The Side Streets of Time Management

Have you ever been traveling with a friend who is convinced he has a faster way to get to your destination? It’s usually a little-known side street or back road. These side streets can either shorten your journey…or waste a tremendous amount of your time after getting you lost.

We run across similar shortcuts in our time management.  Before you take a time management shortcut (such as skipping or shortening a step in a process), ask yourself the following questions:

1. Do I Have Enough Experience?

Let’s pretend that you’re on your way to a new destination and two people suggest a shortcut. One of those people has never traveled the road before, while the other travels it frequently. Whose advice are you more likely to take? Experience is crucial when deciding which steps to remove from a process. If you’ve never completed a certain task before, it’s a good idea to follow all of the steps in detail, even if you think they might waste your time. As a novice, you don’t know the consequences of removing a step.

2. Am I Just Being Lazy?

If we’re looking for tasks to cut out of a process, we’re most likely to turn to the most tedious and annoying tasks first. It’s important to determine if those tasks truly aren’t necessary, or if you just don’t feel like doing them.

To use a simple example, I was making “For Rent” signs for our rental property the other day. At first, I was marking out the word placement in pencil before inking the final letters in marker. Pretty soon, I got lazy and stopped my pencil layout…only to discover that now my posters were crooked. I cut out the intermediary step not because it was unnecessary, but because I didn’t feel like doing it.

3. Will This Shortcut Make More Work Later?

Sometimes what seems like a shortcut now, in reality, just makes more work for ourselves later. Remember: later always gets here eventually. It’s much faster to do a small, annoying task now, than let those small tasks pile up. Procrastination is the enemy of time management. A shortcut is only truly a shortcut if it saves time, not if it just puts off work until later.

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Photo credit: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Time Management? That’s Debatable

“That’s ridiculous” “You don’t know what you’re talking about” “That’s just not true.”

These could be statements from one of the recent Presidential debates, but you might also recognize them from the internal time management debate we have in our heads all the time. When we don’t want to do something, our responsible side says we need to do it anyway, and our inner procrastinator says to do it later. Consider the following when you’re trapped in a time management debate.

 1.  You Never Regret Productivity

Think about it like this, when we convince ourselves to tackle something now instead of putting it off, we rarely ever say, “Gosh, I really wish I hadn’t done that.” However, when we choose to procrastinate, we rarely say, “That was a wonderful decision.” Use this experience to your advantage.

2.  Imagine the Worst Case Scenario

Rather than think of the benefits of getting work done early, sometimes it’s more effective to think of the problems that come from procrastinating. Think of what the worst possible scenario could be if you put off your work. If that scenario sounds unappealing to you, start the task now to avoid it.

3. Find a Productivity Coach

It’s usually pretty easy to find people in our lives who will encourage and enable us to procrastinate, however, it’s important to find that one friend or colleague who instead tells you to snap to your senses and just start your work. Think of this friend as your “Productivity Coach” who you can call when you are in need of some help in your time management debate. Sometimes just hearing another person weigh in can give your productive side enough of a boost to be victorious.

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Worry is the Thief of…Time Management?

When we are stressed about something, we try not to think about it. However, there is a difference between avoiding a worry that is stealing our focus, and putting off a dreaded task indefinitely. One is a healthy way to avoid stress. The other can lead to a time management disaster.

It’ll Get Done!

In college, I had a friend who functioned as sort of a “stress police” for me. Whenever she caught me stressing out about an assignment, she would say, “Don’t worry about it! It’ll get done!”

I think about those words frequently. I want so badly to believe they are sage advice. How nice it must be to simply not worry about the work we have to do and trust that it will just…happen. As I add more roles and responsibilities to my life, I want even more to believe that the “It’ll all get done” attitude is the way to go. I’ve come to the conclusion that the attitude itself isn’t so bad. It’s just missing a step. It’s missing the plan.

Hiding Your Worries

When we are staring down a big, difficult task that stresses us out, we will sometimes try to put it out of our heads and think about other things. This relieves the stress in the short term, but just delays the inevitable. It’s like throwing a sheet over the dishes in the sink. You can no longer see them, but the mess is still there. This isn’t necessarily bad. Sometimes you have to throw a sheet over your mess so it doesn’t stress you out while you’re working on other things. However, you need a plan for when to take the sheet off. Otherwise, you have just created a nasty procrastination habit that is going to cause more problems for you later.

When you find yourself worrying about a dreaded task, stop. Either:

1. Start the task now or

2. Create a written plan for when the task will begin

The Plan is Key

Once you have a realistic plan, then you can allow yourself to say, “Don’t worry about it. It’ll get done!” Now, you’re not relying on things to just “happen,” you have a concrete plan for how they are going to happen. Of course, something can always go wrong, but you have little control over that, and we all know how useless it is to worry about something we can’t control. So go ahead! Allow yourself to stop worrying about that upcoming task! As long as you have a plan for its completion.

