manage your time (don’t let it manage you)

Let me begin by saying that this post is in no way intended to be the definitive guide on how to most effectively manage your time. I am not a certified specialist in the area, nor do I believe that what works for me will work for everyone. I am sharing because on several occasions my friends have asked me: “How do you do it?? Where do you find the time??”

In order to understand why someone would ask me this, you must first understand what my life is like. I am a Big with the Big Brothers, Big Sisters of Central Arizona, I also sit on their Professional Leadership Council and will be helping chair the Marathon for Kid’s sake this year (read: solicit all of my friends and family for money). I am a volunteer at the Phoenix Museum of History in the Archives, I sit on the Advisory Board for COMPUGirls, a program that introduces young women to science and technology as a career path, I work out at least 4 days a week, and run about 1 race per month, this past month was Pat’s Run. I work for Intel Corporation as a Design Automation Engineer, and I am a precinct committeeman for Legislative District 20 in Maricopa County. I love healthy eating and usually bring my lunch to work (because I also don’t like spending money on eating out when I can spend it on travel!) I am what one would consider a ‘social butterfly’ and love to spend time with my friends, and so they constantly as me…where DO I find the time?! My secret is this: I don’t sleep. just kidding!

My real secret is breaking things down into manageble chunks of time so that I can complete large tasks in smaller segments (note: this is not always possible). Aside from that, I know my schedule, and I prioritize. So, to my friends who asked, here it is: my sort-of guide to managing your time…hope it helps!

Scheduling is your friend!
Number one key to organizing your life? Schedule it. Make sure you know where you have to be, when you need to be there, and for how long. Know your commitments and prioritze the items that are of greater importance. This may seem counterintuitve, given that scheduling makes you less flexible, but on the contrary, it frees you to do what you like without stressing about what you are supposed to be doing. A schedule is useless if you don’t stick to it. Keep it where you can see it, check it and update it. If you need to, add reminders in your mobile device so that you don’t miss important events.

Eliminate unnecessary time leeches!
Everyone has something in their life that they can do without. I do not watch television. With the exception of an occassional program here and there, I do not turn on the tv, for me, unless I am doing laundry or work while watching, it seems like a waste of time when I could be doing something beneficial for myself. Identify your leeches, the things that suck up a lot of time but seem to have no tangible benefit, and get rid of them!

Combine Tasks
Align your extra-curricular activities with things that you enjoy doing, or need to do and then you can kill two birds with one stone. I once solicited people at Happy Hour to sign up for Early Voting (I signed up about 15 people!) because I knew I needed to get them in by a certain time, but I wanted to see my friends! Never waste a good opportunity to get something done. I always have a book, magazine, or my journal in my purse so while I wait at the doctor’s office or elsewhere, I can feel like I am not wasting my time because I am completing something that I wanted to do. Group a monotonous task with one that requires brain power: While I do dishes, I listen to the news (NPR is one of my most favorite things in life! I support my local station every year with a monetary gift!). The take away here? Find the tasks on your schedule that can be done toegether and make it happen.

Find a Good Stopping Place
I am a master of the context switch. I once read that there is no such thing as multi-tasking due to the fact that our brain can only focus on one thing at a time, so I have ceased to consider myself a multi-tasker, and instead adapted the term ‘context switching.’ Trying to do two things simultaneously often makes you waste time because your focus is not on the task at hand, so break things into blocks of time and go from one to the other in a way that maximizes your efforts. For instance, as I write this blog post, I have a load of laundry in the washer, and one in the dryer. I may not always have a solid block of time to work out, so I will break it up: cardio in the morning, lifting after work, at least 15 minutes of each.

Reduce your stress
You will not be stressed if you allow yourself time to complete things: know your committments and stick to a schedule for completion! If you have a large looming deadline, set the date, and do incremental things leading up to that date that make it easier to handle. Cook once on the weekend, freeze what may spoil and defrost as needed. If you cook something that can serve as a base for a new meal, that breaks up the monotony of eating leftovers. For instance: rice and beans can be turned into many other meals — rice cereal for breakfast, tacos, burritos, the list goes on. Packing for a big vacation? Make a list of everything you will need. Open up a suitcase, and check things off the list throughout the week, come trip day, voila, you are packed!

I don’t want to go on and on, so here are my little gems of wisdom on the time management tip: Plan your time, prioritize your tasks, and take it one day at a time.