4 Tools You Need in Your Time Management Toolbox

Time Management ToolboxWe all know that we need some kind of list and some kind of calendar to have a well-organized time management system, but what else do we need? What else do we need in our time management toolbox? Make sure you keep these four essential tools close to you.

1. A Pen

How many times have you meant to write something down…and forgotten? We usually do this when we get a deadline and aren’t prepared to notate it in some way. Keep a pen clipped to your To-Do list so it doesn’t get lost among the jumble of other pens that disappear from your desk drawer. Keep a digital list? That’s great! Make sure to keep it with you at all times so you don’t fall victim to forgetting tasks either.

2. The Helpful Friend

Different friends fill different roles in our lives. Some are there to make sure we have fun. Some are there to cry on, others to support us, others to listen to our excuses, and others to tell us what we want to hear. Then there is the friend who doesn’t let you accept your own excuses and tells you to quit whining and get to work when you need to hear it most. Know who that friend is and let him or her help you.

3. Your Blinders

We all have our unique Time Killers- those little things that waste your time without your permission. You need to figure out how to put your “time management blinders” on so they don’t distract you while you’re working. Does that mean putting your smartphone out of sight? Does it mean closing your door occasionally? Figure out your blinder strategy in advance so you don’t lose your productivity to distracted work

4. Your “Why”

Why are you working so hard? Is it to support your family? Reach a personal goal? Reconnect with your “why” on a daily basis. It makes the “how” so much easier.

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I Crossed This Off My List This Week

Time Management ChecklistSaturday was February 1st. Not only was it the beginning of a new month, but it marked a deadline I have had lingering in my head for a while. I finally accomplished something I’ve thought about for weeks and I’m afraid I simply won’t get the credit for it I deserve. So what did I do?

…I took the Christmas wreath down off my door.

This may not seem like a big deal to you, unless you’ve also put off a tiny task for way longer than you’d like to admit. We all know we should adhere to The 5 Minute Rule: if it takes less than 5 minutes, just do it now, but sometimes that’s easier said than done.

I’m not even going to pretend that this Christmas wreath was affixed to the house in any sort of complicated manner. It was on a nail. One silly nail. But every time I passed by, I found some excuse to do anything other than take care of the stupid wreath.

It’s easy to see how senseless this type of procrastination is when someone else is doing the procrastinating, however, I’m guessing there is a task on your to-do list RIGHT NOW that’s been sitting there for months and would take less than a few minutes to complete.

Is it something for work? A task around your house? An email you’ve been meaning to send? A phone call you’ve been meaning to make?

Do it today.

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You’re Doing it Wrong: Calendar Edition

Time Management Doing it WrongCalendars: We all have them, but we could probably all use them more effectively. They are the central component of our time management system, and yet we struggle to keep them organized. If you’re having a hard time taming your calendar, you might be doing it wrong! Check out these three common mistakes people make when it comes to calendars and how to fix them.

1. Not Using Start Dates

If you look at your calendar and see only due dates, it’s no wonder you’re stressed! Due dates tell us when something must be finished. Start dates determine when you plan to begin it! This week, challenge yourself to set a start date for every due date you put in your calendar. Start dates define when “later” is.

2. Paper vs Digital

When it comes to calendars, if it’s broke…fix it! Sometimes people struggle to keep using a certain kind of calendar even if it’s not working for them. If your paper calendar just isn’t cutting it, try out a new app on your phone. If a digital calendar is frustrating you, bust out the trusty paper pocket calendar (and don’t worry about being made fun of!)

3. Forgetting to set appointments for your Desserts

The enjoyable “Desserts” in your life deserve real estate on your calendar just like every other appointment in your life. If your root canal appointment makes it onto your calendar, but your weekend hike doesn’t…why is that? Putting your enjoyable tasks on equal footing with your work makes you more likely to actually give yourself the breaks you deserve.

Remember, your calendar should help add organization to the chaos, not further stress you out!

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How To Stop 5-Minute Tasks from Taking Over Your Life

Time Management 5 Minute RuleThe “5 Minute Rule” is one of my favorite pieces of time management advice to keep your to-do list trim. “If it takes less than 5 minutes, just do it now!” However, how do you ensure that your day doesn’t become an endless barrage of short 5-minute tasks and you never get any “real” work done? It’s a valid concern. Check out these three tips to let The 5 Minute rule help your time management.

1. Set aside “focus blocks”

In The Time Diet, everything you do is either a Meat, Vegetable, or Dessert. If you’re focused intently on a Meat when a 5-minute task comes across your desk, try keeping it on your desk until you finish your train of thought. Then, before you reward yourself with a break, tackle the 5-minute task. Sometimes these tiny little Vegetables can be a great way to break from our Meats while still remaining productive.

2. Monitor your procrastination

Sometimes people search for tiny 5-minute tasks to do when they are really procrastinating on something else. (For example, a light bulb has a greater chance of being changed in my house if I’m trying to avoid writing my dissertation…) Be honest with yourself when assessing these tiny tasks. Are you doing them because they are important? Or are you just trying to avoid doing something else.

