3 Steps to Reclaim & Manage Your Time

Do you ever feel like the clock of your life keeps time only in extremes?

What I mean is one extreme is as if the span of time has no end. You’re bored. You deal with what seems like a big issue at work or at home and you’re CERTAIN that at least an hour and a half has passed.

6 minutes & 37 seconds later….but who’s counting?

The other extreme is you’re in Stage 5 Panic. Everything is on fire or needs your immediate attention. Whether it be your kids, friends or coworkers, all of them have found away to perfectly timed a master mix of everything that could go wrong or needs to be added to your ever incomplete task list.

I’ll admit, to be fair, that sometimes things pile up and they are completely out of our control. Life does indeed happen and we need to do our best to try and manage through it.

However, I would place a bet that you could eliminate a large majority of your time related stress with a few simple suggestions.

1. Find Out What’s Taking Your Time

First, I know this is a big “duh, David” suggestion to some. Let me provide a couple of examples.

Social Media (and technology in general)

This one goes without saying. You know it and I know it. I browsed numerous studies and the factoid I found most impactful was found by ADWEEK. According to a study they sourced from Mediakix, we will spend on average, 5 years of our lives on social media. To put that into context, the median salary in the United States per year in 2016 was $55,775. Let me do the math for you for 5 years time…

$278,875

Nope. That’s not correct. That model assumes you work 24/7/365. If you convert that to more practical 8 hour work days with the same wage, the missed income based on this fact is…

$1,146,684

That is how much wasted money we are anticipated to lose when put in the dollars we currently expect to earn – assuming you want to be average for the rest of your life.

Then of course there’s the other technology in our lives like TV & Internet. I’m just as guilty as the next on getting sucked down the CNN, YouTube or Amazon rabbit hole. CNN was specifically my drug of choice. I guess I assumed the only way to be informed was to watch experts pontificate and dramatize the world in which we live. It was emotionally exhausting and I lived in a perpetual state of angst due to ‘BREAKING NEWS’ and then being reminded hourly about the fact that Kim Jung Un was going to blow us all up. Now I read my news in the five minutes before I get out of bed on my phone. I know what I need, but I don’t dwell in dread over it anymore.

I’ll change it with my vote.

The “Needy”

Have you ever had a person in your circle that seems to complete deflate you emotionally, physically or spiritually? They pine for your tireless attention, seek out (and fail to heed) your advice, and push you into situations or pressure you to make decision you don’t want? They also tend to always be in crisis mode and can never seem to land on their own two feet. You’ve become their third leg at times, their tripod.

If you were to take a step back and assess your relationship with them. Is it truly balanced? Meaning, are they taking more support from you than they are providing you?

What about that person at work? There’s that one person who somehow manages to focus on EVERYTHING else but his or her job. Whether it be that hideous outfit Susan wore yesterday, discussing their personal life or simply doing anything to solicit any and everyone’s attention, they are minute by minute stealing time away from your life. They may even be a direct report that consumes FAR too much of your energy per day.

Now that you’ve got them pictured in your mind, it’s time to start managing that relationship differently. Because you do not have time for that.

If we are viewing this through a professional lens, what are you doing to proactively manage the problem? A way that I’ve found successful is to respectfully set expectations. Consider the following:

To a friend or coworker, “Hey, catching up with you is always a treat, but I’m currently juggling a few things. I’m just not in a place where I can give you my undivided attention.”

To a direct report, “I know you’d like to connect [again] on your issue and I’m happy to talk. I can set aside 15 minutes for us later today to discuss.”

I also tell my team regularly, “I’m happy to discuss any concern or issue as long as you come prepared with a suggested solution.”

You’d be shocked how many “problems” you never hear about.

These are only a couple of examples and solutions. The best way to figure out what is stealing your time is to itemize your day. Remember, if you can’t remember what you’ve done all day (you’ve had at least 12 hours in most cases) your losing time to some things that don’t matter.

2. Separate the Known from the Unknown in Your Life

Like I said earlier, life does happen sometimes in unexpected ways. I’m not suggesting we are bad at managing time because we can’t predict the unpredictable. I’m suggestion we let the routine of our life pile up and then that becomes unmanageable BECAUSE of things that are unpredictable.

Below I’m going to give you some (completely random) things that are routine, but won’t always need your attention.

  1. Exercise (daily – I hope)
  2. Grocery Shopping (weekly)
  3. Paying Bills (monthly)
  4. Personal Care (monthly) – whether it be a haircut, mani-pedi, or a routine check up with your physician, personal care should be something you can expect.
  5. Filling Up Your Car with Gas (bi-weekly)
  6. Holidays (quarterly)
  7. Car Maintenance (quarterly)
  8. Final Exams (bi-annually)
  9. Back to School (annually)
  10. Birthdays (annually)

Some of these may seem a bit odd to be added to this list, but that’s the point. Routine is sometimes a bit obscure and easily forgotten. When was the last time you thought about intentionally living and planning your haircut along side with getting gas? Probably right after you realized you were running out of gas as you were trying to get to your haircut appointment during rush hour traffic and before you had to swing by the grocery store to buy groceries so you could cook that thing for that thing you committed to. (I joke, but that’s how life works sometimes.)

I’ve found far more success with my personal time management when I proactively squeeze every ounce of time out of my day. With my strange hours in retail, I’d often put off random small chores like going to the grocery store or to a doctor’s appointment on to my day off because I was unaware of the amount of time it would consume. Now that I’ve got the swing of things (and traveling) in NYC, it’s much easier for me to make errands happen to and from work.

I push as much of that activity that I can in every spare moment of my normal workday so I can enjoy the flexibility of my off day and truly relax and recuperate. For example, I also teach in an online adjunct capacity. I’ve built my courses to where I can manage most workload for the semester during my lunch break at my primary job.

3. Make a Plan for the Known….and Leave Some Room for Error

This what will require a little brainpower, but with some effort, this may drastically impact your life. It also might seem a bit overwhelming, but to demonstrate how I manage my time, I created the following image from my iCal:

iCal Example.png

This is my schedule a week from now. Keep in mind, I don’t live in iCal as strictly as I used to. That is largely because I have transitioned to a dry erase calendar that lives on my wall. I like the act of actually writing down and being able to take a step back seeing everything on a board.

I guess I’m old fashioned.

My weeks are also not this granular largely because I’ve trained myself to think that way in advance. Because I’ve forced these behaviors to be routine, this calendar was relatively easy to plot out – even with my inconsistent schedule. During this week I know where my free time is, where I’m going to focus on things I care about, like the gym and (these days) writing and reading more. I also know where my obligations are. How many of you have unintentionally overbooked yourself simply because you weren’t being intentional with your time?

Another caveat of this approach remembering to think monthly, quarterly and annually. I also have a dry erase calendar for 2018. It’s not the most “stylish” from a decor perspective, but it has allowed me to map out important dates like vacations as well as plot out my financial goals. If you think I’m renting perpetually in NYC, you’re mistaken.

#goals

The Assumption of Time

This a habit we practice less and less as we get older and older, but we still do it. It was a practice we began in college.

“Oh, I’m only 22. I’ve got time to find a job.”

“Retirement? I’ve got time invest. I deserve a trip to Mexico.”

“I’m not sure this one is the right one for me. He’s only 6′ and I prefer 6’1″ and up.”

Regardless of how we frame our reasons for it, we live in a culture of procrastination. I’m not speaking from a self-riteous perspective – I’m only 32 and have procrastinated plenty with my life.

The thing to remember, as cliché as it is, is that our time in a day is finite – and the same amount for every person.

I’ve never known a successful person that wasted much, if any, of it.

David

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