifice time to save money, we’ll end up not accomplishing our goals. Finding the balance is key.

 My Dilemma

This year, when I went to renew my parking pass for ASU, I was faced with two options:

1. Purchase a cheap pass for a couple hundred bucks in a remote lot and take the free tram to campus.

2. Pay an additional $600 for a pass in the lot right outside my office.

My Solution?

My gut reaction? Buy the expensive pass. I had the luxury of having that money in savings already, and I felt that my time was too valuable to spend sitting on a tram every day. I wanted the convenience of being able to waltz right from my car into the building at any time of day.

Then I stopped to weigh the value of the pass versus the convenience of the pass in terms of “dollars per hour.”

Dollars Per Hour

I actually only needed the pass about three days a week. The tram takes about 15 minutes each way. I calculated that if I didn’t buy the expensive pass, I’d be saving $12.50 for every hour I spent on the tram. Now I had a decision to make:

If someone approached me on the street and said, “Hey, I have a part time job for you. It only requires 90 minutes a week, and I’ll pay you $12.50 an hour. All you have to do is sit in an air conditioned space and do nothing” I’d have a hard time saying no.

I ended up buying the cheap pass. I now appreciate the mandatory “break” I get in my day while being shuttled from place to place. I can even use the time to check my email or flip through the newspaper.

By looking at the situation in terms of dollars per hour, I was able to weigh convenience, time, and money to come to a rational decision. How much is your time worth?

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Free Arizona Event!

Check out The Time Diet at Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe AZ, on Monday, September 10th at 7:00pm for the free program, “Time Management for Student Survival” Pick up your copy of The Time Diet: Time Management for College Survival, on sale now at Changing Hands and

Photo Credit: Phaitoon, Emily Schwartz

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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Photo Credit: Chanpipat

My Productivity Bracket

Have you filled out your bracket yet? Basketball? No. I’m talking about your productivity bracket.

We all know what it feels like to be pulled in a million different directions. When we accomplish work, it didn’t just…”happen.” It beat out many other priorities that day. This bracket is a tribute to the countless  time management battles we all fight each day. What tasks would you add to your bracket?

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Giving Away Your Time

We spend so much of our lives getting compensated for our time, that it’s important to remember to give it away once in a while. Even though our schedules already feel packed to their fullest, finding room to volunteer our time to a worthy cause is extremely rewarding and worthwhile.

On Friday, I had an opportunity to witness volunteer work at its finest. The PTO at the school where I work sponsored a Fall Festival to help raise money for classroom supplies. Parents and teachers donated candy, decorations, money, and most importantly, their time, to put the whole thing together.

However, the coolest part of the whole event was the Haunted House. Parents and teachers worked tirelessly to transform the school library into a ghostly maze for kids to explore…if they dared! Volunteers worked from 1:00pm to 9:00pm to design, build, staff and then tear down this popular attraction that raised hundreds of dollars for the school.

As I was watched all the students run screaming and giggling from the exit, only to run around the building and get in line again, I realized that I don’t make nearly enough time in my schedule to volunteer. There were so many people giving up their time to make this happen.

One dad works all day selling ad space in a newspaper, but that night he was a zombie. One volunteer was a high school student on the honors track and heavily involved in sports, but that night she was a mad scientist. Watching all of these people come together to help the school was incredible. They could have just donated 20 dollars and stayed home, but this was far more special.

If you haven’t found the time or opportunity to volunteer recently, I urge you to try it. You’ll be glad you did.

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Photo Credit: Stuart Miles

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

Finishing Unwanted Tasks

This week, I had a presentation to prepare for my PhD program that definitely tested my time management. Completing this presentation was both the most important and least appealing thing on my “Choose-To List.” As you know, that is a common and dangerous situation. What do you do when the task you least want to do is the task you most need to do?

Stop Substituting

When faced with a task we don’t want to do, our first inclination is to just do something else instead. I caught myself doing that yesterday. I didn’t want to work on my presentation, so instead I did some grading, cleaned my house, worked on some different homework, and went grocery shopping. All of those things also needed to be completed, however, none were as important as my presentation. I substituted tasks I should be doing with tasks I’d rather be doing. That’s why at the end of the day, I didn’t feel as productive as I could have.

Make it Enjoyable

Sometimes we need to go out of our way to make a dreaded task more enjoyable. You all know about my love of Starbucks. I went out and bought myself a Salted Caramel Mocha Frappuccino to sip while I’m working on my presentation. Nothing seems quite as terrible when you have a delicious cup of happiness next to you!


