Time Management Archives

Take Control of the Morning

One of the biggest sources of stress for me is clutter and a generally messy looking house. If I start out the day with glasses and cups on the living room tables, empty packs of potato chips on the kitchen counter, shoes everywhere and mail in piles, you can bet my stress-o-meter is going to be sky high.

As I work less hours outside the home than my dear hubby at the moment, I take on the brunt of the household chores. However, I am not the maid and don’t enjoy cleaning up after others. We have implemented the 30-min pick up in the morning before we start the day. This could be done in the evening or the morning, but I have more energy in the morning and find that a tidy house starts my day off on the right foot. The trick is to never let things get so messy that they can’t be reasonably straightened in less than 30 minutes. Do we get this done every day? Heck no, we are normal just like everybody else and the house is just messy sometimes. But the days that start out with this morning routine are usually more peaceful and calm. Here is my morning quick-pickup routine:

Make the bed the minute you get out of it. If you have a good comforter and pillow with shams, (and don’t live with someone who flops around like a fish all night) you can throw it together in less than a minute.

Grab a trash can and make a round sweep of the downstairs (for us an office, dining room, living room and kitchen) clearing all that needs to be thrown away.

Fold blankets & put away, straighten throw pillows, and do a quick vac of the living room.

Unload the dishwasher and have dirty dishes put in throughout the day so that you can turn it on at bedtime.

Straighten any books, magazines, or movies left out and send any toys that have lost their way upstairs to the kids room. When my son was small, we had a toy chest downstairs where he could keep a small group of toys. Those that could not be contained there would go upstairs. Now that he is a teenager, his stuff can go back to his room at the end of the day or at the latest, first thing in the morning.

Use a bottle of all surface spray cleaner and do a quick wipe of all surfaces in the kitchen, dining room, and living room.

Pick up the mail and make a stop at the trash can outside to dispose of all the junk mail and flyers. If it never comes into the house, it can never become clutter. Put the bills and real mail in a basket by the door (or in the office) and any reading material in the office or magazine rack.

Whew!!! Sit down with a well deserved cup of coffee and survey your beautiful sparkling house. Take joy in starting off the day in an organized manner!!!

There are many great books out there for organization and time management. Problem is, many of us don’t have the time to sit down and read them much less implement changes! So here is a quickie version of some basic time management and organizational strategies you can begin to use today and possibly free up some time to read one of these great books later. My favorite how-to books are the xxxxx for Dummies series and yes there is a Time Management for Dummies. I highly recommend it.

Do you have a million and one things running around in your mind that you need to do? First and foremost, make yourself a to-do list to get those things out of your worried head and on to paper where they are tangible and more manageable. I keep one to do list with two sections an upper 2/3 section for work and a lower 1/3 section for home and other. I try to put them in order of importance and check things off as I go along. I start each day with a fresh list and keep the older ones for reference in case I need to go back and see when I accomplished something. A quick re-writing of my things to do list each day helps me see what has to be done and plan the day accordingly. I keep six months to a year of these to do lists for backup. Some people like to keep the same list and prioritize with A, B, or C to determine what gets done first. Whatever works for you is what you should use. Just a note – if you happen to be using the 50 post-its stuck around the computer monitor method, you may want to try the list method instead.

For people at work who ask you to do smaller tasks (print reports, change this expense to a different category, install a software program, set up voice mail, etc.) tell them to send the request to you in e-mail. Be firm! Tell the requester that you will not do XYZ without a formal request via e-mail. This keeps you from having to remember the five requests you got stopped for on the way to a lunch meeting. When the task is completed, send a quick it’s done message and move to a separate e-mail folder marked tasks completed. This is a great backup when someone complains that you never responded to a request. Simply pop up the e-mail and forward to your complainer showing when the task was completed. This ends up working like that get out of jail free card in Monopoly in times when your feet are to the fire.

Learn to Say NO

Once again we’re going to talk about boundaries. Most people who are overworked and overstressed are just simply doing too much. If you were raised like I was to mind your manners, be helpful, be a good boy/girl and let the others go first it can take decades to unlearn these habits. (Not to discount the value of being nice to your fellow humans and love for the world because we all need more of that). There are any number of people who will eventually want a little piece of your time as life goes on. If you have the time to give, more power to you. If you don’t and many times say you do, it’s past time to learn to say no.

Let’s say your son’s teacher once again asks you to chair the annual holiday can drive. You have done it for the last two years and know that even if you have a committee you will be doing all the work. You just don’t have the time to do it this year, but don’t know how to get out of it. Just say no!!! I would love to help, but I can’t chair the committee this year as I have other commitments, Period. End of discussion. Don’t launch into a long dialogue of the reasons you can’t or start to give excuses. This is volunteer work and no you don’t have to do it. If the teacher pressures you or other parents with but you have always done the can drive or the ever popular but you are so good at it, we can’t do it without you just keep repeating your mantra I’m not available this year, I’m not available this year, as many times as it takes to get your message across. Be firm and don’t waffle. You will be so proud of yourself later when some other parent is doing the last minute run around for the can drive and you are at home sipping hot cocoa and enjoying making cookies with your kids. This is in no way being selfish it is a way to start putting your own needs as priorities in your life. This same scenario can be used for the church fundraiser, fall carnival, the committee to better the neighborhood, the sister-in-law who wants you to watch the kids (again), and so on.

