Feeling overwhelmed? Is your schedule jam-packed? Do you find yourself lamenting, “If only I had more time?”
You are not alone. Even with 24 hours, many women still find it difficult to manage their time and choices — and can’t accomplish a great deal each day.
Luckily, time management is a learnable skill, and, as my son, Samuel, says, “Nothing begins until you start.”
So, start. Take your first steps this new year by implementing four key strategies into your life. They’re sure to create more time for you and the things you want to achieve in 2011.
Recognize your limitations
Even though you think you can — as the little engine said in that childhood classic — the reality is you can’t do it all. No matter how talented or energetic you are, you can only do so much. Initially honored when asked to join a committee, attend a meeting or lead a school project, you later find yourself overwhelmed after that early elation.
So, before you launch into a new project, identify other projects, responsibilities or tasks you can STOP doing. Review your calendar. Ask yourself what the consequences will be if you say “yes” or “no” to the requests that are being asked of you. What is the consequence of spending time on this request rather than spending it on something else?
This is called your “opportunity cost” and, with only 24 hours in your day, you must make your decision accordingly.
Eat a frog for breakfast
“If you eat a frog first thing in the morning, this will probably be the worst thing you do all day,” said author Mark Twain.
Do you make your “to do” lists and conquer them by doing the easy tasks first? No doubt it feels good to check multiple actions off your list quickly. However, the frog (i.e. the big project that needs to be addressed) is looming. If you eat that frog earlier in the day, your day will be much more productive.
But making a “to do” list is not enough. Rank your list and focus on the most important items. I recommend A, B, C, D, E steps. Items marked with an “A” are the things you have to do today, if not right now. “Bs” are the things that you need to get done but not immediately. “Cs” would be nice to do but are not necessary. “Ds” can be delegated; and “Es” can be eliminated if you run out of time.
Learn to say ‘no’ nicely
There is a way to say “no” that does not make the person asking feel insulted or hurt. We’ve all had times in our lives when we have said “yes” to too many things, resulting in a very full plate. While a full plate is attractive, and perhaps comforting, we want to do our best to avoid regretting that we signed up for an activity or program for which we do not have time.
When you do say “no,” say it nicely and succinctly, without a dissertation on how busy you are. No one cares how busy you are — busy is not a contest! We all know people who rant on and on about what they are doing. In the time it takes to listen to such a speech, the person could have pitched in to help you.
Here’s an example: As a parent, you may be asked to chair or assist with an event at your child’s school. If you don’t have a great deal of time to commit, there may be something else you can do that requires less time than what was originally requested of you. Perhaps you can procure a few great prizes for the silent auction or beverages for the event, rather than organize the entire function. Do not apologize. Just offer to do what you can.
Make appointments with yourself
Make appointments with yourself to focus on you! Carve out time for what you want or need to do and add them to your calendar. Prioritize these appointments — and activities with your family — as if they are mandatory meetings. Spend quality and focused time with your family and friends.
Any activity that is worth doing requires practice — learning an instrument, a language or how to cook. Practice time management and it will become second nature. Research shows it takes 21 days to start a new habit. Get into the habit of eating frogs, and after 21 days, it will become second nature! The result? Feeling more accomplished with the things that matter the most to you.
As a sales and marketing executive, adjunct professor, active member serving on five boards, national educational and inspirational speaker and “the best” mother and wife, Gail Lowney Alofsin practices balancing work and life on a daily basis. Between “eating frogs,” she can be reached via her website at GailSpeaks.com.