One thing I’ve frequently been complimented on is time management skills. I was fortunate to receive good training on this my first semester in college, and now that I’m juggling a full time job and a building writing career, it’s invaluable. So today, I’d like to share some time saver tricks I’ve learned over the years. Hopefully, this will allow you to spend less time doing what must be done and more time doing what you want to do.
Tip #1 - Schedule similar tasks together. This is also called “block scheduling,” and it’s the habit that saves me the most time of all. In fact, when done properly, I believe this is what the term “multi-tasking” refers to. Group tasks together that require similar resources to complete. For example, at work I’ll work on Board meeting items, and then I’ll work on outstanding disciplinary issues, because they frequently cross over into Board items. Once I get the paper off my desk, I’ll check email and telephone messages for other items related to this and respond to them before moving on to the next group of tasks. Or at home, I’ll clean bird cages on nights when Rick cooks and I clean the kitchen, because I’ll have all of the cleaning stuff out already, and be ready to sweep the floor and take out one big bag of trash when I get both done. And doing all of your “going” together (running errands away from home) not only saves you time by visiting every place you need to go in an area, but it saves gas in making one trip to do it all.
Tip #2 – Map your week. Every Sunday night, I do an exercise I call “mapping my week.” I look at my schedule for the next week and plan what I’ll wear to work each day, what meals I plan to cook on my nights to cook, and when I can do chores, errands, or work on my writing. Some people think this is “anal,” but the truth is that it’s extremely helpful because you avoid unpleasant surprises, like finding out that the shirt you want to wear today is dirty because you wore it to church Sunday and you haven’t done laundry yet this week. Plus, you can work flexibility into your “mapping.” For example, let’s say you schedule laundry for Tuesday and cage cleaning for Wednesday, but find out that garbage pick up is a day early this week. No problem - you can switch your Tuesday and Wednesday chores, and it still works out. Mapping your week isn’t so much about when it gets done as it is about planning how to get it done. It divides things that need your attention over the next 6 days evenly so you can be sure you have what you need to get the tasks done, and prevents you from stressing out or wearing out by week’s end. And by the way: don’t forget to schedule some “down time” in your weekly mapping too.
Tip #3 – Utilize your lunch hour. It might not seem like much, but that’s 5 hours over a week. I’ve taken my laptop to the office with me to work on my writing, taken my tennis shoes to the office to take my walk around the complex, run errands, and caught up on personal calls and/or emails during those hours – and that’s time I didn’t have to spend doing it before or after work. And when it comes to writing, consider this: on a typical work night, I can get in 2 hours of work without clashing with housework or other chores and/or errands. So taking my laptop to work on 2 days gives me an extra night’s worth of work during the week. That’s one night I can spend with Rick and the birds. So brown bag your lunch and use those 60 minutes to knock some things off the “to do” list.
Tip #4 – Use your calendar and reminder apps. They don’t call them smart phones because they’re smarter than you – they call them smart phones because they make you look smarter. Even basic cell phones come with a calendar feature, so learn how to use it and put in appointments and events with reminders long enough ahead of time to get a good start on preparing for what you need to do, or to remind you of repeating tasks. And be sure to check these features often. Let technology help you!
Tip #5 – Work your assigned hours. I know this sounds like a no-brainer, but I’ve known people that reasoned that they could take an extra long lunch and work a bit later, or come in on Saturday, or take work home and do it Sunday afternoon. While that might be necessary every once in a while, I’d caution against making it a habit because it turns into a time waster and lends to disorganization. Work loads are supposed to be assigned based on core work hours, so work the hours you’re assigned and you’ll be more productive. Think about it: you aren’t likely to get a response from somebody if you leave them a phone or email message after hours or on the weekend – and what if they “put you on the back burner” and you need quick follow up? Or the system is down because they’re doing maintenance during that time, and it never delivers? Or you need to check with a colleague on something, and you don’t have their cell phone number (and would they answer a work related call on a weekend if you did have it)? Deferring your work has the potential to increase your workload by adding steps. So work your assigned hours and save your personal time for you, your home, and your family.
