Live SimpleTake care of your time

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Many people with complex lives bemoan the fact that they don't seem to have enough time. But they must realize they have all the time they are ever going to get. The only option for anyone is to do better with the time they have.

TACTIC: Take a time inventory.

Use a sheet of paper or a computer spreadsheet to draw a grid. Make the cells large enough so that you can write a few words in each. Across the top, label columns with the days of the week. On the left side, label the rows with the hours of the day starting with midnight: 12am, 1am, 2am, and so on up to 11pm.

Fill the in the cells of your time grid with what you are typically doing during those times. Time spent sleeping takes up many squares. Fill in regular work hours, classes, appointments, or any other typical event in a week. Also include the time it takes you to prepare for work and prepare meals. Include estimates for the typical times for hobby work or housework.

Now look at your grid. Are all the squares filled? Probably not--and that is the problem, not because you are not doing enough, but because you can't account for how you are using time; you may seem to be experiencing "missing time."

You can improve your awareness of your time use by taking a time inventory over a period of several weeks. Create several time grid sheets that are blank. As you go through the day, write down actions that you've done in each hour block. For example, your 7 am block might be: wake, shower, eat, dress, drive. Your 8 am block might be: drive, work, meeting. Your 9 am block might be: meeting. Your 10am block might be: meeting. And so on. At the end of several weeks of keeping this log, answer these questions:

  • Where was the time for productive and rewarding work?
  • Where was the time that you particularly enjoyed, or renewed your energy, spirit, and motivation?
  • Where was the time for your personal goals and dreams?
  • Where was the time for you to plan your work and organize your home or life?

By using suggestions from the rest of this section, you may be able to increase the time that you are productively engaged in work or personal time.

One of the difficult things about working a typical Monday-through-Friday job is the customary hours, 9 am to 5 pm. Those hours place you right in the thick of commuter traffic and outside of the opening hours of many businesses, attractions, and services.

TACTIC: Arrange your work hours so that you start earlier, avoid the commuting crowds, and give yourself more daylight hours off work.

If you have flexible times to start and stop work, consider starting work earlier. You can avoid the commuter rush, you can get an earlier start on the day, and you might even get some time off in the afternoon before banks and many offices and cultural institutions shut for the day.

TACTIC: Anticipate and avoid peak use time for stores, streets, restaurants, services, and offices.

You can save yourself a great deal of time and aggravation by finding out and avoiding the peak time for any situation where you might get delayed.

A quick way to do this is to ask yourself: when are most people going to have to use this service or resource? Think about typical workers--they usually drive to work Monday through Friday sometime between 7am and 9am local time, they might go to lunch around 11am to 1pm and then they drive home between 4pm and 6pm. During their driving times, it is best to stay off the roads. During their lunch period, it is best to stay out of restaurants.

On Saturdays and Sundays, typical workers go to grocery stores, use laundry facilities, go shopping. The malls and stores are packed.

You may be one of these people. If you are not able to change your work hours to be slightly before or after typical work periods, you should seek off peak times for what you need to do on a case by case basis.

Need to do laundry in your apartment buildings laundry facilities? Try immediately after getting home from work on a weekday. Shopping should be less crowded immediately following work on a weekday.

TACTIC: Establish a regular, weekly shopping and errand day.

On your shopping day, do all your grocery, clothing, or supplies shopping. Also do your bill paying, banking, and other errands.

A single shopping day will consolidate your time and trips, free up other days of the week from the clutter of "running to the store," and reduce impulse buys. Getting errands done at a fixed time makes them more predictable and efficient.

Your shopping day could be the time after work on a particular day in combination with lunch period or time before work. But keep all the errands on one day--this gives you a consistent way to defer any shopping until that day to get the maximum benefit of consolidating trips.

I suggest writing down the tasks of your shopping day. List banking or office errands that you might have to do on your lunch period. Make a list of the groceries or other supplies you need. Use your shopping day to replenish your supply of routine needs--for example, postage stamps and other office supplies--so that you don't run out when you need them.

On your non-shopping days, whenever you are tempted to buy something or make a routine errand, ask yourself if there is any possible way you can defer the activity to your shopping day. If so, write the errand or purchase down on your shopping day list.

I suggest eating a meal in a restaurant on your shopping day. Eat before going to the grocery store. Go to the grocery store during off-peak hours.

During the rest of the week--your wallet is shut! Don't shop for recreation or out of boredom. Yet on shopping day, allow yourself to enjoy being out shopping and accomplishing your errands.

TACTIC: Eliminate any time commitments that don't matter to you.

Is there any commitment in your life right now that you are neglecting? If so, this neglect is a sign the commitment may not be important to you. Rethink the commitment based on your life's goals (see "Live Your Dream") and eliminate it if it doesn't fit.

