Sunday, March 9, 2014

Are you busy or are you productive?

It’s that dreaded weekend every year when we have to set the clocks forward and lose an hour.  An hour’s not much but if you manage your time wisely enough, that extra hour is time lost when you may have been able to check some overdue tasks off your to-do list.

But is losing an hour really that big a deal?  We probably make it more of an issue than it really is but what the loss of an hour gives me is the opportunity to re-evaluate how I’ve been managing my time.  Lately, I’ve felt so “busy” and yet there are days when I might have a hard time describing exactly what I’ve done to actually label my day as “productive.” 

I’ve read multiple articles about time management and how to make better use of my time, but it’s not always easy to follow the advice offered by others.  As a working mom and writer, I’m not only working a full time job as I continue on with my writing in a part-time capacity, I’ve got a family and a house to tend to as well.  All working moms out there know how difficult it can be to keep a balance between work and home life and it’s even more difficult when you add a side business to the mix. 

So how can we do it all without eventually crashing and burning?  The trick is to find a way to manage our time, by taking the advice of others while not holding ourselves strictly to that advice when it might not be the right fit for us.  It’s called tweaking, until we find the right fit.

One piece of advice I’ve seen over and over again is to spend a few days, or better yet a full week, tracking every hour of your day in blocks of, say, 15 minute increments.  It may seem difficult and tedious at first to keep up with this task, but it’s worth a shot to hold yourself accountable in order to find the black holes in the day that suck up your time.  At the end of your tracking period, you’ll have a better idea of where large blocks of your time are spent, whether that time is spent productively or not and you’ll uncover the black holes in your day where available time lay hidden. 

I’ve been meaning to keep track of my time in that way but I just haven’t gotten around to it.  Kind of funny when I think about it – I’m just too busy to keep track of my time.  What a ridiculous notion!  But, sadly, it’s a true statement.  So, I’d like to turn that fact around and rather than continuously feeling “busy,” I’m going to make every effort to take a step back, reconsider what I need to do to take control of the hours of every day (as much as possible, anyway), and begin feeling “productive.”   

To begin, I’m going to do my best to track my time for a week.  Wish me luck.  Beyond that, there are a few pieces of advice I’ve gleaned from others that I’ll also add to my agenda when it comes to staying productive:

  • Make a daily or weekly to-do list but keep it focused to what’s most important for that time frame.  Try to complete the top priority tasks first (or the dreaded ones you wish to get over with) so that the rest of the day, or week, feels less demanding.
  • For tasks that require more energy or creativity, such as exercising or writing, choose the time of day if possible when you actually do have the energy level or heightened creativity.  It can be difficult when the bulk of your day is spent at the day job, but eventually you can accomplish more if you figure out what time of the day you can be the most productive.  This idea also works well for tasks you need to complete at work; if mornings are your best, try to tackle the big projects during that time and leave the afternoons free for smaller, less demanding projects.
  • Don’t let yourself get distracted, unless it’s really important, from the task at hand.  Spend the required time you anticipated the task would take to complete before moving on to something else.  If something can wait, let it wait.
  • Say no if you need to and don’t stress about what others think.  Of course, this doesn’t count if your boss is asking but then again, if you feel overwhelmed at work, you really should learn to express yourself or figure out how to delegate tasks so you aren’t taking on too much.
  • Speaking of work, don’t bring it home with you.  Home is where you should be able to shed the day from your mind and off your shoulders, relax for the evening and spend well-deserved time with your family.  Lately, this task has been difficult for me so I’m going to do my best to work on this, for my sake and for the sake of my family.
  • Find the time to cater to yourself – it’s not a selfish notion, but a very important need every person should fulfill so that they don’t feel as if every part of them belongs to someone else.  We are daughters, wives, mothers, granddaughters, nieces, friends, employees, etc.  We mean something to so many people, we risk losing the identity of what we mean to ourselves.  “Me time” is necessary to revitalize and center our well-being in order to prevent the overwhelming feeling we invite after giving so much of ourselves to others. 
  • And, finally, let go of the guilt…whatever may bring it on.  We tend to be hardest on ourselves and if those who matter can forgive us our faults, then we should be able to, as well. 

Here’s to making a positive change when it comes to managing my time.  Here’s to being able to respond to the question of ‘how are you?’ with ‘I’ve been so productive,’ rather than, ‘I’ve been so busy!’

How about you?  Are you busy or are you productive?  Have you been able to find a strategy that works for you?  If so, please share; I’d enjoy hearing more time management tips from anyone who feels they’ve mastered the task. 

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