Making Time: A Look at Time Management

By Colleen Bingham, M.Ed.

Do you experience any or all of the following symptoms?

  • Rushing;
  • Chronic vacillation between unpleasant alternatives;
  • Fatigue or listlessness with many slack hours of non-productive activity;
  • Constantly missed deadlines;
  • In sufficient time for rest or personal relationships;
  • A sense of being overwhelmed by demands and details, and having to do what you don’t want to do most of the time.

The solution may be improved time management practices.  Good time management practices are often compared to a compass, which shows us direction and helps us to make decisions, rather than a stopwatch, which just divides up our day.  Many people avoid looking at how they use their time because they are afraid that any solutions will be rigid and restrictive, and so they instead continue to be apathetic and feel out of control.  Another way to look at good time management is to picture an active hand with lots of muscle control getting things done, neither of which accomplish nearly as much.

The central question in good time management practice is “What is important to you?”  It is very helpful to identify our goals on a daily, short-term and long-term (or life goal) basis.  Many people feel ongoing dissatisfaction because the lives they are living are not in keeping with their long-term goals.  These goals can aid in the prioritizing and decision-making that we have to do on a daily basis.

A handy tool for time management decision-making is to use our goals to help us decide if an activity fits in the top, middle or bottom drawer of the chest that represents our life.  Top-drawer activities are those that are the most essential and most desired.  Middle drawer activities can be put off but are still important, and bottom drawer activities can be put off indefinitely with no harm done.  Here are four basic rules, and nice optional rules, for making time.  The four basic rules are as follow.

  1. Learn to say, “no”.  Unless it’s your boss who asks, keep away from commitments that force you to spend time on bottom drawer items.  Be prepared to say, “I don’t have the time”.  If you have trouble saying no, look into assertiveness training.
  2. Banish bottom drawer items, unless you have completed all higher priority items for the day.  The definition of bottom drawer items is that they can wait.
  3. Build time into your schedule for interruptions, unforeseen problems, unscheduled events, etc.  You can avoid rushing by making reasonable time estimates for activities, and then adding on a little extra time for the inevitable snafus.
  4. Set aside several periods each day for quiet time.  Arrange it so that you will only be interrupted in an emergency.  Focus on deep relaxation.

These are the nice “optional” rules for making time.  Check three of them that would be most helpful to you.  Begin the habit of following the rules you have marked right now.

  1. Keep a list of short five minute tasks that you can do any time you are waiting or are “between things”.
  2. Learn to do two things at once:  Organize an important letter in your mind while driving to work, plan dinner while vacuuming.
  3. Delegate bottom drawer tasks.  Give them to your children, your secretary, your housecleaner, your mother-in-law.
  4. Get up half an hour or an hour earlier.
  5. Television is a huge time killer.  If you watch, make an agreement with yourself to write a one-sentence summary of each commercial.
  6. When you have a top drawer item to do, block off your escape routes:  Schedule daydreaming for a later time; stop socializing; put away the books; put away tiny, unimportant tasks; don’t run out for ice cream or other sudden indulgences; forget the errands you could probably do more efficiently later.
  7. Cut off non-productive activities as soon  as possible (eg. Socializing on the phone when top drawer items are begging to be done).
  8. Throw away all the mail you possibly can.  Scan it once and toss it.
  9. Stop perfectionism.  Just get it done.  Everyone makes mistakes.

For information on goal-setting, decision-making, prioritizing or any other time management practices, please contact our office.

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