Being rich is having money; being wealthy is having time. – Margaret Bonnano
Sometimes it’s hard to believe we all have the same 24 hours/day and same 7 days/week. While some people seem pretty organized and on top of things, many of us find ourselves running out of time. At the end of the day, there are still so many items on our to-do list and we don’t feel like we’ve accomplished all that much. We thought technology would ease our time pressures, but with overflowing email accounts and lost hours surfing cyberspace, it’s done just the opposite. Then juggling our work and personal lives seems to make it impossible to ever get control of our time.
If you feel like you are a slave to the clock, you’re not alone. Time management books, classes, and even software are plentiful and among some of the most popular how-to subjects. They offer myriad solutions to an age-old problem. Maybe you’ve read some of the books or taken some classes only to find you slip back into your old habits.
In order to master your time, you’ll need to take a little time to plan your strategy so that you can end your stress-filled days. I know it doesn’t seem like you have time for one more thing, but this is a top priority and will bring you back to more control of your time. You’ll need to create a schedule not only to include what you intend to accomplish, but for unexpected interruptions, most of which cannot be avoided. When we don’t leave space for those surprises, we wind up angry, frustrated, and feeling even more out of control of our time.
Here are some key solutions that I have found to be very effective. Follow these 8 essential ingredients to master your time:
1. Plan your week on Sunday evenings. If you do this every Sunday night, you’ll get into a great habit. I love to start the week on Monday morning knowing exactly what my highest priority activities are and what I can accomplish each day. Use a calendar to plot out your weekly activities and leave room for surprises; they will always show up. Choose a paper calendar, electronic handheld, or online one like Outlook or Google. Just make sure it’s one you can easily use and one that you will use!
2. Prioritize with higher and lower priority tasks. Use the ABC or 123 method to distinguish urgent from non-urgent tasks, and do the urgent ones first. Your highest priority tasks will be determined by timelines, such as projects that have certain due dates; next you want to fill in all set appointments. Other top priorities are determined by the action steps you need to take to reach your goals. Do lower priority items during lower energy times such as evenings and weekends.
3. Learn to say “no.” Let people know when you cannot be disturbed, and don’t pick up the phone or promise to do something you know doesn’t fit into your schedule. Many of us have time challenges because we over commit. We don’t want to turn down requests from clients, friends, and family. But we are doing all of them a disservice if we can’t give 100% of our time and energy to their requests. So find a way to limit how you give your time away to others. Go back to #1 and #2 to schedule and prioritize your time. Then only take on what you know you have time and energy for.
4. Focus on one activity at a time. You may think you’ll get more done if you multi-task, but it’s not the best way to complete something in a quality manner. And it feels a whole lot better to have one task completed, than three half done. Every activity deserves your undivided attention.
5. Set aside certain times for certain activities. Read emails twice a day, return phone calls once/day, file your papers once/week, etc. When we focus on a certain kind of activity like opening mail, we are much more efficient than if we open one piece of mail, then do something with it, then get off on a tangent.
6. Delegate as much as you can. If you earn $100/hour, you can afford to pay someone who earns less to do those things you don’t enjoy and aren’t the best use of your time. Build a team to take the load off you, including help at home. Make a list of all the potential members of your team and start asking for referrals.
7. Set up systems for everything. Have your filing units and desk organized, keep your computer files orderly, have a system for paper flow, and set up systems for whatever you do on a regular basis. This may take a little time at first, but will save you much more time eventually.
8. Make commitments and take responsibility. Commit to mastering your time and don’t blame other people or circumstances for your disorganization. You can do this if you just commit to it, find the systems that work, and work the systems. There are no big secrets to time management. With these 8 ingredients and a little patience and persistence, you can become a master of your time.