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Photo Credit: Chanpipat, Free Digital Photos

Improving Your Time Management Willpower

Time management and willpower go hand in hand. Creating a plan for your day that maximizes your time is only half the battle. Finding the willpower to tune out distractions and carry out that plan in an efficient manner can be much more difficult. In her recent book, The Willpower Instinct, psychologist Kelly McGonigal explains that there is much more to willpower than simply having iron clad self-control.

A Constant Battle

We’ve all felt that frustrating, internal struggle. We are tempted to do something – be it procrastinate, skip the gym, or have that second cookie – even though we know it isn’t in our best interest. This happens frequently with our time management. We know that putting off that phone call will just make more problems later, but right at this exact moment, we’d rather do something else. We know that we just checked our email five minutes ago and now it’s time to focus on our work, but what if something really interesting just arrived in our inbox?

We fight these mini willpower battles every day. In her book, Dr. McGonigal explains that it’s as though we have two minds that are in constant battle with each other. One side is impulsive and seeks immediate gratification (I want to check my email NOW, not later.) The other side seeks long-term goals and sticks to a plan (I want to check my inbox, but I will finish the task at hand before I do so.)

Your Inner Procrastinator

McGonigal suggests coming up with a name for the impulsive side of you. For the purposes of time management, it could be “the procrastinator” or “the Time Killer.” She finds this helpful when a willpower battle begins to wage inside your brain. When you find yourself about to put off an important task, stop. Remember, it’s not you who wants to procrastinate, it’s that “time waster” who has taken up residency in your head. He’s doing battle right now with your productive self. Let your productive self win. He deserves it.

When I read this, at first I thought it sounded a little silly. (Really? You want me to pretend there are multiple people living inside my head?) But I changed my tune when I realized it can actually be helpful. As I sit here and type this blog, the Olympic marathon is on TV. I considered watching it and forgoing my work until later, but I realized that was my inner procrastinator talking. I was much smarter than that. I knew I should type the blog, and then go watch the end of the event, which was much more exciting anyway.

It’s All About Control

People want to be in control of their actions. When you are the one who wants to procrastinate, it’s tempting to do so. After all, you do what you want! But when you think of it as another person who is telling you to put off your work, then the story changes. Nobody tells me what to do! I have goals and I’m going to stick to them.

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Photo Credit: Zirconicusso

3 Reasons My New Puppy is Terrible at Time Management

This past week, we were adopted by a puppy named Molly, (who many of you saw on Facebook.) As with tiny humans, tiny dogs consume a good deal of your time and energy. In the past seven days, I have discovered that the new addition to our family is terrible at time management. I tried to explain to her that since her mommy is a time management speaker, this behavior would have to change immediately, but so far I’ve only received tail-wags and face-licks in response. I take this to mean she is deeply considering my suggestions. Allow me to explain what I’ve observed…

3 Reasons Molly is Terrible at Time Management

1) She is Easily Distracted

Molly was not potty trained, so I have taken on that endeavor this week. She goes outside with one mission: pee on the grass. When we leave the house, she is goal-oriented and focused. She prances proudly to the side yard, with purpose and determination. Then the neighbor’s dog barks…and she sees a leaf on the ground…and a bird flies by. Pretty soon, all sense of her original goal is gone and I’m left to stand outside for 20 minutes in the hot Arizona sun.  When we allow ourselves to be distracted, moving haphazardly from one task to the next, our work takes longer. We must approach our tasks with laser-like focus, tuning out distractions until we are finished. Short bursts of focused work are more effective than long stretches of unfocused work.

2) She Doesn’t Plan Ahead

Molly refuses to eat when I put her bowl down at dinnertime, but then whines during the night when she’s hungry. I tried to calmly explain to her that 6pm is dinnertime and 10pm is sleeping time, but sadly, they don’t seem to make calendars for puppies. We are all guilty of putting off tasks we don’t want to do. We become very skilled at rationalizing our procrastination, but that only worsens the problem. Don’t let yourself continually put off tasks, and then whine when you’re stressed right before the deadline.

3) She Panics in New Situations

The first night I put Molly in her crate, you’d think I had put her in mortal danger. She flailed about, barking and crying for hours. Her circumstance was clearly not changing any time soon, but she continued to expend her energy complaining about it. This blatant waste of energy upsets me. When we’re faced with new situations, or a sudden change of circumstance, we must keep calm and adapt quickly.  To do anything else is a waste of our time. We are the most productive when we can keep a cool head in stressful situations.

Molly will get better at all of these things because she has humans training her, however, we will only get better at time management if we train ourselves to form good habits.

