Monday, April 25, 2011

Time Management

What I'm reading: Screenscam, by Michael Bowen; Kiss Me Deadly, by Michele Hauf.

My April contest is almost over - don't miss out on a chance to win a batch of goodies. Click the contest tab to enter. And thanks to all my followers: I hit the 300 milestone on Sunday.

Not long ago, I attended a workshop on time management. I couldn't stay for the whole presentation—I had to leave on time, but the speaker wasn't finished yet. (Her time management skills didn't seem to carry over to workshop time.)

While I didn't agree with everything she said—such as blocking out one hour a day for exercise—she did make a lot of valid points. (And I don't dispute the value of exercise, I just follow a different regimen.) She also said she checks her email on a fixed schedule (never first thing in the morning), regularly deletes messages that have been sitting around too long (if it's important, they'll get back to you), and only checks her phone messages at specific times. That was a little too regimented for me. Then again, I'm not inundated with phone calls. But I do have aging parents, and the thought of telling them that if there's an emergency, they should leave a message and I'll get back to them between two and three is a bit over the top. My circles aren't the 'call and chat' types, although I spent a lot more time on the phone back in my 'stay at home mom' days.

I also don't have a day job. And, at the moment, I'm not working on deadline, so I have a lot more flexibility with my time. That doesn't mean I use my time efficiently.

One 'trick' she suggested was one I used to use when I did have kids at home, worked, and things seemed to pile up until they seemed too daunting to tackle, and I thought it worth sharing.

Pick a dreaded task. As an example, I'll use one of the things I hated to do back then (and still do): clean the kitchen. Do the job, and make note of exactly how long it takes to do an acceptable job. Not mother-in-law clean, perhaps—maybe, 'a friend comes to the door' clean. Once you know you can tackle the job in X amount of minutes, it's easier to find the time slot when you can do it. For me, it was during sitcom time. As I recall, I loved Mary Tyler Moore and Rhoda, but in between the two was Phyllis, which I didn't care for. So, I had thirty 'spare' minutes, and knowing I could have the kitchen done in that amount of time meant that I did it.

Our speaker recommended thinking of tasks in terms of dots and dashes. You've probably got a lot of "dot" type tasks. Things that don't take long at all. When you've got a few minutes, tackle those. Maybe it's make a dental appointment. Or sort the laundry. Then, when you have more time, you can deal with the longer, "dash" tasks." (I wish "someone" at our house understood this system, instead of saying, "I'll take care of it," and then letting it age like a barrel of whiskey before actually doing it, even though it would take about a minute to do it, and then it would be done. Instead, I get, "It's on my list.")

And speaking of lists, another point our speaker made was that a "to do" without a "when" is useless. Commit to a deadline for each task.

What works for you when it comes to managing your time?

Tomorrow my guest is Sharon Hamilton who's talking about her experiences with Navy SEALS. Make sure you set aside enough time to come back to read it!


Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Great tips here!

I usually do my least favorite task first. The successful feeling I get from that accomplishment carries over into the rest of the day.

Terry Odell said...

Good advice, Elizabeth. Kind of like the cross stitch I have in my kitchen: Life is Uncertain. Eat Dessert First.

Jenna Storm said...

So funny you posted this topic I feel as though I'm being torn in several different directions between writing, grad school, being a mom and eventually cleaning my disorganized home. I do agree with trying to do the task least desired first and get that stress out of the way. However, I am also a procrastinator so that doesn't always work :)

Terry Odell said...

Jenna - that's where the 'dots' and 'dashes' can help. You can work on something quick and easy, and then feel like you're moving through your list. Another hint: set 5 minute goals. You can do something for 5 minutes. Then, it's a matter of another 5, and another, as the task seems less prohibitive.

Carol Kilgore said...

If there's not a looming deadline, the five-minute system works great for me on large tasks. My CP introduced me to it a year or so ago, and I love it. I like the idea of dots and dashes.

Sharon Hamilton said...

I like the idea of prioritizing the jobs into A B and C lists. A's are most urgent and must get done. I think it was Kristin Lamb recently who said to "eat the frog" and do the toughest things first. And she got that from Brian Tracey. When my day is taken up with doing nothing but C's I don't think I got anything done, and actually, I didn't.

I also try to remember that if I get 80% done, it's good enough.

Elaine Baskin said...

I have two time management tricks. 1. Remember that procrastination is an energy leak: I use a lot less psychic energy to just DO it, than to fret about it and still have to do it later. 2. When the housework or the list is overwhelming, I just pick one task, the one closest to me at that moment and do it. When it is done I do the next task. For example, put away my shoes in the bedroom, then since I am in the bedroom, I make the bed. Then I grab the book I finished, and put it downstairs in the bookshelf. Now I am downstairs, so I put the dishes away. Etc.

