Learn To Manage Your Time (written September, 2007)

How do we learn to slow down and enjoy our lives? Managing our time is about clarifying priorities and being masterful at taking action on our intentions, rather than becoming a slave to the constant flow of events and demands on our time. When we operate on autopilot, we take action without thinking, which almost never yields the results we want.

Time management is not just a tool like a calendar or a Palm Pilot. It is a foundational skill upon which everything else in life depends. So prioritize your week. Organizing your time without first clarifying your priorities is like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. Ask yourself this question: If nothing else happens this week, what are the most important activities or relationships I choose to pay attention to? Without making plans to focus on these priorities, you will most likely not get to them especially if they are not urgent. Planning goes far beyond just making lists. A plan is when you have carved out specific time in your calendar (an appointment with yourself) to do something.

Need help getting started with weekly planning? Here are a few tips to help you manage your time wisely:

#1) Learn when to say no. As Stephen Covey says, “It’s easy to say no when there’s a deeper yes burning inside.”  When we operate from a big picture view of our priorities, it becomes much easier to decide what to say yes to and what to say no to. Remember this truth: Every time you say yes to someone or something,  you are saying no to someone or something else.

#2) A good way to learn what to say no to is to check your self talk. Are you saying, “I should,” “I gotta,” “I have to” or are you saying, “I choose to”? Be at choice! Then write your not to do list and stick to it!

#3) Limit your time for activities that consume you. For example, if you find that you are overwhelmed by email, limit how many times a day you check it and how much time you’ll spend to read and respond. When I came back from vacation to more than 1000 emails, I was amazed at how unimportant some messages became! Limiting your time can help you to prioritize.

#4) De-clutter your life. My definition of clutter? Anything you own, possess or do that does not enhance your life on a regular basis. By this definition, clutter can be things in your physical environment. Clutter can also be activities, thoughts and even relationships that don’t enhance your life. Once you clean up the non-physical clutter in your life, you’ll be able to make better decisions about what to keep and what to remove from your space.

As you de-clutter your environment, you can save a lot of money on your tax returns by donating items to charity. Its deductible as a tool that I have used for many years to help me value what I donate. Although it guarantees that you will save at least $300 on your taxes, it has actually saved me thousands of dollars on my taxes each year.

#5) Schedule protected time. In your calendar, block out time to work on projects that require concentration without interruptions. Perhaps your company can create some strategies for supporting coworkers when they need uninterrupted time.

#6) Reduce stress. Incorporate these into your daily habit: exercise, play, meditation, relaxation or quiet time to still the mind and try to have a healthy diet and get enough sleep.

#7) Separate work from your personal life.  If you are regularly taking work home or working overtime, develop skills to negotiate with your boss (even if that’s you!) about when, where and how results are produced. Manage by results, not by how many hours you are working.

Use these tips to learn to manage your time.

The author of this article is Larry Costello, President of All-American Print & Mail, 2200 Wilson Blvd #102-57, Arlington, VA 22201.