Tip #6 – Maintain your health. I know a lot of people that postpone going to the doctor until “their schedule settles,” or won’t get medicine because they’re waiting for payday. This is a dangerous game. Your health is the foundation of everything, and you can’t perform your best if you’re sick or injured. Take care of yourself and make time to go to the doctor. Take your medication every day. If you have trouble paying for it, talk to your doctor about affordable options. If getting by the pharmacy is a pain (as it can be), sign up for a mail order pharmacy that you can order medicine through with a few clicks and have it delivered to your door. Make time to take care of your health. Because without proper self care, you aren’t going to effectively manage anything in life.
Tip #7 – Don’t skimp on sleep. I know we’ve all pulled “all nighters” or late nights to get things done, but the older you get, the more of a detrimental effect this has on you. It’s not a habit to get into. Map out your week so you can “wind down” in time to rest for at least 30 – 60 minutes before bedtime and get 8 hours of sleep each night. Don’t even try to work every minute of every day. You aren’t as productive if you’re tired and making mistakes, so stop before you wear out.
Tip #8 – Delegate. I know a lot of people roll their eyes at this, but I’ve learned why leaders do this through months of staff shortages. Nobody can do it all, nor should they try. Utilize other peoples’ talents and engage them in cooperative efforts to keep things going. Let people know what you need before the buck stops with you, and consider “hiring out” on occasion. I know money is tight in this economy, but sometimes time is more valuable than money and it’s worth spending a few dollars to get a helping hand. We occasionally call a lawn service that works for many families in our area to cut our grass when we’ve been sick or overscheduled. I also hired a graphic artist to do a cover for Move, and asked her if she’s mind being “on call” form me for future self-published projects. Both do great work, are dependable, and are reasonably prices so their services are a true blessing to me when the going gets hectic.
Tip #9 – Keep at least 1 “quick meal” on hand at your home. We all have those days that are unexpectedly busy, and find the unpleasant surprise that, on top of struggling to 5:00, we have to put a meal on the table. Or how about the email or text from the spouse saying “working late, be home whenever?” This can make fixing dinner a challenge, and make picking up fast food awfully tempting. I suggest keeping at least one or two “quick meals” in your house that you can make with as little time and effort as possible. Heat and serve pizzas are the most obvious solution to this problem, but there are other options like sloppy joes, soups, salads, or those Stouffers meals that you can microwave in 18-20 minutes. And if you know you have a tough day coming up, consider a crock pot meal that you can put in the pot before work and have done when you walk in the door.
Tip #10 – Keep your house, office, and car organized. This might take a one time investment of time, but it’s well worth it. Digging around to look for things wastes more time that you realize, and you can save precious minutes if you know where to find what you need when you need it. That being said, the level of organization you choose to have is up to you, as long as you can find things quickly and with little effort. Filing cabinets or piles of paper on the floor? Or get rid of the paper and go digital? It’s up to you, as long as you know where it is.
Tip #11 – Arrange your schedule to line up with your priorities. We all have a tendency to take on too much, and it’s beneficial to take stock of life every now and then to ask what fits and what doesn’t. Sometimes, this may require giving up some things that we like in order to make room for things that we like better or that line up more with our priorities. For example, I had to give up volunteer work at my church when my job because more demanding and my writing started to build and require more time. It wasn’t an easy choice to make, but my life filled up and I couldn’t dedicate the time and attention to it that I had before things changed in these two areas. I also had to limit my cross stitching to small projects during “slower” seasons with my writing, but I know I’ll have to “shelve” this hobby when Splinter is released in November to make time for the promotional work I’ll need to do. There’s only so much time in a day and we only have so much energy, and sometimes that requires that we make hard decisions. Fortunately, life is ever changing, and there’s always the possibility that a season will come when there’s time for volunteering and cross stitching again.
I hope these tips are helpful in getting your own time management system established, or perhaps working better than the one you have. Of course, feel free to comment with any other tips that you’ve discovered to save precious minutes in each and every day.
That’s all today. Have a great week.