As I sat down to write this article, I thought to myself, “How odd!” For years and years, I have struggled to better manage my time, but never felt as though I was very successful. I’m always juggling my time constantly sweating as I look at all the piles and papers scattered throughout my two offices, getting up earlier and earlier to get a jump on things, and telling my son to hold on one more minute. I haven’t had the feeling of being caught up in so very long that I’ve simply forgotten what it feels like. Sound familiar? Although I ALWAYS finish everything by the deadline, I’m never early. Way back when, as an undergraduate in college, I was always one of those students who had everything done early. If I had a paper to write that was due in March, I wrote it in February. If I had six books to read for a literature class by the end of the semester, I was finished halfway through the term. Whatever happened to that girl? I certainly can’t find her anymore!
I now live by the “Manage By Deadline” style. What is due today? Tomorrow? Who have I promised to call? When’s the next book deadline? Will my paper supply last one more day? If I leave for my son’s appointment by 11 am, can I make it by 11:15? I think so, as long as I don’t hit any traffic lights! The pace will knock you down if you’re not careful.
It dawned on me just the other day. I DO have a system for managing my time. I DO know how to prioritize. I DO meet all of my obligations. How do I know this?
So, I’ve given myself a good hearty pat on the back for my ability to manage my time, yet I still sometimes wonder how. I’m sure that many of you feel the exact same way and can’t even find time to take a breath, yet alone get it all done. To help you better manage your time, projects, clients obligations, personal obligations and more, I’d like to share with you some of the strategies I’ve learned to use that have helped me juggle it all more effectively.
Time Management Strategy #1 - Make Lists
I make lists for everything. There’s my “major projects” list and my “get it done today” list. There’s a list of new ideas, a lengthy list of “got to remember for the conference” and a “voice mail message” list that I’m constantly updating. There are lists for errands, office supplies, administrative projects to be done and a few hundred others (or so it seems). I write it down because I’m never sure I’ll remember it a moment later. Bear in mind, however, that my notes are scraps of paper everywhere with no organized system. That would be ideal if you’re disciplined. I’ve never been able to take it any further than the scraps of paper.
However, the REAL reason I write it all down is simply so I can cross it off. I just love that! What a feeling of satisfaction and completion. In jobs like we have, where it’s NEVER all done, having that sense of completion is vital to keep us all moving forward.
Time Management Strategy #2 - Clear Away The Clutter & ORGANIZE
I had a great experience recently. With the help of my assistant, we went crazy cleaning and organizing my offices. Most important, we threw things away. Yes, I was bold. I figured if I haven’t read it, used it, touched it or followed up on it in years, chances were I wasn’t ever going to!
I cleaned out ALL (well, almost all) of my files. Was it really necessary to have bank statements from 1995 in a file cabinet? What about old client files I hadn’t touched in years or printing receipts from my company brochure from 4 years ago? Maybe, just maybe, I could put them in a storage box. My file cabinets sighed with relief and I could actually close some of the drawers!
This was a tremendously rewarding process when it was finished. My “clutter factor” has gone from 100% to about 25% and I am so relieved. I don’t know how long it will last, but it was well worth the time. I recommend that you give it a try and you’ll feel so much better. It’s absolutely cathartic! But, be sure to get someone to help you for it will make the process faster and more fun. I never would have done it alone.
Time Management Strategy #3 - Remove Your Obstacles & Take Control of Your Schedule
Before you begin to organize your time, you must figure out what’s standing in your way. When you’re struggling to control your time, it seems as though either something is wrong with you or that “out of control” is simply the way of the world.
Well, you can take control. Here are just a few tips:
1. Don’t let your voice mail, email and in-person interruptions control every moment of your day. Acknowledge them and give them plenty of your time. However, also reserve time during the day that is your time with NO interruptions, no matter what. Use this time - 30 to 60 minutes each day - to take care of what YOU need to take care of.
2. Pick a particular time of day to do a specific task. If you have it scheduled, it will get done. If not, the day will slip away and chances are that it will never get done.
3. If you have a really big project and can’t seem to get started, break it down into smaller pieces so that you can feel a sense of control in working it into your schedule and a sense of completion when it’s done (and you get to cross it off your list).
Time Management Strategy #4 - Don’t Do It All Yourself
You are only one person and, no matter what you may think, you can only accomplish so much. Be wise and use help when appropriate, whether it be to organize your office, manage your accounting functions, manage your client database, proofread all your resumes, or coordinate your marketing and PR functions. If you have other people who work for you or with you, great. If not, consider who you can get to help you with specific tasks and responsibilities. It’s doesn’t have to cost a fortune.
Begin by making a list of the tasks you can get rid of and that someone else can competently manage. Then go get that person and delegate that assignment. Be sure to follow up that everything is being done the way you want, but “let it go” and move onto tasks that only YOU can manage.
Time Management Strategy #5 - Lighten Up On Yourself
Don’t beat yourself up! It took me years and years to be able to walk away from my desk, piled high with notes, messages, files and more, and not feel as though I was cheating. The reality is, that for many of us, we will NEVER get it all done. Learn to live with it, learn to juggle it and don’t feel bad about it. Once you stop feeling guilty and lift that weight from your shoulders, you’ll find much great satisfaction, not to mention the extra time you’ll have to actually get something done.
Time Management Strategy #6 - It’s All In Your Head
Be sure that your “out of control” feeling is indeed a reality and not a psychological phenomenon. Sometimes you can sabotage your own success and your best efforts to control your time. Have you ever considered that you’re afraid of downtime - those quiet moments when you feel overwhelmed by everything you haven’t done? Or, do you fear failure and find it easier to just keep going forward at a frenzied pace rather than look at what is actually going on? Maybe you’re a perfectionist who puts every ounce of energy into every task instead of learning to discriminate and allocate your time? Some tasks are indeed worth your finest effort; some just need to be done.
Identifying, and then eliminating, what may be psychologically holding you back can be a tremendous springboard forward to your success.
If I come back to the central question of will I ever feel a sense of being on top of things and totally caught up, the answer is probably not. And, unfortunately, you may also find yourself in that situation. However, if we can all learn to dedicate some of our energies to better organizing and managing our time and resources, we will find satisfaction and experience a sense of completion. For me, that’s a tremendous motivator. Hopefully it will be for you as well.