Once a month it is my turn to post a blog. Every four weeks. Happens like clockwork. So, how can that date/deadline sneak up on me? Each time I post a blog, I resolve to get next month’s blog “in the can” early so I won’t be scrambling at the last minute. Never happens.
And this month, thanks to the Labor Day Holiday, I got my days confused and I’m late posting for my once a month obligation. It’s once a month! I’ve known for a freaking month it would be my turn today, and STILL I’m late, and I have the audacity to blame Labor Day! What a crock.
In spite of my inability to apply them to my life, I am well versed with the principals of good time management. There was a time in my life when I managed an office of two-hundred and fifty lawyers and accountants, was raising two active boys and scurbbing toilets on Saturday. I’ve often heard people say, ‘the busier I am, the more I can accomplish’ – well duh! If you are busy you are getting stuff done and the busier you are the more you are getting done. I think what is truly meant by this statement is that the busier you are, the better you become at time management.
Here are seven of the most important things I learned to keep me on track back when I had a busy life. (Now that my children have children of their own and I’ve retired and my life is the opposite of busy – well, NOW I suck at time management!)
1. Handle It Once. This applies to your professional and personal life. When going through your mail/email – handle it once. If it’s a bill, schedule the payment or write the check (if you are still using paper and don’t want to mail it yet, put the date it is to be mailed in the stamp corner.) Solicitations, circulars and ads go immediately into the trash. When you open correspondence, if a reply is required – do it now, and then, if it is something you need to keep, put everything in a file. This applies to email as well as paper. If it’s something that needs more time than you have right now or requires handling at a later date, add to your “To Do” list, right now. Meeting notices go immediately to your schedule.
2. Be/Stay Organized. Avoid clutter. If the document can be easily obtained on line, eliminate the paper copy – put it in the trash or shredder. Immediately! This applies to bills, cancelled checks, credit card receipts and yes, even correspondence. Unless it is a contract with original signatures, or something of equal importance, throw it away.
3. Make Lists. When possible, have only one “To Do” lists that encompasses all aspects of your life. Cookies for your daughter’s class, snacks for your son’s tee-ball team, dinner dates, deadlines, due dates, meetings, and lunch plans – everything on ONE list.
4. Set Priorities. Make yourself priority one! If you don’t take care of you, no one else will. If your well is empty, you have nothing to give to the people who depend on you. So, while that deadline on Friday is imperative, so is taking an hour to meet a friend for lunch on Thursday. Let’s face it, if that hour is going to make or break your deadline – you weren’t going to make it anyway. Taking time away from your project to live a rich, full life, will make the work more fulfilling and quiet likely, make you more efficient.
5. Plan Ahead/Be Prepared. Birthdays and funerals are inevitable. So, when you are picking out a birthday card for your sister – buy six. Add in a few Sympathy and Thank you cards. If you have a young child, birthday parties are a frequent event – so when you buy that special birthday gift for Little Tommy – buy three so you are prepared for Billy, Johnny and Alex. And maybe toss in a Barbie doll for Lucy.
Plan menus a week in advance so you can do all your grocery shopping once a week. Pack school lunches a week at a time.
6. Do The Thing You Most Dread First! The longer that dreaded task stays on your list, the more it will drag you down. At the end of each day, instead of feeling good about everything you’ve accomplished, there is always that ‘thing’ hanging over your head putting a pall on your achievements. It’s kind of like ripping off a band aid – do it fast. The minute the dreaded task is assigned, make it your number one priority. If it is a lengthy project, set aside an hour (or three) a day until it is finished.
7. Make a Schedule – Set Time Limits and Timers – Minimize Interruptions. Perhaps the most important aspect of time-management is scheduling your time wisely – so why have I made it last on my list? Because as you make your schedule you need to be cognizant of everything that came before: you don’t need to schedule time for filing because you handle everything once; You don’t need to schedule time for paying bills because you dealt with them the minute they arrived; You have a complete “To Do” list so you are never scrambling at the last minute to get snacks for tee-ball; You don’t have to go buy a present for Billy because you got it at the same time you were shopping for Little Tommy; and that thing you most dread is in the number one time slot so you can finish it and get on with the stuff you enjoy.
Set limits on the amount of time you allow yourself for each task and set a timer to keep yourself on track.
Avoid interruptions by turning off your phone! Let friends and family know you are available for phone calls from 8am to 9am and after 4pm – (or whatever makes sense for you.)
I’m late posting this blog because I am bad at time management.
So, now you are thinking, why am I going to take time management advice from someone who is admittedly bad at it? Because those who can, do – those who can’t teach. And that makes me one heck of a good teacher!
(PS – I don’t really believe that, but it fits my purpose and I am nothing if not an opportunist. Some of the best teachers I’ve ever had were also awesome authors!)
Terri Richison (writing as Terri Rich) lives in Clear Lake City, TX with her husband and a giant Great Dane (giant even by Great Dane standards). She is working on self-publishing women’s fiction and avoiding getting a pie in the face if she doesn’t produce pages for every critique session! PIES OR PAGES! Terri started telling stories almost as soon as she could talk – she learned everything she needed to know about storytelling at her grandmother’s knee. Craft however, is something she is still learning – those damn commas give me nightmares!