Over the last few months the topic of time management has worked its way through more than a few of my conversations. I currently work a part-leaning-towards-full-time job (At minimum 32 hours a week), am helping coordinate and produce a massive art exhibit happening next month (One mural. 5,000 people.), and I attend university full-time. I get asked all the time, “How do you do all of it?” I thought I would let some of my thoughts on time management out into the public sphere for inspiration, feedback, and debate. I don’t believe that the concept of time management should be associated with stress. I don’t want to live a frantic, nearly falling apart life constantly on the verge of unraveling. What if time management meant doing what you love, well? Having time to rest? Enjoying your free time?
Before I move on to the secrets and lessons I have to admit something. I don’t necessarily love that my schedule is 100% full, 90% of the time. I get frustrated and discouraged with the slow progress of the things I have committed to. I sometimes lose the vision and have to take time to remind myself WHY I have decided that this moment in life is the moment I will accomplish my dream to have a degree, my desire to change the world, and my responsibility to pay my bills simultaneously. But, I do know that I wouldn’t be able to do anything if I couldn’t actively decide what to do with my day.
Starting with the one I think most people hate to hear, but know deep down is true:
Sensible. Intelligent. Disciplined.
We all like to think that we are in control of our time and can do whatever we want, whenever we want. Especially in the freelance, artist for hire, creative genius, entrepreneurial world I reside in. Also known as Portland, Oregon. I started my own business in part because I wanted the freedom to do whatever I wanted to do! I get it. But, there comes a time when you must decide: Is the dream of tomorrow more important than the fleeting desire of today?
My friends go to a weekly, super fun, amazing, hate-to-miss-it activity called “Bingo Night”. The best bartender in the world, a cheeky couple of commentators and young people with bingo dobbers competing for kitschy gifts or cash prizes. Bingo night brings people happiness and makes one look forward to Mondays. Seriously. It is that good. The problem is that Monday nights are my homework nights. Monday nights, for my university, are considered the last night of the week . All weekly assignments, discussions and feedback are due by Monday at midnight. In order to stay on top of my work, Monday means finalized documents, presentations and looking ahead. I wish Monday meant Bingo, but Monday means discipline.
Sacrifice in this way doesn’t always feel good. It doesn’t make me happy to say ‘no’ to friends when they want to go out late and I have to work early the next day. It doesn’t make me happy to leave a party a little earlier than everyone else or wake up in the dark. If you are going to get things done, though, you can’t just hope all the bits and pieces fall into place that one afternoon you don’t feel like doing anything else. You have to section time, you have to deny yourself some of the things you would rather be doing and you have to believe that what you are working towards is important enough to protect it from the sabotage of too many fleeting activities. Notice I said TOO many. We all need fun and friends and a time away. We all need to find the little moments to enjoy without worry or stress and that develop our ability to find joy and positivity. That is why we need the next piece of the puzzle:
Practical. Rational. Logical.
It takes a lot of learning, some bits of common sense, and an ability to reason with yourself to decide what should get priority. Without prioritizing, we don’t know what comes first, what to give up, what to fight for, or where to rest. Without prioritizing we don’t know how to let go of something we just couldn’t get done or how to push for something great through the late hours of the night.
I can be a control freak. I can also be an over-achiever, a perfectionist, and I tend towards being really hard on myself. These character traits (flaws?) mean that I can get anxious when a deadline is looming without the proper amount of work poured into a project, or Project B starts taking up the time I thought would be spent on Project A. Over time I have learned how to identify what to let go. It is freeing to allow yourself to push something to the side without guilt or disappointment.
Bob Goff, an author, lawyer, activist and probably one of the most happily busy people in the world, decided years ago to “quit something every Thursday.” He takes a weekly look at all that landed in his lap and actively disengages one of them to make room for what matters. Every. Week.
Prioritizing means what really counts gets placed on the top of the list. The most important things get the most available time and your dedication. When that time and dedication is protected, things happen. Dreams come true. Life matters. Goals are achieved. Hearts are happy. Prioritizing means you don’t often say “Man, I REALLY wanted to get to that this week.” You did get to it because the little things that steal time were kept in their place. How?
Intentional. Reasonable. Consistent.
So you have committed to sacrificing. You have worked to identify what is most important. Now, what do you do? You make it happen. You look at your time, your due dates, your desires and you put a plan down on paper. If you need to, and many people do, schedule nearly every hour of your day. I used to have a rule in my days working from home that I would start no later than 9 am. For me, 9 am was something to work towards. It meant I had to set my alarm so I was up, dressed and had breakfast, including coffee, before I sat down at my computer. It wasn’t a time I would hit naturally, I like my bed and blankets, it was intentional. I would work, just like I would have at an office, until a reasonable lunch break. I scheduled it like I wasn’t my own boss and at the end of the day, when I had eight hours of work in, I would feel accomplished and productive and excited about what I was getting done. It wasn’t a deflating time, it was inspiring to see the work of my hands produce and each day take me closer to the dream.
Now, I have things happening at all different times of the week. I have to know where my time is going at every turn so I can commit well, say no when I need to, and see my dreams be given a fighting chance. I need to know if I can meet someone for coffee on Tuesday, and the only way to know that is to know my schedule hour by hour. It also means the freedom to leave behind Project A when Project B’s time slot comes around, which can be very refreshing. When everything is scheduled well you don’t have to stress that something won’t get done, you know it has been given time and you will get there. I honestly believe that some good scheduling (and sticking to it!) lowers anxiety and reduces stress. But, that isn’t the only thing that does . . .
Genuine. Attentive. Receptive.
You have to. Make it a priority. Schedule it every week. Give yourself some time! Know what makes you tick and refreshes your soul and plan for it in your days. You might not get to take a month long vacation, but you can get away for an afternoon. You might not get to read a library full of books, but you can close down some time to feed your soul with their words. Plan in rest. Plan to rest. The brain, the body, and your emotions can only handle so much. Watch for the clues that you are burning out and respond to those clues. Receive all the goodness that comes from these times so you don’t lose all you have worked for by being forced to walk away from it.
That is all I have time for today 😉
Do you plan your time well? What are your secrets?
Do you need help? What is your biggest hurdle?