Time Management — Getting Back Control of Your Life

Time management is essential.

Have you ever woken up in the middle of the night wondering how you are going to fit the 10 hours of job duties into the 8 hours for which you are being compensated?  And then knowing that you will get still more work as the day progresses. The 10 hours will become 12 hours, and you will not get home until well past 8 p.m.?

This describes the life of a time-challenged individual. Busy, running here and there, eating over the sink, off to appointments and always arriving late, not reading books to the end, and falling into bed exhausted. These are common complaints of people whose schedules are out of control. People who lack time management skills.

Time management is self-management, whatever way you look at it. There are only 86,400 seconds, 1,440 minutes or 24 hours in each day.

Therefore, you need to think about self-management, not time management. This article is not about working harder, it is about how you live your life. If you want to enjoy your life you need to do the things you feel will give you happiness; you must set some goals and determine how you want to spend your days so you can accomplish them. You must realize that the only person you will be with for your whole life is YOU. Therefore, taking care of YOU is extremely important. Here are some suggestions that may help you regain control of your time and your life.

1. Make a list of 50 things you want to do before you are living in the retirement home. Write down 50 or so items, prioritize them by your age and physical stamina. Add to the list over time and cross items off once you have done them. The list can include books to read, places to go, things to see —  whatever you want to do. Stretch your imagination. Don’t stop until you have at least 50 items on your list.Think about sitting in a rocking chair after you have retired and ask yourself: “What are the things you will be most proud of, what will you wish you had done more of,  what opportunities will you have missed” ….now go and do something about them.

2. Set goals for yourself — short-term, mid-term and long-term goals. It is hard to know where you are going without a map. Your goals are your map. You can drive aimlessly around all day, or you can get there by the most direct route.Short-term goals should be completed in 3 months, mid term goals in one year, and long-term goals up to 5 years. Really long-term goals, such as freedom 55 if you are 45, are considered long-term. Make sure you establish short- and mid- term goals as well so you manage the complexity of these bigger goals. Even if you are retired, you still have many years ahead, so set some goals. Do not sit in front of the TV waiting for things to happen. You make them happen.

3. Create and follow a calendar — daily, weekly or monthly. Create your own time management system; do not buy one. Make it very personal. On your daily calendar write your goal for that day. To manage your time well, you should start every day with a goal. Only plan or book 60 percent of the day, leave the rest for surprises. Use a to-do list to start your thinking. Be flexible.You cannot be in control unless you are flexible. Get to know your daily energy cycle and use it to plan high energy work for when you are most alert. Do more physical work, and less creative work when you are tired.

4. Prioritize your days. Identify tasks that are urgent and important. If something is not urgent and not important, don’t do it. Spend most of your day working on tasks that are not urgent but that are important. Think of this slogan daily. How you start your day is how your day will progress. If you start it doing unimportant items, chances are you will waste your day. If you waste one day a week, you are wasting one seventh of your life.Use the 80-20 rule originally stated by the Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vilfredo_Pareto  who noted that 80 percent of the reward comes from 20 percent of the effort. The trick to prioritization is to isolate and identify that valuable 20 percent.

5. Analyze how you spend your time. Do time logs or get a buddy to follow you around with a stopwatch, and figure out where you spend your days. Do this at home on weekends and evenings as well. Ask yourself Alan Lakein’s  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alan_Lakein crucial question: “Is this the best use of my time, right now?”

6. Say NO eloquently and often. One of the most difficult words to say, and one of the most crucial for time-challenged people, is the word NO. Deal with time solicitors as you do money solicitors. Use the same tone of voice and give good reasons why you cannot take on their request. Say no when it is important for you to say no but always remember that some day you may need to ask that person to help you out. Remember you are working on getting control back in your day and going home at a decent hour.

7. Conquer procrastination and stop being a perfectionist. In some ways, procrastination and perfectionism are one in the same. When you try to do things perfectly, you are procrastinating. There is no such thing as perfect. Mother Nature and our bodies show us this daily.

Deal with the FEAR that causes procrastination by determining what you are afraid of, e.g., looking foolish, wasting time, making poor decisions, taking on more work. The solution to procrastination is to understand your own fear and then work on the “Swiss cheese” method described by Alan Lakein — take small bite size chunks out of the task or project, until it is completed.

8. Create a wheel of life. A wheel of life sets out all the things that are important to you. For example, you might include family, career, spirituality, financial planning, health, leisure, social life, personal development, and personal time. The wheel of life should identify how you spend your time and energy during the week, both at home and at work. Once you have set this out, look at the wheel and determine where your life is unbalanced. Then set a short-term goal for balancing that area of your life.

9. Put your learnings and thoughts together in a journal. As you work through the suggestions in this article, write down the things that worked and the things that you still need to do. It takes 7-20 times of repeated behaviour to develop a new habit. None of this will change overnight.

Time management is an attitude. And the attitude you want to develop is one that says: I am jealous of my time and no-one will take it away without my permission.”  Ask yourself daily “What is the consequence of doing nothing at all?”  Your answer will save your life.

Chris Pohlkamp is a subject matter expert with Ontario Training in the field of Time Management. One of Chris’s popular courses is Time Management : Make it a Habit.