We’ve all had that feeling that time is running out, that there isn’t enough of it to cover what needs to be done every day, that we could use some time-management tips. This can be especially true for parents, who have to take care of the house, maybe make sure work projects get done, and a long list of things to do to care for the kids. It’s a struggle to organize and find a little room for self-care and relaxation. Remember that?
With back-to-school season underway, finding enough time can be even more challenging for everyone, even if your greatest obstacle is dealing with the longer commute times due to extra traffic. So stop; take a breath. We have some time-management strategies for you from health and wellness coach Melissa Jirovec CCP of OutoftheRut.com. Her tips apply to the busiest of parents and everyone else who just wishes for that one more hour – or two – in the day.
Melissa suggests the first step for managing time should be planning ahead. “Utilize an agenda or an electronic scheduler and make a list of all the things you need to do each day. This helps get it out of your head and into a plan. Make sure you put in time for self-care like, ‘9 p.m. bedtime.’ Even if you don’t get to bed on time, you’ll try a lot harder to stick to that time frame if you have it on your schedule.”
Within your plan, use lists to help solve for forgetting items when you run out the door. “Lists serve as a visual reminder,” says Melissa. “If you write out everything you need the night before, then you can go over it quickly before you leave to make sure you haven’t forgotten anything.”
Smart phone apps can help. Some good ones she recommends for scheduling and lists include Evernote, which allows for creating task lists, setting reminders and searching saved notes; Things, which makes it possible to input tasks, group them in categories, and set time limits for completion; and 24Me which combines a calendar, to-do list, notes and reminders.
Between work, kids, and other projects, it’s so easy take on too much and then get overwhelmed. Melissa advises taking a moment to evaluate everything you have going on. “In the grand scheme of things, do all the projects really mean something to you? Are they helping you achieve your life goals? Is the effort worth the reward? If you are going to commit to something and put it in your plan, then make sure it’s something that matters to you and is worth the time and energy you will dedicate to it.”
Prioritizing is another way to help create a realistic plan. “Yes, it would be nice to finally get the garage cleaned out. But if you’ve got a bunch of other projects going on that are important to your life goals – then now might not be the best time to take on another big task,” says Melissa. “Prioritize what you need to do first; get rid of the little things that aren’t doing anything for you and drain your energy. Then you can focus on what matters most.”
When many tasks occupy your to-do list, staying on track can be a big challenge. Melissa recommends focusing on one thing at a time. “Don’t even look at the other tasks until the current one is complete. Being able to cross them off your list will help you feel accomplished and productive.”
In our age of technology everywhere, it’s easy to get distracted: cute cat photos anyone? So often, time slips away. Melissa recommends instead setting up boundaries to keep yourself focused. “Start small. Set a goal like keeping your phone in your purse or pocket for an entire meeting without checking it. Build a habit of keeping your phone and other distractions out of sight when you are busy so you can focus your energy on being productive. Save the cute cat photos for your downtime!”
Of course there is always the unexpected that pops up, you know the last-minute request from your son who forgot to tell you he needs 100 cookies for the bake sale tomorrow or a longtime best friend in need. Then what do you do? “The first step is to stay calm,” says Melissa. “Fight the emotional reaction and focus on coming up with potential solutions.”
She suggests planning for uncertainty by scheduling some open time in your plan. This gives you some breathing space to be flexible when things take longer than expected or surprises comes up during the day. You should also be ready to ask for help.
“We are human after all. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it,” says Melissa. “If you have a friend who has a child that attends the same soccer game as yours, offer to take turns driving. Or if you have a house project that needs to get done, ask a friend or family member to help.”
Just remember, the key to effective time management is to set yourself up for optimum productivity: decide what’s important in your life; make a plan; make lists; prioritize; ask for help when you need it. And don’t forget to include yourself in your plan.
“Take care of your basic needs to ensure you are physically and mentally prepared to tackle the tasks at hand,” says Melissa. “Include exercise, enough sleep and time to relax.”