There are lots of things I do well. Time management is not one of them.
You know those people that are always late for everything? Yeah, that’s me. The one thing that I am ALWAYS on time for is work. When I worked at the airport, I was always on time, even 15-20 minutes early, most shifts. I am always on time for gigs…even usually 30-60 minutes early. And when I teach, I am usually on time for lessons at the beginning of the day, although they sometimes get later as the day goes on because I’m not great at transitioning between students, and I don’t always end on time if I lose track of time.
But if I’m meeting you for dinner, you should probably tell me we’re meeting half an hour before you actually plan to meet me. It’s not that I don’t respect your time. It’s that I can’t get my shit together.
And no matter how many lists I make, I don’t seem to do a great job of getting through my daily stuff. Or my weekly stuff. Or my monthly stuff.
Why? Well, there are a few reasons.
First and foremost, I don’t seem to adequately allot enough time to each task in my list. This is a big one. I think I can accomplish more in a smaller amount of time than I actually can. It turns out, I’m actually not Wonder Woman. Shocking.
Secondly, I don’t focus well. I get very easily sidetracked. Very easi…SHINY! 😉 I have to make a real point of saying to myself, “THIS is the thing we are doing right now. Nothing else enters in. You can do other shit later. Everything else gets turned off for now. THIS is the thing we are doing right now.” (Yes, I do talk to myself in the Royal We. Don’t you?)
And thirdly, I try to do everything. I’m that guy. I try to do it all. Or I used to be. Being chronically ill has tempered my illusion that I can do it all. I’m getting better at just doing some now, and putting more on an Eventually List.
And that’s the thirdly, part B. Because “fourthly” seems like a really weird word. Chronic illness wreaks havoc on my time management. Because, no matter what I have planned, it can all go to shit if a migraine or a fibromyalgia flare hits. If either of those things happens, I can be anywhere from functional but in pain (so, definitely not bringing my A Game), to completely and utterly incapacitated. And it can last anywhere from a day to months on end. And I have absolutely zero control over any of it. I just have to adjust and work with it, and choose to find my happiness anyway.
There are a few things that I’ve found that help me immensely in my time management cluster fuck.
For so long, I didn’t get it. I thought I had to do it all. Guess what? I totally don’t. Like, I reeeeeeeally don’t. I can do way less than I thought I had to in days gone by, and the world still goes round, my children are still successful people, and my family and friends still love me.
How does that work? Well, for starters, I delegate. “Delegate” and “outsource.” These are magical words people, and they will change your life forever.
Cleaning my house does my body in. It often triggers all my pain shit. Lots of the time, I just can’t do it. And when I can, to be honest, it’s time I would rather spend with my kids than cleaning toilets, especially when I know that the bending and scrubbing will trigger stuff in my body that is likely to put me in bed. So for me, it is money well spent to hire somebody to clean my house. That is an excellent tradeoff.
My kids are 12, 12, and 14. They are plenty old enough to do lots of stuff for themselves. They don’t always like how much they have to do for themselves when they see their friends not having to do the same stuff, but they also recognize that they are going to be very prepared to take care of themselves, and have outright said that they appreciate that. My kids do their own laundry a lot of the time. They can all cook for themselves, and do once or twice a week. They take care of their keeping their own sports gear clean, prepped and organized (soccer and dance.) When they are going between their dad’s house and mine, and they have 6 or 8 dance numbers each with a different costume with several different parts to it, and shoes, that’s no small feat. But I don’t touch that task. And they do great…without my help. Plus, they are learning valuable life skills in the doing.
I make the choice not to do much in the way of volunteering at my kids’ schools. The long time of standing often hurts my body. And since on any given day my body may cooperate or may not, I don’t like to commit to something I may or may not be able to fulfill. I do still volunteer very occasionally, depending on the responsibility. But this is one I have chosen to mostly cut out.
And on any given week, I make a list of the projects I’d like to get done, and then I cut it in half. On any given day I make a list of the projects I think I can realistically accomplish, and then I cut it in half. I am getting better at choosing less. If I get through those things and have energy for more, it will still be there waiting. But usually those fewer things fill my time and exhaust my energy.
And let’s not forget the time I need to allot for naps. Because naps are important. Sleep as a whole is important. And I used to function on far too little of it. Now I am fierce about it. I need about 9-10 hours of sleep a night, and often a nap during the day, in order to stay human, and healthy. That requires planning in and of itself.
I use my calendar zealously. My memory is 100% useless. So if it’s not in my calendar, there is approximately -46% chance that I will remember it. I also use the Desire Map Day Planner to actually plan the stuff I want to accomplish during the week, using the “How do you want to feel?” prompt as a body-gut-intuition guide.
And then I have my own, self-designed, very specific wall Project Planner. This keeps track of each project and helps me track each task that needs to be done and keep me very focused. SPOILER ALERT: since there seems to have been a whole lots of interest in this system, I am actually going to release an updated, new and improved version of this for sale, once I have all the print details worked out. Stay tuned.
I relentlessly work to deadline. In fact, I have figured out this about myself: I actually work much better with a deadline than without. However, I am trying to give myself deadlines ahead of my deadlines. In other words, I am trying to give myself a cushion. Sometimes it works better than others. I still feel like an infant in this realm. But I think the concept is solid.
When you plan ahead, you can actually map out the different parts of a project into different tasks, and do each of them more thoroughly. If you leave it all to the last minute, it’s hard to work each up to its highest potential. Being a bit of a perfectionist, I’m learning that I’m better off giving myself a series of deadlines rather than working to one final Hail Mary deadline.
Pay attention to the details. When you’re always in a hurry, the details get missed. Sometimes this can be disastrous. Sometimes it just means that you miss out on the best parts of the party. If you don’t get all the details, and you just get the wide frame, sometimes it can change the context completely. Pay attention to the details. It’s worth your time. It doesn’t take much. Just a few deep breaths and a little mindfulness – you need to be fully in the present instead of already onto the next task. Stay present.
So all in all, here’s my solution to my time management challenges:
- Choices. Make more of them. Have fewer of things on your plate. Tweet it.
- Systems. Helping us keep track of our shit. Find what works for you.
- Preparedness. Don’t leave it all to the last minute. Plan ahead.
- Mindfulness. Pay attention. Stay present.
Are you totally on top of your time management, or are you challenged like me? What helps you keep on top of your time management? Tell me in the comments below any specific systems or choices that you make to help yourself with time management in your life.