Thumb through your dictionary to the word “busy,” and you’ll find a tragic photo of your weary-looking face.
Work, home, family, bills, committees you were suckered into, that broken doohickey you’ve been meaning to fix for a year – there’s no escaping the constant call of responsibilities on your shoulders. It’s time to fight back the mayhem and carve out some downtime for yourself with an arsenal of easy-to-learn skills that you can start using today.
Devising a plan
Having a plan for your day is more important the busier you are. When you juggle competing priorities, schedules of multiple people, and impromptu requests, it’s easy to lose track of an important item on your to-do list.
Write it down. Sketch out a rough plan for what you need to do and when you plan to do it. In the mayhem of your busy day, you’ll at least get rid of that nagging feeling that you’re forgetting something important.
Creating routines that allow you to run on autopilot
An organized space goes a long way in creating an organized schedule.
Lost papers, misplaced keys, and disappearing shoes stop the clock and force you to engage in a spontaneous scavenger hunt when you had planned to be doing something meaningful. Don’t waste time every morning on a quest or force yourself every evening to stow items in places that don’t make sense.
Toss your keys into a dish by the door every day, and you’ll always know where they are. Chuck important papers into an incoming box on a counter, and train your kids (and spouse) to place both shoes into a conveniently-located closet or rack.
In the same way, set your bills on autopay. Put grab-and-go snacks within reach of the kids so they don’t have to get your help every time they’re hungry. Create templates for frequently used documents at the office and at home. Take note of where your time is being consistently wasted and get creative in eliminating those pain points.
How long does it take you to pay your bills? Draft a proposal? Get your kids into bed?
Take your best guess and see how close your estimate is to reality the next time you complete one of these activities. Knowing how long a task takes – not how long you think it should take but how long it actually takes – is critical to planning a schedule that fits everything.
If you routinely underestimate the amount of time that your activities take, you’ll consistently overschedule yourself.
Getting things off your to-do list without shame
Busy people never have enough hours in the day for everything, so you have two options – settle for never accomplishing everything on your list or shrink your list.
Start by reducing the number of new tasks that you take on. Practice saying no with a smile on your face.
Next, start deleting meaningless activities. Diminish the amount of time you plan to devote to time-wasters by cutting out elements of those tasks that aren’t useful. Delegate where you can, or swap tasks with someone if you’re each better equipped to handle the other’s tasks. Delay important but non-pressing activities for another day.
Matching activities to goals
Why are you doing what you’re doing right now? Everything you do should correspond to some goal in your life.
You’re in that meeting because it’s important for your work on a project that will further your career goals. You’re scrubbing a floor because you want to have a clean and welcoming home for your family and for visitors. You’re clipping coupons because saving money gets you closer to your financial goals sooner.
Knowing that you’re doing something that will further your goals gives you that extra push to get it done. If you can’t identify a goal that matches up with some activity, it might be time to consider striking it from your list.
Creating opportunities for double-dipping
Some activities can do double-duty or even triple-duty in moving you closer to your goals and thus save you loads of time.
Making dinner with your kids not only gets homemade food on the table but also creates teaching moments and family bonding time. Commuting every day not only gets you to that job (which provides financial stability for your family and hopefully personal fulfillment for you) but also gives you the chance to catch up on your reading or learn a new skill from an audiobook.
By carefully choosing and creating activities that simultaneously fulfill two or more goals, you’re enriching the usefulness of that time while freeing up other areas of your schedule.
Grouping activities together
An excellent way to waste time is to run out to the supermarket every time you need some milk, snacks, peanut butter, whatever. You can also blow loads of time by sitting down to pay a bill as soon as it lands in your mailbox or inbox.
Lump these distributed tasks together to create an efficient and focused block of time.
Make a list for the week and do your food shopping on just that one day. Stash all of your bills in a single physical or E-mail folder and pay them all off every Saturday morning. Surrender to a messy playroom until it’s time for an end-of-day clean-up.
Working with your natural rhythms
Many people would be hard-pressed to work on their taxes – let alone put together a coherent thought – first thing in the morning without a hot shower and a jumbo cup of coffee. In the same way, maybe your brain is raring to go at night but slipping into a coma right after lunch.
Don’t fight your personal energy levels. Your time will be far more productive if you use your most high-functioning time for creating a report and save your mindless laundry folding for your brain’s downtime. Make a conscious effort in creating your plan for the day to match activities to your optimal times.
You know it. There’s only so much control you have over your busy schedule.
Fickle managers, sick kids, traffic jams, freak snowstorms, your own mood, and more can force you to tweak or adjust your carefully-made plans. Roll with the punches by scheduling things to be done before the last minute and building buffer time into your plans.