I saw an executive coach this last year for a few sessions on time management…or so I thought. I asked him for help managing my stress and time, and he said “Is that really what you’re here for? To manage your stress? That sounds like a depressing personal goal to me.” He was right. I didn’t want to manage my stress, I wanted to be happier and feel like I had all the time in the world. I have a lot of commitments and I get a lot done, and I’m happy with myself and the world, and it’s because I follow three rules that you can use and tailor to yourself.
Revisit your real priorities.
There’s at least one or two things you wish you were doing. In my case, I wasn’t making time for the creative pursuits that let me feel like I’m contributing to culture. I needed to add back in my audiobook recordings, writing, acting, and textile arts. I needed to make time to cook and eat actual meals. I was cramming food into my face while tweeting, and it was unhealthy and counterproductive. Find even one hour a month to sit down quietly and ask yourself this: If I die in 90 days, will I leave something of worth behind me?
Time block and journal.
You should be using tools to run your life that drive positive behavior, not ex post facto documentation of your screwups. In my case, I use calendaring, OmniFocus, and a daily log of how I actually spent my time. You’ll find that when your emails drop to the lowest priority, that you spend only a few minutes on them per day. It’s been quite eye-opening for me to see how I actually spend my day. Most importantly, block out time for yourself to eat, sleep, and exercise. Don’t lie to yourself about having enough time to take care of your body and mind. When you’ve actually blocked out the time for yoga or spinning or rock climbing or whatever you do (and that includes transit and cleanup time!), a half hour each for three meals and a break, and then look at your day, it will become ice clear that you’ve been ignoring yourself and your health. If you have a job that regulates how you work and at what times, I recommend Tim Ferriss’s 4 Hour Workweek for a good lesson on how to manage up to make time for yourself. If you have commitments like PTA or volunteering, do you have those blocked out on your calendar? What about realistic transportation on the bus or in a car back and forth from every single meeting? That’s what I thought. Even if you can’t control your schedule, you can be honest with yourself about what you’ve actually committed to.
Say yes to favors and no to meetings.
I’m often asked if I have an hour for a meeting or 30 minutes for a cup of coffee. The answer is no. When someone says to me “I’d like an hour of your time to [go over this document/meet a friend/talk about my project],” what they’re saying is “I know better than you how your time should be used.” They don’t. What they actually want from me is [a signature/their friend to be introduced to someone I know/me to back them on Kickstarter]. I can give them a yes/no on that favor in seconds or in a 2-minute email, and I’m happy to do so. If they want more face-to-face time, it’s because they want to convince me of something concerning which a 2 paragraph email will be ineffectual–likely because it’s a bad idea or I’m not going to get anything out of the situation. I’ve even had people be subtle enough to think that I’d need extra time to let them down gently if I wasn’t able to do them the favor. I really don’t require the extra time; I wasn’t going to be tactful anyway. I’ll be honest with you, which is my version of respect.
Cowhand up, people; you have one life and so do I. Use it wisely.