Check Yourself!

ACEing2015 - Part 03 - Life and Time Management

Having just come off a week of travel for work, followed by another week of playing catch-up on my work and home life, I was itching to write. I always feel this way when I take long breaks from doing the creative things I love, the stuff that feeds my soul. I was daydreaming about it. I had so many ideas and was so inspired, I thought I could simply carve out some time and dedicate it to writing. Easy peasy, right? hashtag gettingstuffdone hashtag makingstuffhapen I was totally high-fiving myself for this.

On Thursday I made my weekend plans: wake up around 6am on Saturday, have my coffee, start the writing, work on graphics, do some more writing, maybe eat something at some point, possibly shower and put clothes on, then, later in the day, take some pictures. Repeat on Sunday. Celebrate.

Friday morning arrived, and with it came the most god awful flu that I can ever recall having. It was evil. I had body aches, a fever, sinus congestion, couching, sore throat, post nasal drip… you get the idea. With only one day to go before my planned weekend of doing nothing other than writing and indulging myself in creative pursuits, I was facing the possibility reality of being benched. I was throwing a tantrum in my mind, and it didn’t end there.

Later that morning, I sent off an email to my coworkers informing them I was sick but hopeful I’d be able to be online later that day, after some rest. (Type A much?)

I sat in bed for the next hour, bemoaning my circumstance (woe is me!). The conversation in my head looked something like this:

  • Why am I sick?! I have so much to do!  I can’t be sick. I have plans, dammit! PLANS!
  • *coughs* ugh. Coughing hurts my head.
  • *Rolls eyes* Ow, it hurts to roll my eyes.
  • Wait. I need to write this weekend. I wonder if I can just bring my laptop into bed and get this done. Maybe I can type some of this up on my phone. That massive iPhone 6s screen, ftw!
  • * grabs phone and presses the home button*
  • OWWW! * blinded by light *
  • * drops phone onto the nightstand in defeat *
  • Guess who has 2 thumbs and won’t be writing anything today? This girl.
  • * mental to do list in progress. as I do this, it multiplies by like 20. And everything is totally urgent *
  • This is day 1 of sickness, so stuff’s going to get worse before it gets better.
  • * Sulk.*
  • Oh hey, that NyQuil is kicking in. * yawn *
  • * Sulk some more *
  • zzz…

I was actually super sick, and now, thanks to this plague I had been exposed to, I wasn’t going to get my writing weekend that I had planned. The one thing I needed to do (rest!) was the absolute last thing I wanted to do. I sat in my bed, coughing, completely congested, and with some muscle aches and wicked sinus pain, and I was still clinging to the grand vision of what I wanted to be doing, rather than making peace with the reality of the moment.

So what was going on here? The behaviors I was displaying, the dialogue running in my mind, all of it. Was this just me with my Type A personality, all focused on getting things done, or was this maybe something else? I’m going to say it was a little of both, and I’ll go even further and add the assertion that this behavior isn’t healthy. In fact, it’s counter productive and, possibly, a bit damaging. Tackling this head on fits nicely with my goals for this year (becoming the person I want to be) and so (after recovering) I decided that I needed to start working on this all a bit. What is it I’ll be working on exactly?

ACEing2015 - Part 3 - Time-and-Expectation-Management

I should have simply accepted reality and focused on getting better. It’s not that complicated, but somehow it was. The reality was this: while I had time (days!) on my hands, I was sick. Since I was sick, it would benefit me to accept that I could not spend my time in the way that I had planned, or getting anxious about things that I should be doing. Instead, I could spend this time doing other things: getting better, sleeping, thinking, or listening to podcasts and music. These things aren’t a waste of time, in fact, they’re a great use of time!

Why didn’t I do this? Simple: These things were not what I wanted to be doing. They weren’t what I was attached to doing, what my ego wanted to be doing.

Solution: Get over it. Get over myself. Get better. Reevaluate my management skills and reprioritize.