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The Slow Day List

During crunch time,  don’t you find yourself saying, “Why in the world didn’t I do this sooner??” That is why using a “Slow Day List” is so important.

We all have days that are busier than others. A Slow Day List is where we keep track of things we can do on less-busy days to help prepare for our stressful ones. During our most hectic times of the year, we’ve all thought to ourselves, “Next time, I’m going to do _______sooner,” but then… we forget.

A Slow Day List is a place to keep track of those things, so next time you have a less-busy day, you can easily remember exactly what to do to get ahead.

Crunch Time

The time between mid-November and mid-December is my “crunch time.” As a music teacher, I have six concerts to get my students ready for. As a student, I have papers to write and reading to finish. As a college teacher, I have assignments to assess and grades to prepare. As a person, I want to squeeze in time to enjoy the holiday season.

During this crazy time of year, I have added many things to my Slow Day List that I can hopefully do next year to ease my stress. I wanted to share some of those with you in the hopes that you too will start your own list!

Emily’s Slow Day List

1) Automate my Grading
I have 44 students in the online class I teach, and I made individual rubrics for each one of because I thought it was easier than figuring out the University’s automatic system…nope! On my next slow day I will figure out how to use the system so my grades are automatically tabulated. It will save me tons of time next year.

2) Make my Concert Programs on the First Day
I know my students save the programs from their first band concert, so I don’t want to leave any one’s name off. However, the small task of making this piece of paper always sneaks up on me and I end up rushing through it. Next time, I’m going to make the program on the first day of the quarter when I first set up my class roster. There is no reason not to!

3) Outline Papers Earlier
It is always easier to write papers from an outline, rather than from a blank screen. I may not want to write my paper too far in advance, since we’re not done covering material, but that doesn’t mean I can’t start sketching out my ideas.

4) Get Decorations Ready Earlier
I don’t need to put up my Christmas tree on Columbus Day, but making time for being festive once Thanksgiving is over is difficult with my other obligations. Next year, I will have my decorations ready to go before the holiday season starts getting busy.

What will you add to your Slow Day List?

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Technorati Keywords Time Management, Efficiency,

Time Management Leftovers

This week, many of us will surely be eating a ton of Thanksgiving leftovers, but what about your time management leftovers?

The days after Thanksgiving are famous for turkey sandwiches, turkey soup, cold sweet potatoes, the last piece of pumpkin pie, and all of the other food that escaped consumption on Thanksgiving. However, there is always that one leftover that never gets eaten. It ends up in the back of the fridge, alone and forgotten, until we eventually throw it out a few weeks later.

For me, that leftover is mashed potatoes. My family loves mashed potatoes, so we usually make more pounds of it than we could ever possibly eat. Then, we forget about them and end up throwing them away.

Perpetual Leftovers

If we’re not careful, we have this situation with time management too. After we take care of our priorities for the day, there are those few “leftover” tasks that keep getting rolled over onto the next day’s “choose to list.” We usually end up completing most of these leftovers within a few days…except that one task that never seems to make it to the top of our list.

We have two options with this perpetual leftover task.

1)      Decide to make it a priority
2)      Remove it from our list

If the task is important, set a date to add it to the top of your list. If your life is moving along just fine without the task, then why is it on your list to begin with? It’s an unnecessary leftover.

As for my Thanksgiving situation, I am choosing option number two and making far fewer mashed potatoes next year. For my time management leftovers, I’m choosing option number one and finally making my leftovers a priority. What will you decide?

Technorati Keywords Time Management, Efficiency,

Time Management Lessons from College Football

In the fall, the desire to watch college football all day long on Saturday really challenges my time management. Sitting in front of the TV, sporting my jersey and eating hot wings sounds so much more appealing than grading projects for class. However, yesterday I realized that we can actually learn a lot about time management by watching college football.

4 Time Management Lessons on the Football Field

1. Don’t Risk a “Delay of Game”
It may be tempting to wait until the last second to run a play, but if you wait too long, you’ll be charged a 5-yard “delay of game” penalty. With our work, we may have our reasons to procrastinate, but is it worth the risks if our deadline’s “play clock” runs out?

2. Play All Four Quarters
How many games have you watched where the team looks great in either the first or fourth quarter, but ends up losing because they played poorly the rest of the game? The same is true for our work. We need to spread out our energy. Push too hard in the beginning and you’ll burn out. Save it all for the end and it’ll be too little too late. Pace yourself, find your rhythm and ride that momentum in for the win.

3. You Can’t Always Wait for Perfection
If the quarterback doesn’t immediately see an open receiver, he has to quickly make the decision to either run the ball or throw it away, lest he get sacked behind the line of scrimmage waiting for the perfect pass to open up. When we are working, there comes a point when trying for perfection becomes a waste of time. If you consistently miss deadlines for your boss because you were striving for an unattainable level of perfection, you may find yourself being “sacked” as well!

