By Jim Bain
People often say, "I don't have time,” but the fact is we all have the same number of hours in each day, and we choose what to do with them. We choose whether to stay in bed, go to work or show up at our exercise class. We choose whether to write a letter, take out the trash, clean the garage or paint the house. We choose the kind of work we want to do, where we live, who we live with, and the hobbies we like to pursue. Our lives are a collection of choices.
As a result of the economic collapse of 2008, there are fewer people doing more work. There’s more competition, which means more proposals, sales calls and projects to be done by fewer employees. In short, many of those who still have jobs are overwhelmed by the sheer volume of things they’re expected to do. Since very few of us can “do it all,” we had better find some ways to make better choices.
Ben Franklin said, "Time is the stuff of which life is made." If that’s true, time management is no more than self-management. While there are a lot of good habits you can develop to better manage your time, it's best to pick a few to get started. Master those, and then move on to another group.
Start with these five simple ideas to make your life a little easier. Remember, these are simple, not necessarily easy. They’ll require self-discipline, just as developing any good habit does.
1. Develop a set of goals and write them down. Consider short- and long-term goals. Establish goals that will help you balance these eight important areas of your life: professional, social, spiritual, financial, recreational, family, intellectual and physical. If that's too many, use the YMCA model of mind, body and spirit. Either way, you should be thinking in terms of life balance.
2. Analyze where you spend your time now. Develop a simple time log where you record what you’re doing over the course of two weeks. You can use the same categories from step one if you like or create others. The important thing is to get an accurate picture of how you spend your time now. Where you spend your time is a direct reflection of your priorities. Are you spending your time on the things that will help you achieve your goals?
3. Plan or schedule your day. What’s the difference? Planning is deciding, in advance, what you’ll do in a given day, week or month. Scheduling is determining when you’ll do it. Too many people begin their day or week with no real idea of exactly what they want to accomplish and when.
Writing it down has two great benefits. First, it creates a sense of urgency in your subconscious. Because you've written it down, you believe you need to get it done. Second, it gives you a chance to pat yourself on the back when you cross it off the list. Are the things you’re putting in your plan and schedule contributing to reaching your goals? If so, great! If not, you may want to consider eliminating them from your list.
4. Make the most of slow time. There are at least two categories of slow time. The first is when you’re not at your peak performance level. Maybe this occurs right after lunch or you're just not a morning person. Schedule easier tasks for these times. It’s a good time to respond to e-mails, sort through mail or return phone calls. The really tough projects need to be scheduled when you’re at your peak.
The second category of slow time includes waiting time. Waiting for a doctor's appointment or commuting on the train are examples. Always have something to do—trade journals to read, expense reports to complete or reports to review. Think of all the little but important things you can get done during this slow time. An interesting side benefit is, all of a sudden, it seems as if you never have to wait for a doctor or dentist. When you have something to do, they always seem to be running on time.
5. Create and maintain a controlled sense of urgency. Orchestra leaders, football quarterbacks and airline pilots all have it. They aren't in a hurry but are committed to everyone starting and stopping at the right time.
There’s a sense of urgency that everyone must buy in to. The people with whom you work and play will sense it and take their lead from you. You are someone who’s in control of your time and in control of your life.
These are old rules, but they apply to today's new game. Doing more with less is not only possible, it's required in today's economy. As we learn to make better choices with our time, we achieve more control over our lives. We can better balance our work time, play time and rest time. We can relieve pressure and stress and maybe even go home from work on time. You’ll have time to do the things you choose to do.
James S. Bain is an author, speaker, consultant and coach. He’s the founder of the Falcon Performance Institute, a consulting and corporate training firm focused on productive performance. He has been a featured speaker at numerous regional and national conventions. For more information, call 352.854.4015; visit www.fpiteam.com.