In Part 3 of the ACEing2015 series (you can find Part 1 here, and 2 here) I’m going to talk about management of 2 things: your time and your expectations. I think the two are intertwined, and by considering them together we can end up with a solution, along with an outlook on our life (reality!), that allows us to do the things we need to do so that we can be the person we want to be. So we can have time to get things done, use our time wisely, and be the kind of person who is able to gracefully handle bumps in the road, or even the occasional detour.

What you need: About 10-15 sheets of paper or 7-10 copies of this (super simple and not fancy, but very effective for the task) worksheet and 3 pieces of paper, pen/pencil, and (for those of you who are a bit in love with straight lines and things like that who decided to not print the worksheet) a straight edge.

So, time management. I’m not a pro here, but I certainly had all the stuff! I used to think that time management meant figuring out the optimal way to use a calendar, my moleskine notebooks, and the perfect apps. I thought that I just had to get into the habit of entering everything that I needed to do into the little spaces, perhaps in 15 minute increments, and sticking to it. I could just grab my calendar and plug in each action item or miscellaneous task that I’d collect all day in my notebooks, and somehow it would all work out. My time would be managed. Bam.

I’ve tried that, and it ends (by going up in flames) after about 5 hours. Why?  Life, at least my life, cannot be calendared and planned to this extent. If I had to make a wager, I say that neither can yours. I have children, a job, friends, family, hobbies, etc. Things happen. Stuff changes. Meetings run over by 30 minutes, kids wake up a little earlier, you have to stop and get gas on the way to the grocery store. All of these things wreck havoc on a schedule.

Please take the following statement to heart: You cannot control or manage every aspect of your life. Life is dynamic and so our schedules and attitudes need to be tweaked so that they can accommodate this reality. Any planner or scheduler or mindset you adopt for this task needs to be built and used in such a way that it’s accepting of changes in events that we can’t anticipate (like, you know, getting sick), rather than being broken and destroyed by them. We need this because the only thing we can really anticipate in life is that things will change, but we don’t know exactly how. And that is ok. To make this all work, we need systems to govern things such as our schedules, meetings, attitudes, and expectations, that embrace and work with this reality so that we can properly manage our lives.

Did you hear that? Managing your life is not a matter of calendars, notebooks, fancy pens, neat piles, stuff from the container store, cute little labels, and tabs. It’s a matter of you and your life not being broken and left in shambles when confronted by something you didn’t anticipate. Instead, you need to decide to accept it and, to a degree, thrive off it it.

Now – let’s get to it.

Step 1. Make* and Learn to Use the Time Audit Worksheet

*If you didn’t print the worksheet out (here)

Grab a piece of paper because you’re going to be making a time sheet… of sorts. Check out the worksheet and duplicate what you see there. I’ve listed out the headings for each column, below, and included a short description for each:

  • Time – initial: start time for the task
  • Time – final: stop time for the task
  • Task: 1 word (maybe 2, no more than 3) that describes how the time was spent.
  • Description: Any clarifying remarks pertaining to the task.
  • Urgent: Is this task an urgent task? A lot of us spend much of our time on things that have been made urgent, but are not important or high priority. Just a simple Yes or No will do.
  • Priority – initial: 1-10 ranking (1 being not very important and low priority, 10 being super important and therefore a high priority) of the task before you do the review. I assigned a 10 to vital tasks that sustain the others, e.g sleeping and eating, and everything else fell somewhere below that point.
  • Priority – final: 1-10 ranking of the tasks, completed during the review
  • Decision: Is this task serving you? Does it help you become the person you want to be? The answers to this go here.

Yes, you could totally do this in excel, but I love pencil/paper for tasks sometimes. You’ll need at least 5 of these sheets by the way. I recommend making 1 and then making 10-14 copies.

Step 2. Document how you spend time

Over the next 5-7 days, fill these sheets out honestly. When are you going to bed, how much time do you spend playing on your phone or online, how much time is spent working? All of it. The more accurate you are, the better the data. Better data can hopefully translate into a good tool for you to assess where you are right now. For example, I don’t simply say “work”, but I write the kinds of things I’m doing. Which tasks are being completed and which keep being pushed out for lack of time. Stuff like that is important to note.

