Tag Archives: managing your to-do list

Tips for Adulthood: Five Things I Learned From Keeping Track of My Time

keeping track of time

keeping track of timeOn occasional Wednesdays, I offer tips for adulthood.

Like many of us, I wake up most days feeling like there’s more to do in the day/week/month than I can possibly accomplish. So I pile my To Do list high with a list of impossible goals, accomplish a few, and then – instead of feeling great about what I *did* get done  – feel lousy about what I failed to achieve. Sound familiar?

I resolved to do better this year. But there’s knowing and then there’s doing. How to actually execute this goal?

In her book, Entrepreneurial You, marketing and career development expert Dorie Clark suggests that when you find yourself overwhelmed by an impossibly long list of goals, try taking an inventory of your time. The idea is simple:  keep a log of everything you do in a workday that takes more than 15 minutes. Do this for two weeks, and then step back and examine the results.

I’ve been doing this for the past month, and it’s been highly illuminating.  The best thing about this method is that you don’t judge yourself. Instead, you go into data-collection mode and observe. That’s hard for a “do-er” like myself, but boy, is it useful.

Here’s what I learned when I studied my use of my time:

a. My writing is suffering. A while back, I committed to spending an hour every morning writing before I do anything else. I may not always be able to hit an hour, but most mornings, I am able to achieve this goal. That’s the good news. The bad news is that there is a trade-off in what I write. While I’m able to produce my target of one blog a week, my other writing – my book, my fiction, and any opinion pieces or personal essays I may wish to write – fall largely by the wayside. Which means that I’m really only achieving about half of my writing goals right now, possibly a third. And that’s not good enough. Of all the things I do in a day, writing is the one I enjoy most. It’s where I feel most authentic and most relaxed. Don’t get me wrong. I love blogging and I wouldn’t give it up for anything in the world. But this experiment has shown me that I need to find a way to create more writing time in the day.

b. I need to clear time for “Admin time.”  Another thing that gets short shrift in my current life is “admin time.” On the personal end of things, admin time encompasses everything from scheduling my daughter’s 10,000 activities, to planning social events with friends, to collecting  interesting items for my monthly newsletter. On the work end, it involves things like answering emails, booking travel and keeping track of my finances. The latter is particularly vital for we self-employed types, because we’re always in a constant cycle of invoicing clients, chasing them for payments and keeping track of expenses. And yet, “admin time” is usually the first thing to drop when you hit a busy week. After a few weeks of ignoring all those niggling “to do’s,” you can easily find yourself doing nothing but answering emails for a day. My big revelation from doing this exercise was that I need to set aside two separate blocks of time for both types of admin:  the stuff that keeps my personal life going, as well as the stuff that keeps my business going.

c.  The time/money trade-off. In light of the above, it was also really useful to examine how I spend time with clients. Because my business has been in a growth mode over the past two years, I’ve never really stopped  to think about whether or not certain clients/activities were worth spending time on. I just kept saying “yes” to work. Now that I’m tracking my time carefully, however, I can clearly see that I need to be choosier in terms of how I spend time with clients. For instance, while I love writing coaching, I’ve come to the conclusion that most of that work needs to happen virtually, rather than face-to-face. Otherwise, I can easily spend half a day reading  a client’s work, coaching them in person, and commuting back and forth to that meeting. That simply isn’t an efficient use of my time from a cost-benefit standpoint. In other cases, if I really want to prioritise writing *and* make ends meet, I’m going to need to let go of certain clients unless they can pay more.

d. Prepare less. When I told my husband that I’m still struggling to work a normal, five- day work week, he immediately commented: “You need to prepare less.” I do tend to prepare a lot before I deliver a workshop. That’s partly so that I’ll go in knowing the material so well that I can relax and be myself. But it’s also driven by a crippling fear that I won’t wow the audience/be letter perfect/and or – egads! – only deliver a B+. So much like reducing the time I spend commuting to see coaching clients, I need also to reduce the time I prepare. For me, that’s like asking myself to deliver a workshop blindfolded. But I need to get more comfortable with it.

e. Make a change. It’s been extraordinarily useful to keep this log for the past month. I could happily study my schedule for the rest of my life. But I don’t want to get trapped in the paralysis of analysis. I need now to do the hard part, which is to make the changes in my schedule that will enable me to write a bit more and work a bit less, all while maintaining my target income. That’s going to be difficult for  me. Among other things, it will threaten my addiction to being busy. But it’s time to act.