3. Make a process for your interruptions

If you’re continually interrupted with the same short little task, how can you create a procedure to handle these interruptions? Can you send calls straight to voice mail when you’re working? Can you create a signature file outside your office door to sort through at the end of the day? Can you post a list of “Frequently Asked Questions” on your door or in an email? Use your creativity.

Taking care of little tasks quickly is important, but so is keeping your focus. With some discipline and planning, you can keep your to-do list trim, while still maintaining your concentration.

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Photo credit: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Have You Tried This Trick to Cut Out Distractions?

Time Management Protected TimeTell me if this sounds familiar: You have ONE thing that you’d really like to accomplish today. You sit down to do it…only to be interrupted by a phone call. Then you have to rush to a meeting, then you go on a few errands, end up filing the day’s mail…and before you know it, the day is over and your task is left unfinished!

Where did the time go? There is no perfect solution to stop daily distractions, but a trick I learned in my years teaching elementary school certainly can help. Let me explain…

Protected Time

In the school where I taught, reading was a huge priority. However, the hour-long reading block was frequently interrupted by assemblies, testing, the vaccine clinic, etc…so we instituted something called “Protected Time.”

Protected Time was an hour during which no events, tests, drills or other distractions were planned. It was so teachers knew they had that one untouched hour they could count on to focus on reading skills with their students. At first it was easy to see all the problems with this. (How will this affect the master schedule!? How can we be so inflexible!) But when you start looking for solutions instead of problems, it’s amazing how quickly things work out.

Of course reserving some protected time of your own would be much easier if everyone in your work life could agree to the same hour, but remember….solutions people, not problems

Planning Yours

How can you reserve yourself an hour of protected time to work on things that require focus? Can you close your door at work? Turn off your smart phone? Close your email? Let others know that you’re unavailable during that hour? How you protect your time will vary based on your situation, but I urge you to try it.

After all, we work hard to protect so many other things in our lives, isn’t your time worth protecting too?

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Photo credit: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

How to Win At Your New Year’s Resolution

Time Management New Years ResolutionIt’s that time of year again. The time of false hopes and broken promises. (a.k.a. New Year’s Resolutions!) This year, don’t waste your time with a resolution that won’t even last until the New Year’s Eve party is cleaned up. Follow these three tips to increase your chances of keeping your resolution and making it a habit.

1. Choose One

We have so much we want to change! It can be tempting use our (temporary) New Year’s motivation to fix everything at once, but this wastes your time. You’re better off putting all your time, energy, and focus into overcoming one obstacle. Then, use your satisfaction as motivation to tackle something else.

2. Plan Your “How”

A resolution is just a thought in the air until you have a plan to complete it. “I want to spend more time with my family” is a nice thought. “I want to get to work half an hour earlier each day so I don’t have to bring work home on the weekends” is a plan. Don’t make a resolution without also making a plan to complete it.

3. Pick a Partner

Making something a habit is the key to keeping your New Year’s resolution, but until it’s a habit, it’s helpful to have someone to hold you accountable. Trying to lose weight? Ask a friend to go on the journey with you. Trying to stay organized? Ask a colleague to conduct a “desk inspection” once a week. It’s not enough to just tell someone what your goal is. Unless you have a specific procedure in place for that person to hold you accountable, they’ll forget about your goal just as quickly as you will.

Happy New Year readers! See you in 2014!

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Photo Credit: Freedigitalphotos.net

Why Santa Claus is an Excellent Time Manager

Time management santaIn a few days, millions of children will anxiously wake up and rush to the Christmas tree to see what Santa brought for them. It’s a good thing Santa is an excellent time manager so he can ensure everything is finished on time! Here are three time management lessons we can take from the jolly man in red:

1. He makes a list and checks it twice.

Notice that Santa’s naughty and nice list doesn’t consist of multicolored post-it notes carelessly strewn about the North Pole. He keeps everything organized in one place so he can easily find it.

2. He delegates

Santa could try to make all those toys himself, and thus ensure that they were all made his way and to his standards, but then he wouldn’t have time for those important administrative tasks, like list-checking, travel-planning, and cookie-eating. Santa delegates effectively to his team of elves to make sure everything gets finished efficiently in time for Christmas.

3. He thinks outside the box

Imagine how much longer present-delivery would take if Santa had to fuss with keeping keys to each house and letting himself in through the front door! By using a more creative approach, the chimney, he’s able to speed up his process and finish it all in one night.

Now, some would argue that if they had 364 days to prepare for one project, they’d be great time managers too. Point taken. But regardless of what your job is, I sincerely hope that you are taking time to slow down and enjoy your family and friends this Holiday Season, and are ready to work efficiently and productively in the new year so you can always find time to relax and enjoy the important things in life.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from The Time Diet!

Did Santa bring you time management help this season?  Check out The Time Diet: Digestible Time Management for $12.99 on Amazon.com.

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The Busy Addiction and What I Plan To Do About It

Time Management BusyYou know how sometimes you read something and feel the author is speaking directly to you? That’s how I felt this week when I read a blog post called “Busy Isn’t Respectable Anymore.”

