Is Time on Your Side?

What troubles do you run into managing your time? Most of us don’t ever seem to have enough of it. For others, having too much time on their hands is a dangerous thing.

Everyone’s perceptions and beliefs about time are different. Some people strongly value time, work hard to be timely, and expect others to do the same. Others see time as flexible and renewable. They aren’t particular about how they use it and it doesn’t bother them when things don’t run on schedule. In addition to this, some individuals have a better feel for the passage or time than others. They just always seem to know approximately what time of day it is and they are naturally better at predicting how much time something will take.

For those of us that struggle more with managing time, the following are some guidelines for getting the most out of your day.

Think Realistically
Most of us are relatively unaware of how we really use our time. It is typical of human beings to underestimate the amount of time spent unproductively and how much time it takes to complete a task. Another common trap is taking on more than we can manage and having a hard time delegating or setting aside relaxation time for ourselves.

Try this exercise – make a chart with 7 columns and 24 rows. Write each day of the week, Monday through Sunday, in the column headings. Then put each hour of the day, all 24 of them, in each row header. For the next week, write down what you are doing every hour of every day. This includes, sleeping, eating, driving, watching tv, or even just staring off into space. You may be surprised by what you discover. Do you actually have enough hours in the day to get things done? Do you see a good balance between obligations and self care? Are there changes you can make to better use your time?

Get Organized
Much time is wasted due to disorganization. How often have you found yourself running around trying to find needed items or taking care of last minute tasks? Plan ahead and do what you can in advance. Develop a routine so that the things you have to get done each day become automatic. Expect obstacles and be ready for them. Keep your frequently needed items in the same accessible place so that they will be easy to find each day. Keep spares on hand.

Make sure you have a time keeper on your person such as a watch or cell phone and know where the clock is in the room. If your time keeper has alarm functions, use them to alert you to upcoming events. Keep a schedule and update it frequently. You might have to experiment to find the type of scheduler that works best for you and some people benefit from having several scheduling methods at their disposal. If all else fails, hire a certified professional organizer to help you make headway and teach you some techniques for maintaining your gains.

Avoid Procrastination
Procrastination can be both a symptom and a cause of poor time management. Most of the time, merely improving your time management skills reduces procrastination. Other times the procrastination needs to be addressed directly.

Procrastination is a learned behavior involving self-regulation skills, emotions, attitudes, as well as factors we may be unaware of. The causes of procrastination can vary among individuals and tasks. People procrastinate for various reasons and overcoming it requires getting at the heart of these reasons. The following are some additional causes of procrastination:

  • Doing things solely for other people or because we think we “should” rather than having our own reasons. We work harder for something that has meaning to us so it important to take ownership of the things we do.
  • Taking on something too big, too time consuming or too difficult. In this case, procrastination is a way of coping. Modifying the task or breaking it into smaller steps can help.
  • Relying on fear to motivate. A rush of nervous energy can help us get things done, but the cost to health, performance, and relationships may outweigh the benefits. Honestly appraising the pros and cons of doing things in advance versus waiting until the last moment may help you break out of this cycle.
  • Difficulty making a decision. Not making a decision can be a way of avoiding responsibility for the outcome. It is often the anticipation that is the hardest part and once the decision is made, there is a sense of relief. Developing strong decision making skills and consulting trusted others may help.
  • Feelings of low self-confidence and low self-esteem may result in a fear of failure (or success). Procrastination may help us avoid judgment by making others think we lack effort rather than ability. It may also keep others from expecting more of us than we think we can give.
  • There can be power in procrastination. It might enable you to be a “conscientious objector” or to indirectly show someone that you aren’t happy about having to do something. You can also control others if they can’t move ahead until you finish your task.

While everyone procrastinates, chronic procrastination can cause a number of serious problems. It can result in reduced productivity, failure to reach one’s potential, and feelings of shame, worthlessness, and despair. There can be health consequences to procrastination. Procrastination predicts higher levels of consumption of alcohol among those people who drink and college students who procrastinate show evidence of compromised immune systems such as more colds, flu, gastrointestinal problems, and insomnia. In addition, procrastination can damage relationships. When we procrastinate, we often shift responsibilities onto others, who in turn become resentful of us. Procrastination can undermine teamwork and keep others from accomplishing their own goals.

Get Motivated
Ask yourself why you are doing the things you do each day and remind yourself what you stand to gain. When we lose sight of our goals, we can’t “see the forest for the trees”. Stepping back and taking a look at the bigger picture every once in a while can provide a boost to motivation.

It seems to be human nature to take our successes for granted and dwell on our disappointments. When overdone, this can lead to discouragment or apathy. Acknowledge your accomplishments and reward yourself for completing tasks. This doesn’t mean you have to brag or buy yourself presents. Sometimes patting yourself on the back and giving yourself a break is enough to feel good about your efforts.

Remember to take care of yourself and schedule in breaks and down time. Its hard to stay motivated when you are sick, exhausted or burned out. Set yourself up for success. Make sure you have the resources and tools you need to manage your time well. If you allow too many obstacles to lie in your path, you may become discouraged and get off track.

A common time management problem is discovering you are spending most of your time doing the things that are least important to you. Do you have your priorities straight? Take a sheet of paper and fold in half, then in half again. When you unfold it, your paper will be divided into four sections. In each section, write the following headings:

  • Important/Urgent
  • Urgent not Important
  • Important not Urgent
  • Not Important/Urgent

In the Important/Urgent section, write down things you need to do that have significant consequences for you and must be done ASAP. In the Important not Urgent section, write down tasks that mean a lot to you, but can wait or have no real deadline. In the Urgent not Important section, write down tasks that must be done quickly, but don’t have significant consequences. Finally, in the Not Important/Urgent section, write down things that don’t mean much to you and have no time urgency. Notice the types of things you place in each category. Is there a category that has many more or fewer items than the others? What might this mean about the way you manage your time? Do any changes need to be made in the way you think about your obligations?

The Evils of Micromanaging
It is possible to be overly conscientious about time. There are many things in life that are outside our control and trying to control the uncontrollable can be overwhelming. Some people become obsessive, making endless lists, worrying, and planning the next day when they should be sleeping. This ultimately backfires and their health and performance are compromised. As we all know, our time is finite and we can only stretch it so far.

It is also important to remember that not everyone thinks about time the same way. Some things may be more important than timeliness, and you may have to compromise to maintain your health and relationships with others.

If you or someone you love is having trouble managing their time, consulting a professional may help. You can find mental health professionals in your area through online therapist locators such as those hosted by the American Psychological Association, Psychology Today, Network Therapy and GoodTherapy.

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