he first time I dropped my son off at day care, I was split between two distinct emotions. 1) the guilt/sadness that surrounds handing your beautiful baby over to another for the first time and 2) the unabashed giddiness that came on like a rush of free-time to the brain. What was I going to do with all these baby-free hours? I had work and errands naturally but all of those had previously been juggled with a baby on the hip, in the car, in the shopping cart. I smelt freedom!
Fast-forward two weeks and somebody had clearly been up to something sneaky with the time-space continuum. What had previously seemed like a huge block of free time had become mere minutes. Nine to five had compressed itself into the space of one read through the email, a load of laundry and a conference call. Maybe I ate a granola bar for lunch in there somewhere. How could it be so!
If this story sounds familiar, the Gods of time-management are not playing this trick on you alone Here are some tips I have learned along the way to maximizing my working hours.
1. Know Thy Self: Everyone works differently and thrives or withers in different work environments. For me, nothing kills my productivity like working in a messy space. I have to either clear the space or, if time is at a premium, just go work elsewhere. I also know I learn better through personal instruction than by reading, so I schedule more time for one on one training since I know a quick-read booklet isn’t going to cut it for me. I’d read it ten times and still not understand it… time poorly used. Knowing how you work best is key to successful time management. It is also important to start to view yourself and your time as a precious commodity. Don’t be modest! Your time is valuable.
2. Prioritize: OK, this sounds super obvious but it is also very difficult to implement. To-do lists are key to busy working moms and dads but they also need to be numbered in priority order. It is often hard to force yourself to work on the major, time-consuming task over the little, easily crossed off ankle biters. But it is quality use of time we are seeking…not quantity of check marks on your list. At the end of the day, if you didn’t accomplish the most important action items, you feel as if you did nothing.
3. Avoid Multi-tasking: This is likely the hardest thing to learn. But trying to conference call while you edit a presentation, and replace a button on your shirt is a recipe for frustration. Try to tackle tasks one at a time and devote 50 minute blocks to ongoing tasks with no other distractions. Silence your phone, post a Do Not Disturb sign, disable your email update noise and focus. On the subject of email – try to adopt a policy of checking email at 2-3 set times during the day, rather than as them come in…this keeps you to your own schedule, rather than at the mercy of others.
4. Weed Out the Time Killers: First – cancel your cable or satellite subscription. You heard me. Before I canceled my TV service, tuning in for one episode of How I Met Your Mother would always turn into whatever came after and then a mindless channel surf before 3 hours had mysteriously vanished into the ether. I do still watch my favorites. But I watch them one at a time and on my own schedule via Netflix, Amazon Prime or iTunes. And don’t DVR; after a while, this just felt like one more to do list! Also be mindful of scheduling your Facebook, Pinterest and twitter time. I’m deadly serious. Set a phone timer if you have to.
5. Unplug Regularly: Go for a walk without your phone. Play with your kid without your phone. Have a drink with your spouse… without your phone. Are you sensing a theme? Nothing addles the mind like constant screen time. You’ll be amazed at the clarity that comes by taking even a brief step away from being your uber-connected self. Some of my best ideas have come between the park and home when I took out my ear buds. This was not easy for me, I had often come to see time I wasn’t filling to the brim as wasted. But down time is useful time. Don’t deny your hard working noggin a little repose.
What are some of your time-management tips that help you maximize your day?