4. Make Time for Motivation
Do you think football coaches spend every single second they have with their team running plays? Of course not. Coaches recognize that their players need inspiration and make team building and motivation part of the locker room experience on game day. Make time for your own motivation. Take time to connect with your “team.” It will make your work time infinitely more enjoyable and productive.

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Technorati Keywords: Time Management, College,

Picture Credit: Ron Almog

The Last 5 Percent

Why is it that we’ll spend all day working on something, and then stop right before it’s actually finished? We’ll finish 95% of the work involved, and then leave that last 5% until later. Oh “later”….that infamous black hole of time home to so many unwanted tasks!

The problem, of course, is that “later” gets here and we don’t feel any more like finishing up that work. In fact, we feel even less like doing it than we did before! We aren’t in the zone anymore. You create a lot of momentum when you’re working on that first 95% that carries you through to the finish. However, if you stop and try to come back to it later, you won’t have all of that built up momentum to carry you through. It’s like taking a roller coaster car off its track right before that last little hill, then putting it back later and wondering why it isn’t moving.

Time Management Solution

This isn’t to say you should never take breaks. No, you need breaks in your work to keep you going. I’m saying the worst time to take a break is when you are almost finished. Rather than spend the time and energy to get back into the project later, the temptation to say, “You know, this is probably good enough” is too great.

Last week, my husband and I finally admitted to ourselves that our TV was broken and bought a new one. We spent all day picking one out, buying a stand for it and setting it up. The last thing we needed to do was move the old TV into the garage (not an easy task considering it is one of those old TVs that weighs about 200 pounds.) However, I didn’t want to! I had a brand new TV sitting in front of me and I wanted to watch it! We could move the old one later. My fabulous husband talked some sense into me and said, “No, we should just move it now and be done with it.”

I was so glad we did! There was no way we’d feel like moving that thing later and now we didn’t have to worry about it. Don’t let yourself leave that last 5% until later. It’ll just loom over your schedule like a giant bulky television in the middle of your living room.

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Top 5 Reasons We Procrastinate

“I’ll do it later” is the enemy of time management and eliminates our control over our Time Diets. Why do we procrastinate? Here are the 5 most common reasons and what we can do to stop!

1) We Don’t Want to Do the Task

The biggest reason people put something off is because they don’t want to do whatever it is they have to do. When we don’t want to do something we become really good at convincing ourselves that we’ll want to do it tomorrow instead. In fact, we come up with fabulous excuses such as, “I’ll feel more inspired tomorrow” or “Tomorrow, I’ll feel more well rested and it will be easier” or “This will be first on my list tomorrow.” However, when tomorrow finally gets here, we don’t feel any more like doing the task than we did the day before. Don’t let yourself fall for these excuses.

2) We Like the Pressure of a Deadline

We’ve all felt that intense stress and pressure when we’re working up against a deadline. The problem is, some people thrive on it. How do those of us who work best against a deadline fight procrastination? Make your own deadlines! If you make your own deadline a few days before the real one, you still get the feeling of working under pressure without being in danger of actually missing your deadline! Afraid you won’t stick to a self-created deadline? Tell as many people as possible about it to help hold you accountable.

3) We Focus on Due Dates, Not Start Dates

When someone asks us to do something, the first question we ask is, “When would you like it to be finished?” The second follow up question we often forget to ask ourselves is, “When am I going to start this?” Without a definite start date in mind, we run the risk of putting a task out of our minds until the due date is staring us in the face. Saying you’re going to do something is not the same as planning when you’re going to do it. Never write a due date in your calendar without also writing a start date.

4) We Don’t Have an Idea

We’ll often procrastinate on creative tasks because we haven’t thought of the perfect idea yet. Here is the problem: You could spend a lifetime waiting for the perfect idea to pop into your head. Sometimes you need to just start writing. Your first idea doesn’t have to be perfect but at least it’s something! It’s easier to revise a mediocre idea than continue to stare at a blank page.

5) It’s a Habit

If you’ve been a procrastinator your whole life, it can be extremely difficult to break yourself of this bad habit. I’ve even heard people justify their procrastination by saying, “I’ve always procrastinated and I’ve never been late with anything.” That’s like saying that you don’t need to buy car insurance because you’ve never been in a car accident. If you consistently wait until the last minute to do things, you will miss deadlines. It’s only a matter of time. Not to mention the fact that procrastinating triples your stress level when “crunch time” comes around and you’re more likely to have a productivity crash afterwards from sheer exhaustion. Stop making excuses and start doing things now.

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