In it, the author explains that we glorify the word “busy” as something to be proud of, and it needs to stop. This particular quote stuck with me: “Busyness was just another addiction I clung to so I could avoid things that made me uncomfortable.”

The Addiction

Being busy is an addiction? Oh my goodness, he’s right! And just like any other addiction, it doesn’t happen over night. We become addicted to “busy” as we slowly convince ourselves that it’s our only option. We’re stressed and become focused on constantly doing something instead of purposefully being productive. We get caught up in quantity at the sake of quality and let go of the idea that it’s ever OK to be caught doing…nothing.

The Challenge

Well, I for one am going to accept his challenge of not answering the question: “How are you?” with the answer: “Busy.” I am not going to let that word define me, and I hope you won’t either. We all have a lot of things going on in our lives, but why should we let the sheer volume of things be the focus? Instead, I’m going to focus on being productive. I’m going to focus on enjoyment. I’m going to focus on the slow instead of the fast.

It’s The Time Diet equivalent of remembering to savor the bites you take instead of mindlessly shoveling food into your mouth. So readers, I hope you will take time this week and in the coming year to move beyond the “busy” in your schedule and reconnect with what really matters in your life. It’s a challenge I plan to undertake with you!

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3 Reasons To Be Nice (When You Don’t Have Time For It)

Time management smile“Hurry” has become a mainstay of our vocabulary, especially at this time of year! Seems like everyone is in a rush to get somewhere, or do something. Before you get caught up in the sense of urgency, don’t forget that there is always time to be nice (and if there’s not, then you’re moving too fast!) Here is what reminded me of that today:

Today, while out holiday shopping, I saw a mom with two young (tired) kids  in front of me at the food court. The cashier messed up her order several times, and then they ended up being out of the soup she wanted. At this point, I was frustrated for her. When the food finally came out, I was expecting a tirade, but instead, she smiled and said, “Thanks so much! Good luck handling all these crazy crowds today!”

If this exhausted, clearly time-crunched lady made time to smile and say thanks, I had no excuse to be grumpy! When you catch yourself being irritable while crunched for time, remember these three things:

1. Everyone else is busy too

Everyone has somewhere to be and things to do. You aren’t the only one affected by the crowd, or the traffic, or the (insert life crisis here.) Try to be understanding. Even if you do need to complain, there are ways to bring problems to someone’s attention without being a jerk about it.

2. Stuff happens…roll with it

Sometimes things will be completely out of your control. When this happens, it’s easy to look for someone to blame…but it’s probably not their fault either. Look for the humor in a situation, not a scapegoat.

3. A smile might just make someone’s day

When you’ve dealt with cranky people all afternoon, one smile from an understanding person can turn your whole day around. Be that person.

Being nice doesn’t take any extra time. It might take a little extra energy, but that energy is returned to you doubled from the people who appreciate your kindness

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Gobblegeddon and The Importance of Double Checking

Time Management Double CheckDouble checking plans and arrangements always seems like a hassle…until it averts a time wasting disaster! This week, I learned an essential lesson about the importance of double-checking and why two minutes of forethought can save hours of time later. To chuckle at my little calamity, and hopefully prevent this from happening to you, read on…

A Red Eye Gone Wrong

One of the cool things about writing a time management blog is that when crappy things happen to you, the silver lining is always, “Well, at least I’ll get a blog out of it!” That was my first thought after what will henceforth be known as the Great Thanksgiving Travel Debacle of 2013.

Let me preface this story with the fact that my husband and I travel a lot. We know exactly how long it will take to get through security at various times of the day and make a sport out of trying to get an “A” boarding pass on Southwest without paying for early check in. I am usually the queen of double-checking everything when it comes to travel….until this week.

We were booked on a United red eye flight to Florida. We weren’t checking bags, we were busy getting last minute holiday things taken care of, so we didn’t bother to check-in online and print our boarding passes like we usually do. When we arrived at the ticket counter in plenty of time to make the flight, we heard the 5 words no air traveler ever wants to hear…

“That flight just took off.”

What?!?! Apparently, amidst the multiple schedule changes this flight had suffered, we hadn’t seen the email about it being moved up by an hour. Minor details. After several hours of trying to rebook and begging for a standby seat, we finally secured seats on the first flight out in the morning.

Should Have Double Checked…

This left me plenty of time to think about the importance of double checking as I tried to sleep across three chairs and an end table curled up in the terminal with a few other stranded travelers between the hours of 1:00am and 5:00am.

Double-checking always seems so obvious after the fact. It’s not until after something goes wrong that we think, “Really? I didn’t have 2 minutes to spare to ensure that this didn’t happen?”

When people heard of our flight woes, their first assumption was that we got caught up in the huge winter storm that week (affectionately dubbed “Gobblegeddon” by some media outlets.) Nope. This was all 100% preventable.

As we head into one of the most hectic months of the year, remember to take the extra minute and double check your plans before walking out the door. That little extra caution can save you loads of headache later.

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Photo Credit: Freedigitalphotos.net