The single best way I know to motivate myself to do something it to visualize it being completed. In this case, I visualized myself crawling into bed at night and thinking, “Wow, I don’t have to worry about the presentation anymore! It’s all finished.” It’s not going to become any more appealing to work on, so I might as well just finish it now and be done with it. Half the stress of finishing work comes from worrying about finishing it. I was going to worry about my presentation until it was done. The sooner I finish it, the sooner I can stop worrying about it and my stress level decreases.

This week, take charge of your unwanted tasks.  Visualize them being finished, do everything you can to make them more enjoyable and stop substituting them with other, less important things. Your productivity will thank you.

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Photo Credit: Naypong


Reassess Your Schedule

Is all this stuff I’m doing really worth it? We don’t ask ourselves this question nearly enough and it is one of the biggest problems that lead to being stuck in a time management rut.

Our lives change from year to year, month to month and day to day. We try out new things, explore new ideas and rearrange our priorities. What was important to us two years ago may not still be important to us today. This is why it’s crucial to constantly re-evaluate the things we do and decide whether or not they are still worth our valuable time!

To see if something is worthy of a place in your schedule, you need to weigh the total time an activity takes versus the benefit it provides you. If you find that you’re not getting enough benefit from a task to justify the time you put in…then why are you doing it? It doesn’t belong in your Time Diet. That would be like indulging in a high calorie dessert that just wasn’t very delicious. What’s the point?

My Experience

My school district offers frequent professional development classes in the evenings. In the past, I have taken as many of these classes as I can. They are a great opportunity to learn new teaching skills and I’m able to put the small stipend we get for attending toward my grad school bill! When I saw that a new “Podcasting 101” class was being offered in March, I didn’t even think twice about signing up. Why not? I took these classes last year all the time. Here is the problem- my life is different this year than it was last year and I didn’t think about that.

Last year I was working on my masters, this year I’m working on my doctorate. Last year I was just beginning my journey in blogging, speaking and writing about time management, and now working on The Time Diet takes a significant amount of my time during the week.  Last year taking these district classes was worth it, this year it’s not.  Don’t get me wrong- I still really enjoy learning new things, but my evening time is now better spent working on my research papers and finding new speaking engagements. Theses classes are also offered in the summer when my schedule is far less hectic. That is when I need to sign up for them!

I failed to re-evaluate my priorities before adding another thing to my plate. I ended up spending 8 hours doing something that was not the best use of my time. I will not make that mistake again!

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Harnessing Unexpected Motivation

Sometimes work just seems to take longer than it should. We may have eliminated all distractions and given ourselves ample time, but we just aren’t being as productive at a task as we know we could be. Why is this? It may be because we just aren’t motivated. Focused work is twice as efficient as unfocused work, but focused work that you are actually motivated to complete is the even more ideal scenario.

I’m not saying you will always be 100% motivated and excited to complete a task or that you should wait around for inspiration to strike before beginning anything. However, when you do feel particularly motivated to do something, it’s often best to just go ahead and do it, even if you had originally planned to complete something with a slightly more pressing deadline.

Adjusting Your Schedule

This past week was my spring break from both teaching and my grad program. I had a detailed plan sketched out of what tasks I needed to complete and when I planned to complete them. On Monday, I had planned to knock out some easy and tedious tasks first that were due right after break was over. However, when I woke up on Monday, I felt ambitious. I wanted to tackle the literature review for my research class. A literature review is the part of a research study in which you read as many published studies as you can that have already been written about your topic and then summarize them into one concise section that will eventually serve as the lead-in to your own research paper. I had really not been looking forward to doing this, and since my paper isn’t due until May, I was planning on breaking up this task into tiny little parts and spreading it out over the month of April to make it more manageable. Usually, this would be a great plan, however, here I was on a Monday morning actually feeling motivated to tackle this challenge.

Even though I had tasks on my choose-to list with more pressing deadlines, I took advantage of this surprising motivation and spent all of Monday and most of Tuesday finishing this literature review. I took frequent breaks to complete chores around my house and make sure I didn’t burn out on this heavy “Meat” task, but overall, I was on a roll for two days straight. By late Tuesday afternoon, my motivation was gone, but I had almost finished my task.

In our Time Diets, we work so hard to motivate ourselves to complete tasks we don’t want to do. We post our goals in our workplace so we remember what we’re working for. We break up big tasks into more manageable chunks and we remove all distractions so we are free to focus on our work. We are so good at manufacturing inspiration that we can’t forget to ignore when inspiration strikes on its own. I ended up finishing those easy tasks I had originally planned to do on Monday a little closer to their due date than I would have hoped, but I was still able to finish everything I needed to do without the risk of missing a deadline. Taking advantage of my surprising motivating to finish my lit review was the most productive decision I could have possibly made over my spring break.

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