Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Time Management - Five Steps to Lower Stress & Higher Productivity

By Sandra Carroll

"Until you value yourself, you won't value your time. Until you value your time, you will not do anything with it."  ~M. Scott Peck

What exactly does the term Time Management mean? Books have been written, theories studied, and systems developed to help us better manage our precious time, and you may have read about or tried some of these ideas. I have not made a new discovery on how to stretch time, or developed a new way to manipulate time. I do believe that time management is simply a matter of making the decision to set priorities and focusing your efforts towards those goals. These could be long-term goals, or merely daily priorities. If you decide to commit to the things you want to get done, you will be able to make the time available to do them. Time management is a mindset.

So, stop looking for that time to get this or that done; you will never find it, because it is not lost; you are living it. In order to make better use of the time you have to achieve your goals, and feel more productive, there are a just few basic principles to master.

First, you need to be able to recognize what is important to you, and understand the difference between important and urgent.

Important tasks:
Help us achieve long-term goals, or have other long-term significance.

Urgent tasks:
May need immediate attention to avoid a crisis, but are not necessarily important in the long-term.

Make the following five time management strategies into habits and you will begin to see your productivity increase and the chaos decrease.

1. Set your priorities - Write down your goals, and don't be vague. Be very specific with what you want, when you want it, and the steps you need to take to get there. Break your goal down to manageable chunks, and give yourself specific tasks to achieve each step.

2. Make lists - Limit your daily to-do list to 6 items or less. If you list is too long, you will feel defeated when you are unable to complete it. Prioritize the items on your list and try to devote 80% of your time and energy on the important tasks. Of course, there will be some days that nothing important gets done, because the urgent items dominate.

3. Eliminate distractions - People, phones, clutter, hunger, e-mails, you name it; they can eat up entire workdays. Be aware of what your distractions are and learn to filter them out. Take care of necessary details before you sit down to start a project, and remember the important vs. urgent rule.

4. Schedule time for planning - Develop the habit of planning for tomorrow, the night before. Take a few minutes to clean up your work area, make your to-do list, bringing forward any tasks that did not get completed, and mentally prepare for the next day. Your subconscious will help organize your thoughts while you sleep. To quote Alan Lakein - "Failing to plan is planning to fail."

5. Use some kind of calendar, day planner or PDA - Find a format that suits your work style and make using it a habit.

There is one big time-eater that you must learn to recognize and manage, and that is procrastination, although procrastinating is not always a bad thing. There are many tasks we put off because we are doing something more important, and that is a good thing, usually. It is only when we put things off to do something less important, or to do nothing, that procrastinating becomes a problem. Paul Graham says in his essay, Good and Bad Procrastination, "I think the way to "solve" the problem of procrastination is to let delight pull you instead of making a to-do list push you. Work on an ambitious project you really enjoy, and sail as close to the wind as you can, and you'll leave the right things undone." He contends that important projects require large blocks of uninterrupted time, when inspiration hits, and that to-do lists and errands will reduce that productive flow.

While Mr. Graham's advice flies in the face of the time management tips I just listed, I do agree with his concept. If you are working effectively on a project that is important to you, the idea of interrupting that work to do less important items on your to-do list, does seem counter productive. Those less important items can always be moved to the next day's list.

It comes back to priorities again. What is important to you? Have a very clear understanding of your priorities, not only for a particular day, but also for the long-term. Create the space and time to achieve your goals, and understand that there is never time enough to do everything, and that is OK.


Sandra J. Carroll is a self employed consultant and a freelance writer, with over 30 years of business experience. Her company, Creative Changes provides home staging services, as well as organizing, space planning and storage solutions for homeowners and small businesses.

As a small business owner, mother, and owner of two homes Sandra has first hand knowledge of the challenges that entrepreneurs and homeowners are dealing with every day. Sandra studied business and humanities at the University of Arizona. She lives and works in the Palm Springs area of Southern California. For more information about Sandra and her organizing and staging business, please visit: www.creative-changes.com [http://www.creative-changes.com]

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