Step 3. Where do you spend your time?

At the end of this 5-7 day exercise, look at your sheets. Tally up how much time/day you’re spending on various tasks. Look at the specifics of these tasks.

Step 4. Remember that person you’re working to become

Look at your worksheets from Part 1 and answer this question: Are the things that fill your days transforming you into the person you want to be?

Step 5. Review and Comment

Look at your 5-7 worksheets and the initial 1-10 rankings assigned to each task. Now that you know where you’re spending your time (Step 3) and you’ve reviewed your goals (step 4), how do you feel about those rankings? Enter a new one if needed in the final priority column.

Next, the decision column. Decide if this is serving you in becoming the person you want to be. Just enter a simple Yes, No, or Meh for each task.

Step 6. Bucket #1 

We’re going to make 3 buckets to place stuff (the tasks on your 5-7 sheets) in now. Grab 3 sheets of paper for this.

Now – Bucket 1: Look at your 5-7 pages and how you spend your time.What is on the list, filling your days, that isn’t helping you at all? What is not working for you? Are there tasks that you can get rid of? Write these things down.

Step 7. Bucket #2

New piece of paper! Bucket 2: This list should contain those things that you NEED to do, but you don’t ever make time for, for whatever reason. They’re not usually things you enjoy doing either. What things are you putting off? What is left over, keeps being pushed out, etc.? Write it down.

Step 8. Bucket #3

For Bucket 3, think about what isn’t on your 5-7 sheets of paper that you really would like to see as being part of your day. What are these things? Are there people you want to spend more quality time with, perhaps you want to make it to the gym or shower before 5PM. What inspires you and fires you up? Reading a book, coloring with your kids? Any and all of these types of things that you can come up with – List them all on this sheet.

Step 9. Make a New Plan

Considering what you learned in Steps 5-8, what would your days look like if you were aware and consciously chose the things you did throughout the day? Plan a few examples out where you incorporate stuff form bucket #3, remove and/or edit some of the tasks in bucket #1, and prioritize (or not – maybe it’s not that important!) tasks in bucket #2.

What does this involve? Examples? Well, maybe after considering these buckets, you decide to go to be earlier so you can wake up before the kiddos and get a shower (am I right, mama’s?!). Maybe you’d cook a few meals and do more prep on the weekends so that you’d have more time to read or spend talking to family during the week. Maybe you stop using social media as an escape (put the phone DOWN, y’all!). Perhaps you forgo tv time at night and replace that with some gym time. Whatever it is! Put those things into days as suggestions, reminders, or inspiration for what you’d like to see yourself doing.

Step 10. Put the plan in a place you can see it

Time management and expectation management require that you’re aware of what’s happening in reality and where you want to be. If you’re think of your time and your mental well being as resources (which they are!) to be managed and used to achieve your goals, perhaps you’ll be a bit more careful where you decide to expend them. For me, keeping things like this front and center helps me to remind myself to stay on track and be focused. I’m definitely not rigid and crazy about it, but I benefit immensely from these reminders that I should do things that serve my bigger picture – my mission – rather than random tasks that don’t really help me get from A to B, or may actually move me further from B. So I put my plan in 2 places: on my wall in my office and in my planner.

Paying attention to where you place your effort, energy, and time is critical to achieving success, regardless of the objectives you’re working to complete and goals you’re hustling to achieve. Your resources are limited, so to be successful and achieve greatness, you have to pay attention to how you’re using them. Make smart decisions. Be honest with yourself about reality and your expectations. Learn when to let go a bit.

When it comes down to it, managing your life and enabling yourself in this way, well, it isn’t about calendar systems and schedules planned down to the minute, but about awareness, active decision making, acceptance of reality, and the drive to keep moving forward because you know – you’ve got a life to live!