“How do you do all the things you do? Don’t you ever sleep?”
People ask me this a lot. Usually, the question is delivered in a teasing tone but sometimes they seem entirely serious. While I have long wished I could get by on less (imagine how many more quilts I could stitch or books I could write with an extra couple of hours each day!), I absolutely require eight hours of sleep a night. Anything less and I’m a wreck.
Even so, I do manage to get a lot done in the time I have. Not always as much as I’d like to, but a lot, and probably more than most people. The truth is, I’m pretty good at time management. But I wasn’t born this way.
There are people who seem to have solid organizational and time management sense baked in from birth. In my experience, those people tend to be math-loving, science-geeky, engineer-in-training, left-brained types, the people who find beauty in long columns of numbers that add up every time.
I always secretly admired those people but they’re definitely not my tribe.
Like most artists, I was born a member of the intuitive, fly by the seat of your pants, right-brained club. You know what I’m talking about, people who can never find their car keys, often leave the house wearing two different shoes, have overdue library books piled on every flat surface and drink their morning coffee out of a mug that says, “A Clean Desk is a Sign of a Frightened Mind”.
There is so much about my artistic, creative inclinations that I love. But living with chaos and the stress that comes with it always had me feeling like I was falling behind on everything. The desire to free myself from that stress, act on more of my creative impulses and ideas, and simply enjoy life more fully lead me on a search for better ways to manage my time.
It’s been a long road, filled with discovery, experimentation, and failure as well as success. I wish could say that I’ve found the perfect formula for making the most of my time, but it’s not true. Improving my use of time is an ongoing process, a formula I’m always fiddling with, but I’m definitely better at it than I used to be.
The first step in my journey was confronting some of the time management myths that so many people buy into that can sabotage your attempts at gaining control of your time before you even begin. Let’s look at a few of them.
SOME PEOPLE ARE BORN ORGANIZED. I’M NOT ONE OF THEM.
It is true that some people seem to have an innate ability to organize their lives and time. And perhaps you’re not one of them. But the truth is, you can learn to manage your time more effectively if you really want to.
I don’t mean to sound harsh but the “disorganized gene” myth is more than a myth, it’s an excuse, and maybe even a lie you’re telling yourself. If you’re fine living with chaos, and stress, and missed deadlines, that’s fine. But don’t tell yourself it’s because you can’t change.
If I can do it, anyone can. Really.
THE MYTH OF MULTITASKING
There are people who will argue with me here but, in my opinion, multitasking is a myth, right up there with unicorns and mermaids.
Yes, it is true that there are some things which can be accomplished simultaneously – returning phone calls while chopping vegetables for dinner, knitting while watching a movie. But most of the time, multitasking simply means that you’ll be doing two things less well than they ought to be done. It’s just not possible to give your full attention to two tasks that the same it.
Don’t believe me? Let me show you the nine rows of knitting I had to tear out on my scarf after the movie credits rolled and I found that dropped stitch.
PLANNERS AND TO-DO LISTS
If you’ve been reading my blog for any period of time, you know that I’m a devoted list maker and that I absolutely LOVE my Living Well Planner. This planner helps me developed realistic goals, create action plans for achieving them, and use my time more wisely and productively. It’s also saved my sanity.
(By the way, you don’t have to wait for the new year to begin using a Living Well Planner. One of the many features I love about planner is the fact that it is undated so you can begin using it any time. Click here to find out more.)
But the best planner in the world won’t do you a lick of good if you don’t actually USE it! Buying planner and then failing to fence off time to write in it and schedule your week (I do this every Sunday evening) it is like sleeping with geography book under your pillow in hopes of becoming a world explorer. It just won’t work.
Using a planner does require an upfront investment of time but, like any wise investment, it will pay off in the long run.
TECHNOLOGY MAKES YOU MORE PRODUCTIVE
There are lots of programs and time management applications out there that can improve your productivity. I use several myself. When it comes to time management, technology can be a blessing. It can also be a curse.
Today, technology creates countless avenues for communication and connection. Anyone anywhere can reach out to us at any time for any reason. That means when we are trying to focus, there’s a zillion things fighting for our attention. Add to that the fact that Americans are asked to process four times the information as we did in 1986 and it’s not surprising that we never feel like there are enough hours in the day. So many things are fighting for our attention. Too many.
I’ve trained myself to be wary of the tools that claim to make me more productive but actually end up having the adverse effect. I can’t write books or blogs while I am answering emails, checking my Instagram, or taking calls. Technology might help you manage your time more effectively but for me, the key to time management lies in consciously placing fences around my schedule and guarding it carefully.
Which segues nicely with the next time management myth…
WITH THE RIGHT KIND OF TIME MANAGEMENT, I CAN DO IT ALL
Not to put too fine a point on it but…uh…no.
Time is a finite commodity. Though there are things you can do to spend that time more productively, no amount of money on earth will buy you even one more minute of time.
Even if you entirely give up watching television, and cat videos on YouTube, and procrastination, and sleep, you will never accomplish all the things you’d like to all of the time. The same holds true of things that other people might want you to do.
What you can do is set boundaries on your time and think carefully before saying yes. I realize that saying no can be very hard, especially for women. If that’s a challenge for you, allow me to share a single sentence that can change your life. The next time someone else asks you to take on a time-consuming project say, “Give me a couple of days to think about it,” and then do.
Thinking through the plusses and minuses of taking on a new task will give you a chance to weigh the necessity, benefit, or deficits of doing so. Making that assessment will help you feel better about saying yes, or no. And you might be surprised by how often somebody else will have stepped up to the plate to take on the job during those two days of thought.
Everybody has to pick and choose. No matter how well you manage your schedule, you simply don’t have time to do it all.
But you do have time to do what matters, those things you truly care about and are uniquely qualified or positioned to accomplish.
Need more resources to crush your goals? I’m here for you.
After you’ve read my time management myths post, check out my:
- Roadmap for your most productive year ever
- Guide for finding your morning routine
- Goal-setting tips
- Goal-setting gear
- Guide for overcoming procrastination and getting rid of overwhelm