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Want to Manage Your Time? Get Real - Part 2

Want to Manage Your Time? Get Real
2nd in a Two-Part Series
Copyright © 2001 Dr. Valerie Young, Time/Design

Part one looked at how, in today's busy world, the traditional "calendarizing" approach to time management is woefully inadequate. One of the newer approaches is one that calls upon you to identify your values in order to create a personal mission statement. Knowing what you value and where you are going in life is an invaluable exercise. The problem is in the application. The values-based approach still relies on a daily calendar To-Do list to manage complex commitments, communication and information. For many, the values approach has come to feel more like where the rubber meets the sky than where the rubber meets the road.

To effectively manage your time, you need practical real life solutions. Real life solutions are ones that pass the Reality Check test. In the last article we looked at five Reality Checks. 1) Simple challenges call for simple solutions, 2) Life is too short not to have one, 3) Your brain, don't leave home without it, 4) Most interruptions are in your mind, and 5) If you want the right picture, you need the right view.

We also offered five Real Tips to help you save time - not by managing time, but by staying on top of the three things you really need to manage:

1) Commitments (commitments to yourself, commitments to others, and others commitments to you)
2) Communication
3) Information

Here are five more Work/Life Reality Checks. If you share a similar view of what it's really like to try to manage a too full work and personal life, try these additional five Real Tips.

REALITY CHECK 6: There may be many steps but there is only one next action.

Some of your larger goals and projects might involve anywhere from 20 to 200 steps. Achieving them can feel like trying to move a mountain. So, what if you did have to move a mountain how would you do it? A bit of ancient wisdom reminds us that, "To move a mountain we must begin by carrying away small stones."
Sometimes the next action is obvious, other times we need to take a moment to break a larger project down. Whether it is finding the cure for cancer, improving the schools in your community, or tackling one of your own projects - this simple reality remains the same: There may be many steps, but there is only one next action. Focus on that and your task will feel entirely doable.

Real Tip 6: Make a list of next actions (or two simultaneous actions) for each of your goals and projects as well as any single action steps such as buy envelopes, submit travel receipts, or make dentist appointment. Make another list of the very next action related to each of your current your and projects. Then move several projects forward by tackling a few next actions every day.

REALITY CHECK 7: Most things do not need to be done today.

Once you've identified your next actions, the traditional approach to time management would have you write these on your daily calendar. At first glance this sounds logical, especially when you consider Benjamin Franklin's advice to, "Never put off until tomorrow what you can do 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's 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 today. 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.

Real Tip 7: Abandon the needless and demotivating ritual of rolling over unfinished tasks by differentiating between those activities you have to do on a specific date from those that are due by a date. If Sam had asked you to call him on Thursday morning, put it on your calendar. Otherwise dedicate a separate page for your next actions list and add a note to call Sam with a due date of Friday. You can call Sam any day before that as your time or mood allows. That way you'll have a system, which allows you to begin your day focusing not on what you failed to do, but on what you have accomplished. And, 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 8: Count on others but trust yourself.

The successful completion of your commitments oftentimes depends on others following through on their commitments to you. In fact you probably rely on other people dozens of times a day - to return your phone calls, respond to your email messages, give you the go-ahead, provide needed information, handle what they said they would, etc.

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 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.

Real Tip 8: Be sure your organizing system includes an early warning system in the form of a list of pending items. Call it your Waiting For page. For example if you're expecting the travel agent to mail your ticket no later than the 10th, add this in sight, that's your prompt to follow up before someone drops the ball.

REALITY CHECK 9: There will always be more to do than time to do it.

A real tip for managing mental interruptions is to do a mental download of all the things you need or want to do in every aspect of your life. Combine this with the reality that most things do not need to be done today and you'll see that not only do you have a pretty long list, but many of the things on your list will have to wait weeks, months, or even years. Does that mean you should just forget about them? 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!

Real Tip 9: Reduce mental clutter and free yourself to focus on the present by capturing and categorizing future activities into one or more Future lists. Committing your future dreams to writing has the added benefit of providing you with the motivation you need to ultimately act on them.

REALITY CHECK 10: Not everything that is urgent is important.

In our deadline-driven work climate, this basic fact of life is perhaps the most difficult one to follow. But if you are going to truly focus on the big picture, you can't be a slave to deadlines and crisis management at the expense of other equally important activities. Important, but not urgent, activities include attending to your health and well being, building and sustaining quality relationships, taking the time to plan for problem prevention, and developing yourself and staff.

Despite what advocates of the values-based approach might suggest, addressing these important activities is not always as easy as writing them to your calendar. Calendar reminders to act on multi-step projects like "plan retirement strategy" or "retain key staff" will lose out every time to more bite-sized To-Dos like "make dentist appointment" or "fax conference registration."

Real Tip 10: Make time to focus on those activities that are important but not urgent. To break through procrastination, use Real Tip 6. When you break those "big verb" projects like "plan retirement strategy" and "retain key staff" into smaller more manageable next actions, like "order financial planning book" or "call Fred to brainstorm staff development options" they'll feel less daunting. Then put Real Tip 7 into effect by adding any non-date specific next actions to a list separate from your calendar. But don't ignore your calendar. In most cases, the calendar is the most abused section of anyone's organizer. When it comes to focusing on important activities though, it is ideal for the technique of "time blocking." This is where you block out time each week to focus on important activities - exercise, meeting with staff, planning an important project, or weekly dates with people you care about.

No time management or self-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 sounds good in theory but doesn't work in practice, maybe it's time for a reality check!

Click here to read Part 1.

About the Author

Dr. Valerie Young is an internationally known workshop leader and public speaker specializing in helping people focus on results.

Valerie has conducted Time/Design's "Staying on Top of Your Workload" seminar for managers and professionals at such diverse organizations as IBM, Pizza Hut, Novartis, Digital, Wella, Merck, Mobil, Fleet Credit Card Services, the US Navy, the National Guard, Northwest Community Hospital, TransCanada Pipeline, Abbott Labs, Smith & Hawken, Nortel, Patagonia, Presbyterian Hospital, SmithKline Beecham, QVC, and many others.

Valerie's work on this and other topics has been featured in such publications as The Guardian (London), The Edmonton Sun, The Wall Street Journal, USA Weekend, The Boston Globe, The Oregonian, Dallas Morning News, Reader's Digest, Entrepreneur's Business Start-Ups, Management World and The Executive Female. She has been a guest on People Are Talking (ABC), Chicago's WMAQ and The Wall Street Journal's nationally-syndicated radio program "Work & Family." Valerie joins Rosabeth Moss Kanter and others as a contributing author to Not As Far As You Think: The Realities of Working Women.

Valerie earned her doctorate degree in the field of training and development from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

Tags: Wisdom and Life Skills



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