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~The Simple Sophisticate, episode #114
One of the most popular requests from readers for topics to discuss here on TSLL blog and the podcast is time management, especially my approach to time management. And while I do not profess to have figured it out, as I am regularly tweaking it and the onset of unnecessary stress and a cold in June at the end of the school year would definitely indicate I have not figured out a successful way to manage my time with two jobs, I do know what works and what doesn’t.
The last winter and spring were a phenomenon in my life that I honestly didn’t realize until my mind and body had had enough and a slower paced schedule began allowing me to reflect on what I had put myself through. Needless to say, two full-time jobs, the arrival of AP testing in the spring for my students at a new school and taking two quarters of four evening classes per week of French was a bit much. However, upon reflection, I wouldn’t have changed it, even though I won’t be doing it all again. Why? It taught me some valuable lessons AND I took advantage of French courses that will not be available in the coming year. For that alone, I will always be grateful.
For the past seven and a half years, the choice to both blog and teach wasn’t even a question, it was just going to be my life. And I approached it as I have anything else in which I am trying to accomplish something, I made a plan and cultivated habits that helped make everything easier.
I will be honest, it helps that I love to plan. Truly. I love sitting down with a planner, days of the month, seeing a clear end goal and then devising ways to reach it. That excites me. That provides clarity. And when I can see it, I know how to do it.
So what are these 13 habits? Let’s take a look.
1.Tonight, Plan Tomorrow in Detail
Many articles and books recommend planning for the day at the beginning, but I find this slows the day down and isn’t as productive. I love to unwind with my cup of tea, a book and my journal, but also my planner. I take a look at what I have scheduled for tomorrow, what I want to accomplish, and then I plan the day in 15-30 minute increments.
Because I love my mornings, but at the same time my mind is waking up, I like going to my planner while my breakfast is cooking with my cup of hot lemon water in hand, and checking to see what my day looks like. Knowing it is already planned sets the tone for a very good day to come.
2. Set a Morning Routine
As discussed in episode #110, the goal each morning is to preserve as much willpower throughout the day as possible, and that begins the moment we wake up. Eliminate as many decisions as possible. Create a routine that is basically the same every morning, and make sure it is something you enjoy. I thoroughly look forward to waking up because I love my routine. It is nothing spectacular or decadent, but it is mine by design and no decisions really have to be made except when to get out of bed.
3. Complete top priorities and large tasks first
Because you have more willpower and thus more energy at the beginning of the day, provided you had a restorative night’s sleep, your brain is more alert, excited and ready to work in the morning. So take a look at your list on your planner and decide which “to-do”s are the most important, are the most vital, that you complete and complete well. Do those first. The goal for each day is to feel a sense of productivity at the end, and if we do those items that hold the most importance to us first, we are more likely to feel productive and satisfied each day.
4. Keep Lists
Again, back to willpower. If you are having to wrack your brain, your memory, for everything that you want to do, you have taxed your mind unnecessarily. Make a list for anything you will need in the future. With regards to my blog, I have an ongoing weekly list for each This & That post in my planner. Every time I discover something that I will want to include, I write it down. There is no way I could remember all of the items I come across. As well, I keep a grocery list in my kitchen, lists in my Moleskine journal for other projects I am working on, and anything that is important to me. The value of list making was modeled by my mother who still makes lists to this day, and so it is probably a bit self-serving that I designed “To-Do” lists and “To Market” lists notepads which are sold here on the blog. But I truly use them all of the time, and they are a simple, but significant part of how I am able to remember all that I have and want to do.
5. Break Down Large Goals into Small Steps
Having a large target to hit is a great idea, but it is imperative that we break down each large goal into small steps. In fact, this summer, I had approximately five large goals I wanted to accomplish by the end of the season. So I took out my multi-colored post-its and assigned a color to each goal. Then I wrote down all of the small steps that needed to happen in order to be successful. I then went to my Stendig wall calendar in my office and planned when each small step needed to be completed in order to reach my goals.
6. Set up systems that lessen the work or thinking
Keeping lists would definitely be an ideal example of lessening your thinking. Now consider other systems you could put into place that would allow you either to delegate, reduce or eliminate the work or thinking you have to do to live the balanced life you want to live. Maybe it’s finally hiring a house cleaner or someone else to mow your lawn. Time is money, and yours is valuable. So long as you can afford it and it improves your life, it might be something to consider. Other ideas include automatic bill pay, automatic transfer deposits into your savings and retirement accounts. Anything that helps you to enjoy your everydays a little bit more.