An extra note – where you decide to spend your money is another boundary you can work on using the same principles. At least once per month I am bombarded by parents selling trivets, cookie dough, trinkets, or other overpriced things you don’t need for their child’s fund raiser. If you are one of these folks that bring flyers to work and sell for your kids, yes you probably should buy from the others; it’s only fair. I don’t take these to my workplace and don’t hit up friends to buy from my son. (If he wants to sell, I go with him thru the neighborhood and let him sell). In any case, it’s ok to just say No, thank you. Or you can say No thanks, we have our own charities that we donate to. You should probably practice saying no, thank you as you will be using it more and more in the future.

Last year during the holidays I opted out of the many gift swaps by saying “We are simplifying and only exchanging gifts with immediate family this year. Worked great and I was not so stressed about money last year. Remember, all of these are suggestions for decreasing your stress. Take what works for you and leave the rest behind (or just say no???).

Personal time, home time, and family time seem to have gone the way of the rotary dial telephone. However, one of the best ways to start de-stressing your life is to establish some healthy boundaries and begin to experience true down time.

Two of the best new gadgets that have come out in the last few years are caller ID and voice mail. Most people already have these and if you don’t, I would suggest investing the few dollars it takes to add this service. Now the hard part of this is training the family and having the self discipline to actually begin setting house rules on private time.

Schedule time after work each day when you don’t answer the phone, pager, or e-mail. Better yet, put all devices on silent and let all calls go to voice mail for that time. Start with an hour during dinner and slowly expand that time to include most of the hours after work. Decide which calls automatically go to voice mail in the evenings if you do decide to leave the ringer on. Most everyone in my family knows not to answer work related calls for me after 5pm unless they ask first. (The call I got last evening at 8pm from my boss was answered by my dear hubby before he checked the caller ID. I would have let it go to voice mail.) If there is an urgent issue, the person can leave a voice mail and I can decide if it is an urgent matter for me. Remember someone else’s lack of planning does not make a matter your emergency!

For kids and teens, set ground rules for telephone conversations during dinnertime, homework time, and after a certain hour in the evenings. I don’t take kindly to folks calling my house after 9pm. It was considered rude when I was a kid and I still think it is rude today. Call me old fashioned if you must. I also don’t mind giving a free lesson in manners to any kid who calls my house after 9pm!!! It’s never too early to learn good habits.

I will be covering the importance of self-nurturing in a later article, but for now make sure you use at least some of this unplugged time to begin connecting with your family, your friends, or to spend some much needed time on YOU, not for laundry catch up, paying the bills, or other have-to’s.

Take Back Your Time at Work

Now, what about setting those boundaries at work? It’s pretty easy to ignore the call coming in to your phone from your boss at home, (oops, I must have forgotten to take my cell phone with me to the store) It gets a bit more difficult when the boss is standing in your face! Granted, there are times when you just get stuck at work and have to chip in to help. However, if these times are more often than not and if you seem to be getting the lion’s share of this type of intrusion, it’s time to start to change things.

Have you ever noticed that there are always one or two gung-ho/go-to people on a team and the rest are I can’t handle that/I’m too busy people? I’m guessing if you are reading this you come from the first group. MANY TIMES I have been the git-r-done person on the team and instead of getting thanks all I would end up with was more stuff to do! This leads to resentment and anger towards yourself, your boss, and others on the team (who say they are too busy working, but are generally hanging out gossiping in someone else’s cubicle while you are working furiously trying to get all that stuff done).

Now is the time to start examining your role at work. (Remember – we teach others how to treat us through our own actions.) Of course, no change happens overnight, but there are ways to start making the workload a bit more equitable. If you are uncomfortable with saying no or telling the truth when you are too busy, here are a few tips to get you started. I will be discussing ways to say no and boundary setting in more detail in a later article.

First and foremost, stop volunteering!!! The next time a staff meeting rolls around and the boss asks for a volunteer (and everyone turns around expecting you to jump in as usual) keep quiet and let someone else take a turn. Don’t bite off more than you can chew. When the boss comes by and asks you to do that one more thing, have a to-do list of things you already have on your plate and ask “What would you like me to eliminate from this list to do the new task? I am already at capacity. People may be surprised and even act peeved at you for not chipping in as usual. That’s ok they will get used to it in time. Another situation is when you constantly have to stay late to do that emergency project. Now everyone has these once in a while that’s just the way business works. It’s when the once in awhile turns in to three days per week and you are the only one getting these projects (aren’t you special?) that action needs to be taken. When the boss comes by at 3:30 for the fifth day in a row with an emergency project say Gosh, I’d love to help, but I have a commitment for this afternoon and must leave on time today. If that’s not a strong enough reason for you, have a dentist appointment, parent teacher meeting, dinner meeting, club function, SOMETIHING that you just cannot miss!! With time other folks will begin to get their share of these special projects, leaving you on the way home on time hopefully more days than not. And remember once you hit the door remember to use that caller ID and voice mail!