TACTIC: Practice saying, "no," so that this word is on your lips when asked to make a commitment you are not willing to accept.

If you say "yes" to someone who asks you to do something, do it--no matter how inconvenient, expensive, or time consuming. Do not ask to be left off the hook. You will realize your "yes" means something and your "no" means something. Use "no" often.

TACTIC: Use a paper or computer-based organizer to write down your schedule and names and phone numbers.

Record appointments immediately and update your contacts list as needed.

Portable, paper-based organizers can cost you less than $5 and be worth their weight in gold. Computer-based organizers can be updated quickly and backed up against loss. Many computer-based organizers can also be downloaded to a hand-held unit for portability. Don't let your organizer become an end in itself, but only a tool to keep track of things.

TACTIC: Stop watching TV.

You can't afford the time to watch TV. TV takes your attention and concentration. TV isolates you in a particular place when you have much to do out in the real world. I don't care what you say about all the educational programs on TV--read books instead. I don't care that you may think some television shows are important. The temptation of owning a television risks wasting your time, and avoiding this risk could greatly simplify your life.

TACTIC: Don't allow yourself to be late for appointments or deadlines, except for emergencies.

Being late for appointments will complicate your life. The appointment may have to be rescheduled, or the person who you made it with may not want to deal with you again.

Anticipate problems, traffic jams, slow elevators, and getting a little lost. Plan extra time for appointments so that you plan to arrive at the building 10 or 15 minutes before your appointment and more if you are not familiar with its location. If you arrive early, you'll have time to use the restroom, get a drink of water, gather your thoughts, and present yourself in a calm, relaxed way at the appointment time.

If you are late out of habit, mercilessly extinguish this habit. If you have a recurring appointment and if you are X minutes late for it, leave 2*X + 15 minutes earlier the next time. Don't change your watch ahead 15 minutes or lie to yourself about the time to get yourself to hurry.

TACTIC: Mine scraps of time.

Every day has unavoidable delays, waits, and time between events. Use these scraps of time for useful contemplation or work that can benefit you.

Waiting at the dentist or doctor? Think about your day's plans or take out a pen and paper and rework your shopping day list.

Have a regular commute on a bus or train? Take along a book to read.

Have a half hour before dinner? Do the "clutter purge" (see "Rule your Stuff") on one section of your desk or countertop.

Scraps of time, mined for their benefit to you can accomplish useful work that you would otherwise have to do some other time. Mining scraps of time also reminds you that you control your use your time, not waiting rooms or lines.

TACTIC: Schedule genuine down time and fun time.

Most people will not be able to sustain a rigid time schedule for very long--they will deliberately sabotage it in order to get some time off or a change.

Take an afternoon to sit in a comfortable chair and look at trees or clouds.

Take a day off during the week, stay at home and read, or walk around your own neighborhood.

Try a home vacation--take your vacation days and stay in your house and be a tourist in your own town. Eat at restaurants and visit tourist attractions just as if you were out of town. This is a wonderful way to reconnect with what should be the city of your dreams (see "Optimize Your Place").

Be instantaneously productive

If your life is too complex, you might feel like you can't seem to get anything done. You might want to work on your hobbies, but then are missing critical materials or information when you sit down to work. You might have a project to do for school or your profession, but you can't seem to find the time to work on it.

You do have a choice. With planning, preparation, and a commitment to work consistently on a project, you can accomplish a great deal.

CASE STUDY: Kevin wants to try his hobby of photography, but his equipment is stored in different places in his apartment.

TACTIC: Break down your projects into chunks and then to specific tasks, and then work on the tasks regularly.

Every day, you should have a list of tasks that you are working on. If you don't know what to do, schedule a planning task. Write down your objectives and what you need to do to reach them.

Crossing off tasks as you accomplish them reinforces your progress.

TACTIC: Prepare in advance the time, tools, training, and information you need to work on your project tasks.

Without the resources to do the tasks, you will be very frustrated. Gather as much of the resources you need to a single workspace. For example, supplies like pens, paper, a computer as well as reference books or software. Get the training to be able to work productively with the tools you need.

TACTIC: Work on project tasks in scheduled time blocks.

You would be amazed at how much you can get done if you spend small chunks of time on a project consistently.

Even as little as a half hour or an hour per day, when applied regularly, can get big projects done. Want to write a novel? Why not write 500 words per night?

If you are a college student, it is much better to study regularly, in small blocks of time than to cram just on the nights before a test.

If you are working on a project, you might find that allocating a specific amount of time per day on it, like two hours, may break procrastination and gain progress.

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