Organize Your Day Well
- 2009 10 Jul
Editor's Note: The following is a report on the practical applications of Sandra Felton's book, Organizing Your Day: Time Management Techniques That Will Work for You, (Revell, 2009).
When you reach each evening and reflect on your day, are you fulfilled or frustrated? Do you discover that you’ve been able to accomplish what you’d hoped, like enjoying relationships with others and working on meaningful projects? Or do you wonder where all your time went, since you haven’t done much of real significance?
If you can organize your day to help you accomplish necessary but uninspiring activities quickly and easily, you’ll have the freedom to spend more time on what matters most.
Here’s how you can organize your day well:
Control your time so your time doesn’t control you. Notice how long routine activities in your life typically take you by timing them and writing down the information to help you plan for the next time you do them. Figure out what specific time management problems you’re facing; then focus on finding solutions to them.
Plan each day at least 24 hours ahead. Group your activities together to save time. Tackle difficult tasks early so they won’t hang over your head later in the day. Discover what hours of the day are your most productive and plan to use that peak time to the fullest. Try not to act impulsively when deciding how to spend your time; think and plan first. Every day, try to do something that will save you time in the future.
Change for the better. Pause to think about the current direction of your life, evaluating how fulfilled you truly are. Then dream about what you’d like your life to be like. Plan how to make small, gradual improvements to start using your time more effectively. Focus on changing negative habits to positive ones that will make lasting improvements in your life.
Set goals clarifying specifically what you want to accomplish. For each goal: write it down, set a date by which you would like to see your dream achieved, and remind yourself of your goal regularly.
Reduce activity clutter. Don’t clutter your schedule with too many activities. Think and pray about what your priorities should be. Then focus on what’s most important to you when making decisions about how to spend your time. Be willing to let go of activities that aren’t closely connected to your priorities. Remember that time management isn’t the art of getting everything done; it’s the art of getting the most important activities done.
Keep a time log. Track how you use the minutes and hours in each day for a few days. Then study the information to see how you’ve been wasting time.
Multitask in the right way. Multitasking is actually counterproductive when you try to do two or more complex tasks at the same time, because you lose time switching your focus between tasks and end up lowering the quality of your work on all the tasks. But multitasking can help save you time if you combine a simple task that doesn’t require much concentration with a complex one, like listening to an audio book while cleaning your house or carrying on a conversation while walking.
Commit to focusing your mental energy on just one complex task at a time and savoring the present moment when you’re doing simple tasks. Also, be prepared to use the downtime you encounter by planning to do quick tasks when the extra time opens up (loading your dishwasher while on hold during phone calls, reading a book you carry with you while waiting for someone to arrive for an appointment, etc.).
Don’t let perfectionism delay you. Commit to getting each task done by a certain time and quitting at that time rather than fretting that your work isn’t good enough and trying to redo or improve it. Don’t allow yourself to do more than you decided to do when you first took on the task. Work toward a deadline instead of toward perfection. Remember that only God is perfect.
Overcome procrastination. Write down a specific time to complete each project, so you’ll be more determined to do the work on time than you would be otherwise. Start by doing a part of the job that you enjoy, so you’ll be more likely to start than if you began with an unpleasant part of it. Ask a friend or colleague to hold you accountable to accomplish what you hope to get done. Do a little bit of work at a time, and gradually the task will begin to dwindle until it’s all done. When you complete each project, give yourself a reward, such as lunch out with a friend or a special item for your house.
Manage your projects well. Use whatever system works best for you to organize your projects: time lines, outlines, mind mapping diagrams, flow charts, etc. Write down your goal for each project. Mention the points you plan to cover, as well as what you won’t cover. Break overwhelming tasks into small steps that are more manageable and go through the work gradually. Schedule time for each phase of a project: defining, planning, execution, and completion. If a project gets off track, readjust your plans before continuing. Celebrate each time you finish a project.
Use “to-do” lists. Create both a master to-do list and a daily or weekly one, grouping the tasks by activity types. Prioritize the activities and do the most important ones first. Schedule about 15 minutes each day to tackle some of the tasks you’ve listed, to ensure that you at least get stared every day and can continue if you have more time.
Delegate tasks to others. When possible, enlist the help of others to get pressing work done. Explain your objective clearly for each tasks, answer questions, and train people how to proceed when necessary. Set reasonable deadlines with the people who will be helping you and let them approach tasks innovatively if their own ideas look promising. Check in periodically with people while they’re working on tasks; give encouragement and help as needed. Be sure to thank people for their help and reward them for doing a good job.
Manage interruptions well. Don’t let interruptions (like unexpected visitors and phone calls during a busy time) rob you of valuable time to focus on projects you’ve planned to get done. Try to find a secluded place to work, and let people know when you’ll be unavailable.
Take charge of time wasters. Pay attention to what activities are stealing time from your day, both on the job (like reading unimportant material, attending unproductive meetings, or looking for misplaced papers or items) and at home (like watching too much television, surfing the Internet too long, or carrying on unnecessary phone conversations). Plan proactively to avoid activities that have wasted your time in the past. Schedule time cushions into each day to deal with time wasters that you can’t avoid, like sitting in a traffic jam.
Schedule routine tasks. Remind yourself of tasks you must routinely by listing them all and planning to do them at consistent times to get the most important ones done.
Use a planner every day. Choose whatever type of planner works best for you – such as a calendar, personal digital assistant, or day planner – and use it to remind yourself each day or what you need to do, in what order, and at what time. Reward yourself with some time out to do something personally enjoyable each day, as well.
Deal with chronic lateness. Commit to be on time to your appointments. Leave early so you can arrive early, and plan to use the extra time you’ll spend waiting on reading something you enjoy. Prepare well in advance (such as getting everything ready for a morning appointment the night before).
Create healthy habits. Adopt habits that will help you manage your time better, such as: doing any job that takes 30 seconds or less (like discarding junk mail or hanging up a coat) immediately, putting items that you get out quickly back in their proper places, and keep surfaces (like your kitchen counter, desk, floors, etc.) clear.
Organize your space. Deal with clutter at home by following one of three courses of action for every item: giving it away, selling it, or recycling it/throwing it away. When trying to decide whether or not to keep a particular item, consider whether it’s valuable enough to keep, whether it’s useful at this time, and whether it has become a burden for you. Store like items grouped together, locate them close to where they’re going to be used, and place them in labeled containers where you can easily see them.
Get rid of one item every time you buy something new to bring into your home. In your office, arrange your files and furniture so that the items you most frequently use are close to your work station. Deal with each piece of paper by either: throwing it away, acting on it, or putting in a file for future reference. Save only important documents and let go of the rest.
Enjoy new opportunities. Managing your time well frees you from a chaotic life so you can take advantage of opportunities to align your activities with your real goals and desires. When you pursue what matters most, you’ll enjoy true fulfillment.
Adapted from Organizing Your Day: Time Management Techniques That Will Work for You, copyright 2009 by Sandra Felton and Marsha Sims. Published by Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group, Grand Rapids, Mich., www.revellbooks.com.
Sandra Felton, who is known as “The Organizer Lady,” is a pioneer in the field of organizing. She is the founder and president of Messies Anonymous and the author of many books including Organizing Magic. Sandra lives in Florida.
Marsha Sims is a national speaker who has taught seminars on time management and organization, managing the front desk, and projects and priorities. She has been a professional organizer for 15 years as the founder and president of her Miami-based company, Sort-It-Out, Inc.