7. Keep a planner
Again, something else I cannot live without is a planner. I live with my paper and binder planner which is why I designed TSLL Planning Pages (daily, weekly, monthly, goals, capsule wardrobe, travel, etc.). There are many different ways to build a planner – online, on your phone or the traditional – paper or calendar. Choose a system that works for you and that you enjoy working with. Two of my favorite rituals, one each month and the other each week, is to sit down and plan the next month as well as plan the next week. I love to know what is in front of me. Partly because the anticipation is half of the fun, but for those things that aren’t as much to look forward to, it reminds me to prepare and helps me to focus.
8. Schedule social media posts
Since many of you asked about my blog business management, a simple thing to do if you too are running an online business or blog is to set automatic social media postings. Social media can be distracting and waste our time in our personal world if we don’t master it, but in the business world, it is a necessity. The key is to know what helps your business and what is a waste of time. I have set my blog posts to automatically post to Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter and be sent to my email subscribers immediately without me having to do a thing. It is a simple idea, but one that is sometimes forgotten as even minutes saved in our days can make a big difference.
9. Follow a fixed schedule
When it comes to beauty appointments, your fitness routine, your work schedule, try to find a routine that works for you and stick to it. As I shared on the FAQ page, I designate which posts will go live on particular days and stick to that schedule. Just as the posts are on a certain schedule, so too is my creation of them. While this is adjusted during the summer months, I still have a strict schedule I follow June through August. And to be honest, I love it. Again, I know what I have to do and I know when I am done and go have fun.
10. Set Boundaries and Say No
Saying yes to invitations or new responsibilities can be tempting when asked in person, via email or a text as we are not aware of the time and energy it will take, or at least we aren’t feeling the effects of the decision at the moment. When asked to do anything, resort back to your priorities. What is most important to me? Will saying yes to this decrease the quality of my effort, involvement and enjoyment with my top priorities? Saying no is self-preservation. Saying no is respecting what is most valuable and will thus ensure that the quality of your life is enhanced.
11. Let Go of Perfect
I heard a contestant on The Great British Bake-Off who was a retired teacher state the wise words of advice, “Always do your best. It doesn’t mean it will always be the best in the room, but all you can do is your best. Tend to that.” Wise words. Complete your project, give your best work on each day and turn it in, press post or put on display. Usually there are opportunities to edit, but even if there are not, you can only do your best. Unnecessary time is lost, energy expended when we seek constant perfection. First of all, it isn’t possible, and second, if you’re someone with common sense, which I know you are, read the first point. Discussed on the blog a couple of years ago, take a look at the difference between being a perfectionist and being a high-achiever.
12. Let the Moment take You
In sharing this habit, I realize there will be times when you have a strict time allotment, but I will say this. Many of the large projects, and even daily posts from time to time, resulted when I just listened and acted. I didn’t give myself a time-limit, I didn’t ask why, I just went with it. When these moments happen, all time is lost and I am thankful that I didn’t overbook myself so I could let myself remain in the flow. Afterwards, there is a natural high that is hard to explain, but the more often I respect these moments when they occur, the more I get to experience.
13. Do it Before You Have To
As I mentioned at the top of the post, planning has always been a love. And something else I especially love is knowing I have to do something, say on Tuesday, so I’ve written it down, but then I have some extra time on Monday, and I am full of energy, so I knock off the task that I had written for Tuesday. In each of these instances, when I have done something ahead of time, I truly feel a bit giddy. And in the exact opposite scenario, when I am done to the wire and have to get something done, while I always do it, I am much less eager. Another reminder to not overbook yourself, but also to listen to what you can and want to do, and then just do it.
Nailing down a time management system that works for you will not look exactly like mine because you and I are not exactly alike. Take into consideration your personality, your stressors, your lifestyle, the other people in your life, and then devise a plan that works. A plan that enables you to live each day and enjoy it as much as possible. Hopefully a handful or two of my habits are something that spoke to you. However, I must share that I am ALWAYS tweaking. I am always re-evaluating what is working and what is not. For example, taking French classes in the evening was an extreme tax on my energy, but as it was for a limited time and a priority for me, I knew I had to do. Now, I have the evenings free and that feels truly liberating. I guess sometimes you have to push yourself too far for a good reason, to then be reminded of how well things were working before.
Listen to your life. What does it need? What do you need? Do you need more time on the weekend to recharge? Then delegate that lawn-mowing to someone else. Or perhaps working in the yard is therapeutic, so keep that chore and let go of responsibilities that pull you away from your home too often. Your life is yours to design. Now begin putting the tools and skills into place that will help you design it exactly as you want.
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~yields: 2 servings (20 minutes)
~View the recipe here.