Here are twelve helpful hints I had to come to grips with before things started to feel normal, hopefully they will make you more calm, cool, and collected as they have me. My productive is up as well.
- Understand there is no such thing as time management. It is a myth.
No matter how much we need an extra 18 hours in our day; there is always only 24 hours in a day. Time is constant, it doesn't change no matter how much we wish it would. We can only manage ourselves and what we do with the time that we have.
- Identify your time bandits. Many of us fall prey to timewasters that steal our writing time which we could be using much more productively. How many games of Hearts or Mahjongg are too many? How much research is too much? TV shows, get togethers with friends, net surfing, message boards, reading and sending e-mails, IMs, blogs, websites, phone calls, etc. What are your time-bandits? Do you spend too much time doing any of these? Keep a detailed log tracking all of your activities for a week to get an accurate picture of where your time bandits are. Make a plan to eliminate them. (see #3)
- Create time management goals.
Remember, the thrust behind time management is changing our behavior, not changing time. We will start by eliminating our personal time-bandits. Pick one. Set a goal. Ex: you will not take personal phone calls, except for emergencies, while you are writing. BTW an emergency is not your best friend's plea to go to the mall, or gossip about the new neighbors. Reward yourself with 15 minutes of Mahjongg or reading email.
- Implement your time management goals into a plan.
You have identified specific goals in #3, so extend those over into a plan to achieve your goals. Don't expect perfection. You will be setting yourself up for failure. Chart your progress and reward yourself as your behaviors change to achieve whatever general goal you've set for yourself. Optimally this will increase your productivity and decrease your stress.
- Use tools.
The first step to changing our behavior is to get a physical handle on our life. To start learn to physically and visually manage your time. We must know where we are going now and plan how we're going to spend our time in the future. Buy a datebook such as a Day-timer or Franklin Covey, or a PDA. If you prefer a software program, Outlook is good. It lets you schedule events easily. It has the capacity to be set to remind you of events in advance, making your time management easier. I am a visual person and actually use both, a Franklin Covey date book system and Outlook. I like the idea of the PDA, but it is too small for me to read comfortably. I do have friends who swear by them.
- Learn to say no. One of the hardest things for me was to learn to say no. If something came up at (fill in the blank)....work, school, church, anywhere; I was the go-to person. I am known as someone who can multitask and seem to do things effortlessly. People were shocked when I started saying I was booked and couldn't do things. Guess what? The world still continued to turn, and events went on that I wasn't coordinating...amazing but true. Unburden yourself from guilt and extra activities. Give someone else a chance to be PTA president, room mom, and know the kids will survive with store bought cookies.
- Prioritize, prioritize, and prioritize some more.
At some point each day you will have to prioritize to get your time and tasks scheduled. I do mine right before I go to bed each night. It allows me to wake up knowing the day is set. Some prefer to do this each morning. My mornings are too full, so the nightly routine works best for me. This session should prioritize the tasks for that day and set your performance benchmark. If you have listed 30 tasks, how many of them do you truly need to accomplish? I also do a monthly prioritizing session at the end of the month; it helps me plan out my upcoming weeks. I list everything I want and need to accomplish. I prioritize them into categories The must-dos, the need-tos, and the want-tos. I schedule as many as I can into my next month's schedule. By doing this I find I actually accomplish more want-tos than I did previously. Keep your daily schedule handy and check the items off as you complete them.
- Learn to delegate.
You are not a superhuman one-person show. Let your family help. The kids can learn to cook simple meals. My daughter and son learned to make sandwiches, and heat soup when they were seven years old. With the advent of bagged salads, and other convenience items, children and husbands can throw together a healthy dinner at least one or two nights a week. Have a pizza night and order up a pizza and movie for the family. Children and husbands can help with household chores as well. So what if your husband has pink underwear, or the kids beds don't have mitered corners. As long as the sheets and underwear are clean and the beds are made, life is good. If House Beautiful calls you can hire a maid before the photo shoot. Speaking of housekeeping services, hire someone to come in to do a major cleaning once a month or week. In the long run it will save you time and money. With your writing, pay a teenager or college student to transcribe your manuscript, or run copies, or run errands. You can also outsource jobs you don't like to do. Large companies do it all the time, so why not you?
- Establish routines and stick to them.
As with young children things usually run smoother if we have a predictable pattern. Most of us don't like the unexpected. Occasionally you will have a day where nothing goes as expected. Learn to roll with those days. Pick up the pieces and move forward. This is not to say spontaneity is dead, but routines keep us sane.
- Set time limits for tasks.
This is a good habit to get into when prioritizing. Set a expected yet reasonable amount of time to accomplish a task. Answering email will consume a whole day if you let it. Set a limit of one hour a day for this task and stick to it. I usually have one day a week I do all of my correspondence like queries, etc. I answer my emails in 15 minute intervals. I write for an hour or more then answer the mail for 15 minutes. It helps break up my other writing tasks.
- Make sure your systems are organized.
Do you waste a lot of time looking for files on your computer? Take the time to organize a file management system. Is your physical filing system slowing you down? Redo it, so it makes sense to you. You should be able to easily find any file folder you need. This goes for all areas of your life. Phone numbers are a problem for me. I set up Rolodex files for business and family numbers. I have thousands so putting them in a cell phone was too cumbersome. Is your kitchen organized can you find the matching lids to those storage containers. Remember the time-bandits. Each little minute you spend looking for something adds up to hours over the week. So spend some time finding what works, get organized, and keep motivated.
- Use waiting time productively.
No matter how well organized you are, it's impossible to avoid waiting for someone or something. Don't sit and twiddle your thumbs. Always carry something to do, read your research or a book, balance a checkbook, brainstorm story ideas, plan weekly dinner menus, make a shopping list. Carry a small spiral notebook or I also carry a micro cassette recorder to make notes or dictate a scene rumbling in my head, or give a detailed description of a person I to see in my next best seller.
Practice is required in writing and time management. Take control of your time. You'll be happy you did.