Menu Join now Search

Manage Your Time More Effectively

My seminar attendees often lament, "There's just not enough time!" To the contrary, I always state, "You've got all the time there is." Time management doesn't mean packing your day like a moving van, ensuring every single square inch (or minute) of space is full. If you actually had more time, you'd just stuff it with more of the same: more appointments, more projects, and more paperwork.

What's really at issue is not the quantity of time, but its texture, its tone. Not the texture of minutes and hours -- each to be filled and measured -- but the seamless texture of life itself. When I'm working too hard, I crave a different kind of time: slow, loose, alone when a different side of me emerges.

People have become spoiled by speed. Before the facsimile machine came out, all we had was the mail. Then came the fax, then voice mail, then the cell phone and pager, then email. Because of these, people expect you to react faster than ever before. What happened to all those studies in the 1960s that said one of the biggest challenges of the future would be what to do with all our time? Amazing inventions were predicted to free up long stretches of time in our days.

Do you remember when hotel rooms didn't have coffee makers? I recall vividly the first time I walked into a hotel room and discovered a coffee maker. I didn't even drink coffee back then, but I made it, simply because having the coffee pot was so cool. Then people got used to it. Customers got spoiled. They wanted more. If you go to a hotel today and your room does NOT have a coffee maker, it's a cause for dissatisfaction. Now we expect hotels to provide robes, irons and ironing boards, hair driers, refrigerators and microwaves. Where does it stop?

The bad news is that it doesn't stop. People will always get used to things the way they are, become more demanding, and wanting more. Such it is with technology and speed. Everyone asks me when things will "return to normal" and "slow down." It won't. The speed at which you're operating is now what's expected. Welcome to the new normal!

The trouble is, raising kids, making friends and creating artistic work all run counter to the demand for speed. Fast speeds aren't a natural fact of the universe. So when do you want speed?

You may have heard the distinction between Type A and Type B personalities. Type A personalities have six times more heart attacks than do Type B personalities. Type A people are:

Preoccupied with work
Highly driven (often to the point of obsession)
Always in a hurry
Unable to relax
Fast moving and impatient

Psychologists describe some people who become addicted to adrenaline. Addicts create situations in which they can get a "fix" through chaos, crisis and conflict. Some seminar participants have admitted they often create stressful situations to meet their need for excitement.

Most of us don't even think about varying the pace of our lives, because our culture, at large, considers moving fast to be "productive." However, think about how fruitless it is to rush around during certain activities. Hurrying on the laundry, for example, doesn't make sense. When you look at the pile of laundry your family generates each week, you might get the sense it will never be done. That's the point. You will never get the laundry done. It is an insurmountable, renewing mountain. Hurrying up on doing the laundry isn't going to cause you to get your clothing dirty less quickly.

A recent Time magazine/CNN poll found that 65 percent of people spend their leisure time doing things they'd rather not do. Things like -- answering polls. Seriously, 65 percent? How depressing! What's the point of leading a full life if you don't have the time and energy to do what you enjoy doing?

Stop rushing around being busy with things that don't really matter to you. Move on. Make time for activities that are meaningful. When your values are clear, time will appear. Make time to do absolutely nothing. One of my girlfriends told me, "I have no down time. I'd love to have more free nights during the week with no commitments. But it's hard for me to just sit here. I feel like I should be doing something."

How do you begin to apply the brakes in your life when the world around you is pushing on the gas pedal? Here are some ideas!

Decide to move slowly. Decide, on purpose, to NOT be speedy during certain times, when speed doesn't alter the outcome or might even make it worse. If you rush through folding your laundry, does it not come back as quickly?

Does it increase the quality of your work? If you rush while driving, does it improve your safety? If you gulp your food, does it taste better or digest more easily? Recognize the times when speed seems ridiculous. Notice yourself rushing and decide to take a slower pace.

Cut back on commitments. Most people have such busy, complicated lives, they don't have time to stop and look at what's happening -- much less figure out how to create time for the things they enjoy. Look at your life and decide to cut back in the areas where, ultimately, it just doesn't matter. Do you have to be a member of that organization? Do you have to chair that committee? Do you really want the job or volunteer position you're working so hard to achieve? Are you content with the personal relationships in your life? Make your goal to spend time on the activities that are meaningful instead of rushing around being busy with things you don't really care about.

Clear a spot on your calendar. For me, it's a purple spot. Literally. Every month, I find a good day to stick a round, purple sticker on my calendar. This indicates which day I will totally devote time to doing nothing. I may call a friend to have lunch. I may go to the recreation center and sit in the Jacuzzi. I may drive to Cold Stone Creamery and get my favorite full-fat, full-sugar vanilla custard, mixed with Heath Bar and Butterfinger. I may sleep in. I never really know until I get there. I schedule purple days during the week, so I can truly take a mini-vacation by myself for myself.

Seize the moment. In my field of study on productivity, I've heard of too many people who have put off something that brings them joy because they haven't thought about it, don't have it on their schedule, didn't know it was coming, or were too rigid to depart from their regular structure. What about all those people on the Titanic who passed up dessert at dinner that fateful night? (That's why I eat Cold Stone ice cream on my Laura day.) I can't count the number of times I've invited my brother Peter to attend a family event, such as his niece's or nephew's birthday parties, a holiday get-together, a dinner and he says (check one):

I'm too busy.
I wish I'd known yesterday.
I have plans with my friends.
I don't want to be around noisy children.
(He doesn't call back at all.)

He'll die someday, and we'll never have spent time together. Sadly, he doesn't even know what his niece and nephews look like. I suspect he schedules his headaches. He and I live on a sparse diet of promises that he makes when all the conditions are perfect. Guess what? The conditions have never been perfect, and I have stopped asking from fear of rejection.

Seizing the moment can mean being open to a spontaneous adventure, dropping into an interesting-looking store just because you're driving by or taking the long way back home because you wanted to drive around a beautiful lake.

At the end of it all, make sure you don't keep reciting a litany of, "I'm going to" and "I plan on" and "When things settle down a bit."

Article written by Laura Stack