How about you? Have you ever kept a log of your time? What did you learn?

Image:  212-365 (Year 7) by George Redgrave via Flickr

Tips For Adulthood: Five Ways To Get On Top Of Your To-Do List

Every Wednesday I post tips for adulthood.

I got a status update from a friend on Facebook last night that read something like this: “The ironing pile just never goes away! I’ve tried not ironing…but I hate wrinkly clothes. And the pile just keeps growing!”

I know. I know. Your first thought is “Don’t iron!” but it’s clearly important to her. (She confessed later on that she even irons her kids’ undershirts…Wow!) And let’s face it. Taking four people’s clothes to a dry cleaner is both absurdly expensive…and just plain absurd. So instead, my friend irons – and irons – but the pile just keeps growing.

We all have our ironing piles. For some, it’s our email inbox. (Guilty!) For others, it’s the endless pile of bills to pay. And at this time of year, the number of piles just continues to mount: holiday presents…holiday cards…holiday recipes. Calgon, take me away!

As I learned two weeks ago while taking a self-imposed vacation, you never completely eradicate your to-do list. But here are some tips to help reduce your “laundry”:

1. Take control of one thing. As my life coach loves to remind me: “Stress occurs when you feel out of control.” There are lots of things in life that we don’t control:  an ill relative…how many friends your kid has in school. But there are some things we do control and our stress is greatly reduced when we seize one of those and manage it. I recently realized that I was really stressed out because I hadn’t yet purchased holiday gifts for the kids. So one night – even though the holidays were more than a month away – I sat down for 30 minutes, went through my mental list of what they wanted/needed/I could afford – and ordered a bunch of stuff on Amazon. I immediately felt calmer.

2. Divide your to-do list in half. I read about this tactic while sitting in a doctor’s office one day. (Yes, on occasion, those brochures are useful!) The idea is to separate your to-do list into long-term and short-term items. Each day, you tick off one item from the short-term list (see #1). Each week, you take a concrete step towards something on the long-term list. So even if your long-term list contains such seemingly amorphous tasks as “figure out your religion” (mine does!), you can still phone one synagogue and arrange to attend a bagel brunch. Done.

3. Take something off your plate. I once attended a productivity seminar that was run by a ridiculously enthusiastic management consultant. What I remember most from that experience – other than the skip in his stride – was his mantra to “Get it off your plate.” He maintained that the trick to a productive life lay in figuring out where to “send” something once it landed in your inbox. In my case, I like to think of this as finding a home for the things on your to-do list. It could be a physical home – a space for those single earrings/errant socks/stray Pokeman cards. Or it could be a virtual home. (My husband has a file called “history” where he stores all emails relating to landmark personal/family/professional events.) Whatever the strategy, when there is less clutter in and around your to-do list, you’ll feel more relaxed.

4. Eliminate the shoulds. I’ve posted before that many of the things populating our to-do lists are things we really don’t want to be doing, but feel we ought to be doing. And then we feel miserable that they don’t get done. So the trick here, my friends – (much easier to preach than to practice, I’ll grant you!) –  is to be honest with yourself about which items aren’t getting done because they are a “should.” Just the other day, an old friend confessed to me that she hadn’t yet sent out her – wait for it – holiday…cookies. What?? You send people cookies? I mean, what a lovely idea. And what a huge, annoying pain in the rear. “Do you like making cookies?” I asked her. She paused. “No. Not really,” she confessed. “But I like the idea of doing it.” Exhibit A.

5. Think in terms of weeks not days. This was one of the most helpful things my life coach ever suggested. She said that rather than trying to figure out which five things you can/will accomplish on any given day (and then despair when one or two fail to materialize), figure out what it is you’d like to have done by the end of the week. Then, if you miss the yoga class on Thursday morning because you have to attend a meeting, you can still reschedule it for Saturday and check that box. Try it!

*****

I’ve gotten a lot of flack for my post on Politics Daily about why I don’t think the new mammogram guidelines are so bad. Have a look…

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Image: A Man’s Tools by Bob AuBuchon via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.