In a world which seems to move faster and faster, it is essential to carve out time for self. Our body and mind require both relaxation and exercise. We need time for our relationships and things that give us joy, but our pace is often geared to achievement, accumulation, chores, and the plethora of things we think MUST be done. We lose our emotional balance and sometimes our health. Looking at and changing the way we handle tasks is one way to deal with time issues.
Big tasks used to weird me out. I recognized I didn’t want to start a task that would take days for completion, especially those where I had no idea where to start. Thus, I found myself procrastinating. My solutions in the past to this overwhelmed feeling were to escape into computer games, do the laundry, which could have waited for a few more items in the loads, or worse yet, scatter myself among half a dozen chores completing none. If I felt busy, I must be accomplishing something, right? Wrong! I was simply spreading my energy over unimportant issues instead of focusing on the important one, for which I didn’t seem to have the energy.
Now, I am not against multi-tasking – it works wonderfully to clean out the dishwasher while waiting for the coffee to brew in the morning or to check your email while holding on a telephone call. And a book or paper and pen in hand while waiting for an appointment is marvelous. In fact, working on several projects at the same time is fine, IF your focus is only one aspect of a project at a time.
That word “FOCUS” is one of the most important keys to time management and getting things done. It may not be possible to finish a task at one time; information may be needed from someone else or you may be unsure what to do to take the project to the next step. However, if even a small segment of the work is done, the pressure associated with the project is lessened. There is only so much time and energy. If we use it to escape, we don’t have it to apply to the work needing to be accomplished. In the end we are more tired, more stressed, more frustrated and further behind in our task. Do what you can and let it sit. Simply letting the material gel in your mind and on the page often opens the door to the next step. As you wait for the material to firm up, turn your full attention to the next item at hand.
Focusing full attention to what you can proceed with is a great tool for freeing up time and completing projects. It unclutters your mind and makes whatever task you are doing more enjoyable. This simple act of focus has often been termed mindfulness.
And focus has a specific gift, it can turn a mundane chore into a pleasant one. Try washing the dishes by hand while deliberately focusing of the feel of the warm water, the smell of the soap and its texture as you scrub the dishes. Some of my best ideas come when I am focusing on, and enjoying, a mundane task like weeding the garden or scrubbing the floor. When you truly focus on the task at hand, whether it is house and yard work or a professional product you are creating, you can easily slip into the flow where time escapes you and is no longer of importance.
BREAKING TASKS INTO SEGMENTS AND SCHEDULING
Breaking tasks into segments and scheduling also helps tame the demands of our time and energy. Doing the simplest pieces first helps feeling in control of a project. And the trick is to place segments into your day at the time when you are at your best.
Now I am not a linear, sequential person. I am far from that organized ducks-in-a-row personality. In graduate school, I was introduced by a professor who knew me well as the “token” graduate student. He referred to me as a “token” because like a male in an all-female staff, I was the unusual one working on a doctoral degree. I was the global thinker, not immersed in the depth of my chosen profession but a person who needed to see how things connected to the whole. I often started in the middle and worked to both ends, who naturally would move from A to C and then back to B. To do lists and particularly in moving through them in the exact order is not my natural inclination. I tend to follow my interests and what is often called “gut instincts.” As a result, I discovered schedules can be modified and tasks can be broken down into easier pieces.
Start by looking at your biological rhythms. For example, I do not work well in the morning. I am a night person. But if I structure my day to use mornings for myself and work afternoons and evenings, things perk up. I can do that now because I am self-employed, but I haven’t always been that fortunate. I had to find other ways of working within time that could produced results that fit my biology. When I was working as a financial counselor for the Army, I found blocking out “admin time” in the morning benefited me. Here I established a space where I was uninterrupted by phone, clients, coworkers, and other distractions and could easily avoid the multi-tasking the rest of the day might produce. Of course, if an emergency occurred, I was flexible, but most of the time I could move from coffee and preparing monthly statistics or a new seminar into client mode with ease once the administration duties were complete. The task of switching administration time to a period when I was still slow moving allowed me to focus on details more closely and gear myself up for the more fast paced and wide-ranging issues of my clients.
Another suggestion to help avoid procrastination and scattering energy is to develop a functioning work area, one without a lot of clutter. I seem to collect piles of paper and usually have two or more projects that demand lots of writing, research, and/or paper work. This has been a continuing issue for me. I finally bought a large box (the kind you can buy from any catalog) where I can store papers out of sight, pulling out the temporary file I need to work on when I am inspired or required to do so. Only the completed work goes into the file for the project and all my half-finished papers and idea slips are not visible. There are other methods, so find your own best way to reduce visible clutter and don’t become obsessed about pencil sharpening, a clean and totally clear desk, or the immediate need to do the filing. These can be hidden ways to procrastinate. Get your attitude on straight: Believe in yourself and your abilities. Put the important projects on top, don’t try to escape them.
There are other changes you may need to employ, but the ones suggested are ideas which almost automatically keep you from checking email and phone messages constantly. The suggestions of focus, structure, and time management to fit your biological clock immediately give beneficial effects. You will stop spinning your wheels, feel more in control, experience less stress, and have more enjoyment in the tasks at hand.