Want to Manage Your Time? Get Real!
You know the drill - the ridiculous deadlines, the relentless barrage of email, voicemail, phone calls, all those "got a minute" interruptions, the constant worrying that one of those many balls you're juggling is going to unexpectedly drop.
When you're on total overload, all you want is relief - preferably the fast and easy kind. So you try the latest organizing software or gadget. Or maybe you read another book, take another course on time management or listen to a tape by the latest time management guru. Things might go pretty well for a couple of days. But before long you're right back where you were - snowed under with no realistic way to dig out.
WHERE THE RUBBER MEETS THE SKY
Then there is the traditional three-step system to planning and managing your day:
Step 1: Take out your calendar and make a list of want you want to accomplish.
Step 2: Use the ABC designation to prioritize each activity.
Step 3: Start with your most high priority tasks.
Complete all of these before moving on to your lower priority tasks. Cross-off completed tasks as you go until you've accomplished everything on your list. Tidy up your desk and leave your office with that warm, satisfying feeling of knowing you have successfully managed your time.
That's how it works for you, right? Get real!
WHERE THE RUBBER MEETS THE ROAD
A more realistic approach is one that takes into account the reality that you have to juggle a lot more than a To-Do list. In fact, there are three things that must be first organized and then managed:
1. Commitments (to yourself, to others, and others to you),
Staying on top of commitments, communication and information is no easy task either. That's where the realistic part comes in.
If you want to effectively manage your time you need to get real. Workable solutions are those that are firmly grounded in reality. Whose reality? Preferably yours. Take a look at these 5 Work/Life Reality Checks. If you find that you share a similar view of what it's really like to try to manage a too full work and personal life, take advantage of some real tips for real people.
REALITY CHECK 1: Most interruptions are in your mind.
That's because your subconscious tries to act like the RAM, or Random Access Memory, on a computer - the place where current work is being handled. But unlike a computer, your brain doesn't know it should store all the other "incompletes" - plan meeting agenda, write report, buy cat food - elsewhere until those reminders are needed. That's why, while you're in the middle of one thing, like talking on the phone - your subconscious breaks in to remind you to pick up your dry cleaning. All these self-interruptions can make you feel overwhelmed and scattered. And, that's not all. These mental distractions make it hard to stay focused on the task at hand.
Use your calendar for date-specific commitments only. For everything else, create lists based on logical categories. For example, you'll want a list called Current Goals and Projects to help you stay focused on your most high-impact activities such as create new training program, plan office relocation, or research MBA programs.
REALITY CHECK 2: If you want the right picture, you need the right lens.
To see more detail, you'd want to zoom in for a close-up view.
Sometimes you need to plan for the next few days or weeks. Other times you need to look out a few months by doing some mid-range planning. Still other times you need to look further down the road by doing some long-range planning. Depending on what type of planning you're doing, you need to adjust your view of time accordingly.
To differentiate the forest from the trees is to clearly separate the big picture from the details. If your organizer - whether paper or electronic - consists of 365 daily pages, you're trying to see the forest by looking at 365 "trees." Without a useful way of seeing a broader picture of time, you can end up reacting day-to-day. Getting that wider view helps you see what's coming. That way you can take a more planned and proactive approach which will save you a lot of time, not to mention headaches.
REALITY CHECK 3: Most things do not need to be done today.
Yet, let's put Franklin's wise words into their real life context. Franklin may have been a busy man, but unlike you, he did not have to contend with voicemail, email, faxes, or pagers. He and the other Founding Fathers had the luxury of spending four months framing the Declaration of Independence. When was the last time you had four months to concentrate on a single project? Life was a whole lot simpler in the 18th century. Things were even simpler 10 years ago! At the time, Franklin's idea of never putting things off was a simple solution to what was a simple challenge.
But with so much more to do today, it's not always possible - or wise - to follow Franklin's advice. Let's say that on Monday, Sam asks you to give him a call sometime this week. You turn to Tuesday's calendar page and write, "call Sam." Tuesday ends and you didn't have a chance to call Sam. So you roll the reminder to the Wednesday page. The next day, the same thing happens and on through the week. Sound like your reality?
In the real world, most things do not need to be done on a specific day. That phone call to Sam may be "due" by Friday but you have a number of days in which to "do" it. This distinction is important because most systems - whether paper or electronic - are calendar-driven. Therefore, they recommend each day begin with a review of yesterday's calendar page to see what did not get done and then transfer these items to today's calendar page. What this system forces you to do, is to start your day with a reminder of how much you failed to accomplish.
Non-date specific commitments aren't the only thing you'll want to keep off your calendar pages. Instead of writing messages from voicemail on your calendar, dedicate a section of your organizer for this information. That way you won't have to flip through months of old calendar pages in search of a name or number.
REALITY CHECK 4: Count on others but trust yourself.
Once you make a request, or are promised something, you've just passed that person the proverbial ball. Most of time they handle the play without a hitch. But do others - people and businesses - sometimes drop the ball?
Even if a person reports to you, you can't make them deliver on their commitments. You can't force someone to return your call or email or forward information requested. You can't make a business send you that rebate or refund check or a friend return a borrowed item. What you can do though, is follow-up.
REALITY CHECK 5: There will always be more to do than time to do it.
Even if you wanted to forget some of the less fun tasks like painting the house or reorganizing your files, realistically speaking, your mind won't let you. The task will keep popping up on your mental screen until you either decide not do it or capture it somewhere other than on your mental hard drive!
No time management or Focus Management technique or practice will work if it flies in the face of your real life challenges. When creating an effective time management system, be sure to take reality into account. If your current system is one that sounds good in theory but doesn't work very well in practice, maybe it's time for a reality check!
You are welcome to reprint this or any of our productivity-enhancing articles in your organization's newsletter or on your web site providing the following attribution and hyperlink appear with each article.
To learn more about Time/Design's Focus Management? tools, training, and coaching call 800-637-9942 or visit www.timedesign.com.
Time/Design is a leading provider of time management training and tools offering practical and realistic strategies for managing commitments, communications and information.
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