Maryannwrites said...

Had to laugh at your aside about your helpful "someone." That happens here all the time and my someone does not seem to understand the concept of doing a little chore while it is fresh in your mind. I think it is part of a plan, conscious or unconscious, to get out of doing chores. If they frustrate us enough, we'll d it ourselves. LOL

I do like the idea of the dots and dashes.

Mary Ricksen said...

Since I don't work, I am not on a rigid schedule. But I do find I waste a lot of time and regret it later!

Terry Odell said...

Carol - yes, we can always find time for those little tasks, and designating them as such helps get them done.

Elaine - great tips. Thanks for sharing. I tend to end up in a room and wonder what the heck I'm doing there, but tackling little chores as long as I'm there makes sense.

Maryann - yeah, he's been sitting on this plan to get away to celebrate a year in the house for over a month now. All it entails is for him to say, "Let's pick a day." We have the Groupon for the cheapie hotel getaway. And I totally agree about 'it'll get done if I ignore it long enough' approach. His idea of putting the dishes away is to remove them from the rack and put them on the counter. I asked if he intended to put them where they belong, and his answer was, "well, when I leave them there, they find their way home without me."

Mary - no point in regretting it. Just do it later. It gets done.

Terry Odell said...

Sharon - great way to prioritize. Thanks

Hart Johnson said...

I'm so bad at these. I have dreaded tasks and I can just never get them to highest priority until the last minute. I think it's a good idea, though, to put a deadline on them. I even have 2 minute tasks I can't make myself do (because, for instance, I hate to talk on the phone).

You've got some good reminders here, though.

Leigh D'Ansey said...

It's a great idea to get the most dreaded chore done first. I work a bit haphazardly but when I look back I mostly feel as if I've accomplishd quite a lot so I try not to worry about the details of what I do. We can be hard on ourselves but I think the 'average' woman accomplishes so much and we should acknowledge this.

I also have elderly parents and a daughter nearby with three pre-schoolers so I wouldn't feel great about only answering the phone at certain times of the day (although hardly anyone else rings me anyway!).

Getting up early has always worked for me.

There's a saying about "If you want something done, ask a busy person" and I've always found I'm more organised and efficient when I have lots to do rather than the other way round.

Susan Oleksiw said...

This is a great post, especially for someone like me who's always trying to do more than is realistic. I have learned to think about tasks in pieces--instead of cleaning the entire kitchen, I try to focus on one part that doesn't take long before I leave for work in the morning, or after I get home in the evening (before I sit down to write). I clean one cupboard on the weekend, sort through a closet. But how many years has it taken me to learn something this simple!

Terry Odell said...

Hart - everyone has those dreaded tasks. Hubster isn't much of a phone call maker. Takes him weeks to work up to it.

Leigh - I do think that the amount of time a task takes is equal to the amount of time you have.

Susan - yes - one bit at a time and eventually the task is done. "Clean the house" is prohibitive. "Put one load of wash in the machine" is doable.

Anonymous said...

Great post, Terry, thanks. My problem is that even though I may see the priorities in what has to be done, I get hung up on "it has to be perfect." Perfection and procrastination: the dual killers of good time management. Thanks for the post!

Anita Clenney said...

I'm late here; I think my digest procrastinated. This is a great topic. I have trouble with this. I love Elaine comment that procrastination is an energy leak. So true. I'm inspired to do better. Thanks Terry.

Patricia Stoltey said...

One thing that helps me is to log off my e-mail and close the tab after I've taken care of the important stuff. If I only check and deal with e-mail twice a day instead of monitoring all day long, I save tons of time.

Terry Odell said...

Rebbie - that would make it harder to finish. My "perfection" standards are fairly low in a lot of areas. Especially those related to housework.

Anita - It's normal for digests to be a day late. Glad you made it.

Patricia - good advice. Email is a real time sink.

Study Guide Directory - M. Dunn said...

A nice blog post on time management. I like the tip about a to-do list with deadlines, it makes it more clear in your mind what to do next.

I have articles on my blog with resources and tips for time management, mostly geared for students. or click on my name!

Amy Kelly said...

You're so right about time management. There are things that do and don't work, depending on the type of work you do, where you do it and the people you know.

I particularly liked the way you tuned into the ones that suited you and how you adapted them for your real life.

I recently had some serious issues with managing my time, so found this time management action challenge thing online. It went for 14 days and had so much in it, that I wasn't sure I'd be able to get through it. Then I did what you did, started to tune in to the things that only made sense for my life. That's when it became brilliant and suddenly I was leaving work on time or early because things were just getting done and there wasn't anywhere near the stress of before.

Thanks this post. Before I saw this I thought I'd been cheating! :-)

Terry Odell said...

M. Dunn -- thanks for sharing.

Amy - doing what works is never cheating.