Tips for managing time, prioritizing and reducing stress
- Ask, "Is this the best use of my time right now?"
I have found that single phrase to be the single best question to make me stop less important work (like making copies) and get back to the big projects that are a top priority.
There is something comforting about stacking things on my desk, where I can see them. "I won’t forget to do it," I rationalize. The problem is that I am too easily distracted. When the phone rings or someone walks in, or I hit a snag in one project, it’s too easy to glance over at another pile and pick up a new sheet of paper that takes me off track. I can’t live without some piles (okay, so it gives me comfort). But I find I am more focused if I have at least 80 percent of my desk clear.
To get away from the fear that I’ll forget something if it isn’t in front of me, I created a pending file, one file for each month. If I have to make a decision or do something by a certain date, I throw it in the file for that month and mark my calendar to look there when the time is right.
- Say no to things that don’t fit your goals and priorities.
Like you, I get many invitations each year to attend fundraising events, luncheons, networking meetings and professional organization dinners. Many are tempting and most look interesting. Although I am a big fan of networking, I can only do so much. I use three criteria:
- Will this clearly meet my business needs?
- Will this educate me about something important to me?
- Will this negatively affect my work/life balance?
- Adopt simple paper management systems that work for you.
I have to write everything down on one to do list. This includes people I need to call (both business and family), tasks I need to do and errands I need to run. I found that trying to keep these things in my head just made me anxious about forgetting something. Post it notes is the best invention since the laptop but when I see little yellow notes stuck to every inch of my workspace it’s overwhelming and distracting.
- If your are an overachiever, schedule time with those you love.
If you don’t, months could pass before you realize you haven’t checked in with friends and family. Even if you aren’t swamped, it still makes sense to schedule dates with your spouse and children. My son and I used to eat out together once a week when he was a teenager ("But mom, it has to be someplace where my friends don’t hang out, okay?"). It gave us a chance to talk about things that matter, instead of competing against the phone, TV or computer. It was such a good idea, my husband and I started going out on our "Friday night date" ten years ago and never stopped.
- Plan for some quiet time for yourself.
Sometimes I have to go to a coffee shop or café to get away from interruptions, so I can just think and plan. At night, I will read a chapter a night before I go to bed, just so my schedule doesn’t rob me of the pleasure I get from reading a good book. Even when I don’t feel like exercising, I can usually talk myself into going for a short walk, which will become a longer walk, once I’m on my way.
- Figure out how to trick yourself out of procrastination mode.
I’ve been known to clean out an entire filing cabinet or water all the plants in the office to avoid getting down to work. I can’t always lick it but I’ve gotten craftier with myself. When I write, I now start with the ideas that come to mind first and worry about openings and closings later. When I’m fooling around with paperwork or jumping from emails to phone calls to a project, I stop myself and say, "Okay, take the next half-hour to make all your calls and at 10 o’clock you are going to clear off this desk and get down to that project."
Another trick is to dangle a little reward as an incentive, "I am going to take a walk in an hour, so I’m going to see if I can finish this task in that time." If the project is complex or makes me anxious, I will look over the project goals and then take a walk. During the walk I brainstorm ways to approach the project. The fresh air and exercise helps me think more clearly and come back ready to write things down. That next hour is usually my most productive.
- "Show up ready to be no place else."
I recently heard Max Dixon, a speaking coach, make that comment on an educational tape and it resonated with me. I know that if I am feeling overwhelmed and disorganized it’s easy to be distracted when I am with people. When I’m meeting with a client or talking to my staff, I practice closing my mental door on my to do list. By compartmentalizing the work I have to do from the interactions I have with other people, I can be fully present. It’s the most important "to do" any of us has.
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