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Take Control of Your Day

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Scheduling and prioritizing are essential to time management; but if your day is out of control to start with, you will never be able to prioritize and every interruption to your plans will escalate your stress. Life is messy. But if you understand how, where, and why you spend your time as you do, you can gain control of your day and keep the mess from overwhelming you.

Where Does Your Time Go?

Knowing where your time goes now is the non-negotiable first step that allows you to control your day, engage in SMaRT time management, and enable you to change plans without spiking your stress.

  1. Keep track of your activities for at least 3 days. Using a pen and paper method, the calendar program on your phone, or any another familiar tool, track your time for at least 3 days and preferably for a full week. You want a clear view of both work and personal activities, including the time you take mentoring or caring for others.
  2. Time your activities honestly. Let’s say it takes you one hour to answer three emails but you spend 40 minutes of that time hunting for the report you need to reference in the first email. Your record show “Searching for report 40 minutes; answered 3 emails 20 minutes.”
  3. Group tasks by type of activity. For example, “searching for documents”; “answering emails and messages”; “commuting from office to home”; “making dinner.”

TIP: You may want to track your time in 10 minute intervals for the greatest impact.


What Is the Time, Value, and Impact of Each Group of Tasks?

The answers to the following questions will help you analyze where you are spending your time now and then move on to the next step, time management.

  1. How much time does each type of activity take? For example, you may discover that you spend 8 hours every week searching for documents. How much time do you spend at work or at with friends or family? How much time do you spend on electronic devices?
  2. What is the value of the activity? Value is not necessarily money. Exercise, relationships, downtime, and quietly thinking things overall have value. For the sake of this exercise, let’s assume that value equals effort. How much effort did you need to expend to complete the activity and how long did it take? If “making dinner” consists of a three-course gourmet meal, it probably takes more effort than calling for takeout.
  3. What is the impact of the activity? Did it bring you closer to your goals (whatever they are at work or home) or further away? How did the activity affect your own and other people’s lives? If the gourmet meal and takeout cost the same, you truly enjoy cooking, and you hate the stress of searching for takeout that everyone in the family likes, then the gourmet meal is the activity with the greatest positive impact.

TIP: You should be able to see if one type of activity is stealing more than its fair share of time to the detriment of others.


Are You Spending Your Time in All the Right Places?

SMaRT time management will dramatically change how you feel, think, and behave each day. You want to achieve a feeling of accomplishment each day without increasing stress. To do that, you must first categorize your daily (or weekly) activities by the amount of effort they take and the impact they have on your stress and quality of life.

Impact is difficult to judge if you don’t know your personal and work goals and priorities. But the following analysis assumes that you do. Categorize your activities by:

  • High Effort/Low Impact: Took a lot of effort to complete and had very little effect on your quality of life. These are waste-of-time activities. Delegate or hire someone to do them—for example, ask a professional painter to paint the outside of your house.
  • Low Effort/Low Impact: Took little effort to complete and had very little effect on your quality of life. These are low priority activities—for example, making the bed every morning.
  • High Effort/High Impact: Took a lot of effort and time, but the impact and value are or will be highly positive. These are the major wins; but they may cause so much stress that you should only commit to one or two at a time—for example, leading a 6-month project at work for the first time or dedicating yourself to losing 100 pounds.
  • Low Effort/High Impact: Took very little effort and improved your life significantly with very little stress. These are high priority activities—for example, meeting with your team every week to make sure the project is on track; or treating your significant other to dinner once a month.

Use the following block to sort your various activities into the four categories.


How Can You Use This Information to Take Control of Your Day?

After you’re done gathering the information, ask yourself:

  1. What trends do you see?
  2. What percentage of time do you spend on low-value activities?  Medium? High?
  3. How much time do you spend at work?  With family?  Having fun?  Watching TV?
  4. What were some of the time bandits—those things that derailed you and took time?
  5. What have you learned about the way you spend your time?
  6. What are you willing to change to have better control of your day?

Now you are ready to take control of your day.

  • Dedicate some time every day to those activities that contribute to a major win.
  • If you find yourself with time to spare, concentrate on high priorities, then on keeping track of the activities/tasks you delegated or hired someone to take care of, and finally on low-priorities.
  • If you find yourself in a major crunch, sacrifice waste-of-time activities first. You should always delegate first, then sacrifice low-priority activities. Finally, consider which high-priority items can be delayed.

In this way, if a setback intervenes with a major win activity, you know exactly how to manage your time, without adding stress to your day. The trick is to balance two often opposing interests: aligning your priorities with your goals in life and not becoming so wrapped up in major wins that you neglect high or low priority activities.

Paying attention to your own, your team’s, and your family’s signs of stress is critical. Be SMaRT about your choices.

For SMaRT time management, delegation is normally your first option because some of those high and low priorities are essential to controlling and relieving stress. They refresh and rejuvenate you, keep you healthy, connect you with others (your team and community, for example), strengthen your relationships, and increase your resilience and sense of wellbeing. In addition, delegation enables you to develop backup and support you can rely on in a true crisis or emergency.

Key Takeaways

SMaRT time management is based on your knowledge of three things: (1) what you are spending your time on now, (2) the contribution of those activities to your quality of life and sense of stress, and (3) how closely each activity aligns with your goals. When you understand the time, value, and impact of various activities, you are better able to control your day in favor of those with the highest value and impact and to delegate or sacrifice low-value/low-impact activities when you need more time

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