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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Cutting Your Losses

The more hours of our day we sink into a failing task, the harder it is to admit that we may have made a mistake and move on. We continue to sink more wasted hours into the task in a fruitless attempt to make up for the time we’ve already wasted. The better plan is often to simply cut your losses, change your approach or scrap the task and make the most of the rest of your day.

Our brains don’t naturally work like this. When we have invested precious hours into something, we go into “loss prevention mode” in which we do anything we can to protect our investment. Unfortunately, in an effort to save wasted time, we just end up wasting more time!

It’s Human Nature

Here is an example of this concept using money rather than time from a study detailed in Psychology Today that says a lot about our time management:

In a hypothetical situation, participants were told that they had just invested 9 out of a total 10 million dollars developing a product when a competitor released a better and cheaper version. Knowing they could never compete with this new product, 80 percent of participants still said they would continue to invest the remaining 1 million dollars.

While logic would conclude it is better to lose 9 million dollars than 10 million, our natural instinct tells us to keep spending in vain in an attempt to recoup the lost money.

While this study had to do with money, I’m betting that if the study involved deciding whether or not to devote one more day, week, or month to a failed project, the results would be the same.

You’re Not Giving Up

There is a difference between giving up on yourself and cutting your losses when it comes to time management.

When a plan isn’t working, continuing to throw time at it won’t help. When you hit the pivotal moment in a task where you can either scrap it or keep going, ask yourself:

1) Will circumstances change in the future that will make my approach more likely to work?
2) Can I rework my plan without giving up on it entirely?
3) Is this plan the only way to achieve the results I want?  

If you answered “no” to these questions, then stop throwing more time at a failing task, cut your losses, move on, and try a different approach or a new direction altogether. You’re not “giving up” on yourself, but rather are making a calculated decision to make better use of your time.

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The Rule of Three

Do you have more than three big things on your plate at any given time? If so, you might be overloading yourself.

This weekend, I stumbled across an article in a parenting magazine that I found surprisingly relevant to time management. (It should be noted that I am not a parent, however, when you’re on an airplane and forget to bring a book, you’re at the mercy of whatever reading material the person before you left in the seat-back pocket.)

The article was about how to make sure your child is engaged in enough activities with out being overloaded with too many things. The author referenced something called “The Rule of Three.”

The Rule of Three comes from the chain of command in the U.S. Marine Corps. Apparently, Marines are given no more than three things to worry about at any given time. There are three people assigned to a fire team with the fourth being their leader. Three teams are assigned to one squad and three squads are assigned to one platoon. The number “3” wasn’t just chosen at random either. The Marines experimented with a “Rule of Four,” and a “Rule of Two,” neither of which was as effective and efficient.

The point of the parenting article was to say that if you have your child involved in more than three activities (including school) you are asking them to keep track of more than a Marine, and that just isn’t fair!

When I read this, I couldn’t help but think that this is good advice for everyone, not just for parents of stressed-out children. Do we have the luxury of being able to limit ourselves to three things at a time? Sometimes it doesn’t feel like it. Often, if we want to go to school, or have a job, or make time for our families and friends, we will end up with far more than three things to keep track of.

Therefore, I think The Rule of Three applies to focus almost more than involvement. You may be involved with countless responsibilities, but recognize that you’ll have to scale back your focus on some while you increase your involvement in others. This type of balance is what The Time Diet is all about.

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Photo Credit: Teerapun

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

Time Management Lessons from a 5th Grader

As many of you know, one of the many things I do is teach 5th grade beginning band. If you’ve never had the opportunity to observe a class of band students during the first week they get their instruments, it is the most glorious example of organized chaos ever.

In the midst of the madness last week (sometime in between gluing pads back on a saxophone and telling a trumpet player that valve oil isn’t something you eat), I was reminded of some important time management lessons.

Time Management Lessons my 5th Grade Band Taught Me

Pursue Tasks with Excitement
When those kids take their instruments off the shelf for the first time, they can hardly contain their excitement. By the time their first half hour class is over, they shout, “That was already 30 minutes??” Time flies when you’re having fun. The more we can find and focus on the joy in our workday, the faster it will go.

Try it a Different Way
When I tell the clarinet section how to make a sound, three out four students will get it pretty quickly, but the fourth one won’t. If I just repeat the same directions over and over again, I will be wasting both my and the student’s time. Those directions didn’t work for him! I have to find a different approach. Don’t waste your time trying over and over again to do something that isn’t working. Find a different way of doing it.

Plan for the Unexpected
On the second day of band, one of the students opened his trombone case and a grasshopper jumped out. (Apparently he found it at morning recess and put it in there for safe-keeping.) I had to quickly assign one “grass hopper catcher” and get the rest of the students back in their chairs focused on something else so precious minutes of my class didn’t slip through my fingers. You can’t plan for everything, so plan to think on your feet when unexpected things come up so you don’t waste too much time.

We All Need a “Drink of Water” Once in a While
Sometimes, 5th graders will ask me to get a drink of water because they are actually thirsty. This is rarely the case. Usually when they say, “Can I get a drink?” they are really saying, “I’m frustrated right now and need to stand up and walk over to the other side of the room for a second.” We could all benefit from this approach. When you’re frustrated with your work, sometimes getting away from it for a minute or two is all you need to kick-start your brain again.

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