Where Did The Time Go?

Do you seem to be asking yourself this question more and more often?

What is the problem??

How can you correct it?

I used to have a pretty good sense of time. I could estimate how much time it would take to do a project or go to the store or pick someone up at the airport. For the last 27 years (the age of my older daughter) my daily schedule has been pretty hectic so time management was important. I confess, I’m a workaholic oldest child, Capricorn, Baby Boomer entrepreneur.

Contrary to popular belief, most self-employed people work much MORE than eight or ten hours a day. Since a small business owner wears many hats, it is likely that one departmental or another will require some unexpected attention today. Add to that, taking care of children, helping friends and trying to have a personal life, it is easy to “overbook.” A little overbooking was never a problem, because surely you could catch up over the weekend or during the holidays or just stay up an extra few hours at night.

But what happens when you finally realize that you are only sleeping four hours per night and all your future weekends and holidays already have full schedules? Sleep even less? Skip meals? Give up any personal time you had for hobbies or reading for pleasure? Somewhere you reach the point where there is no time left. Then you start to miss deadlines, disappoint people you care about and your mental health starts to deteriorate which causes you to make mistakes or use more time that usual to finish any task.

We all have 24 hours a day. Sure Jack Bauer can be tortured, fight terrorists, fly around the country and save the world a few times in a day but most of us don’t have the script writers and accepting fans to pull that off. We actually start with a faulty assumption if we believe we have 24 hours every day. If you deduct the time for eating, sleeping, showering, and other natural functions along with a few obligatory social and family actions, you are left with only 10 to 12 hours at most to save the world.

I often accuse someone of “speeding up the clock”. But what is really happening? Ok, we accept more responsibilities and unreasonable deadlines than we should. We want to please people, impress bosses or make more money. And in order to do all of this, we “discount” our future time which should be one of our most valuable assets. Of course, when you get to that future time and really want a holiday or time off from work, you can’t have your own valuable time because you traded it for cheap “catch up” time. Most people view their future time as perfect. They don’t consider that even on vacation you usually have to spend time buying food or filling up the gas tank. Of course, mechanical breakdowns, sickness, injuries or bad weather never happen on those future “days off”.

So what do you do? I’ve looked at many time management courses and lots of time saving “tips”. There doesn’t seem to be any “program” that fit everyone’s personality. How many times have you heard the solution to your paperwork piles is to “only touch a piece of paper once”? Yeah, right. That may work for a corporate executive with a secretary and eager staff to do their bidding. The following tips seem to be more helpful to those of us who feel like they have lost control of their precious time.

1. This is a biggie—LEARN TO SAY “NO”. How many times have other people snatched a chunk of your time because you were too wimpy to give a firm “no”? When asked to volunteer for any time sucking job, don’t say you’ll think about it; don’t make excuses; just say “NO”. This technique alone helps give many people the time to volunteer for the jobs they actually want to do.

2. Buy a digital kitchen timer and keep it next to your computer. Keep it set on 15 minutes. Whenever you begin a search for something on the Internet, start the timer. Unless you are doing a research project, you should be able to have the information you need by the time the timer goes off. How many times have you spent more than an hour exploring interesting links that popped up while you were looking for a small bit of information?

3. Organize your email messages and computer information. If you are getting more than 50 non-income producing email messages a day, start unsubscribing to the sites that are not helpful to you. Make mailboxes or folders for the messages you want to read so that they will be together in one place when you have the time to read them. Don’t follow more than three “gurus” at a time. Concentrate on one system at a time. Whether it is making money, losing weight or collecting bottle caps, you will have better results if you follow one system at a time. Don’t start your day by reading your email.

4. Prioritize the tasks you know have to be done tomorrow. Many people hate “To-Do” lists. But before you go to bed, just make a short list, in order of importance, of specific tasks that need to be done the next day. If you are not a “morning person”, lay out what you need to make breakfast the night before. The same applies to your wardrobe or anything that has to be taken to the office.

5. If you are someone always losing their keys, put a hook by the front door and get into the habit of hanging your keys on the hook as soon as you walk into the room. This idea could apply to eyeglasses, name badges or anything else that you are constantly misplacing. How much time have you wasted over the years, looking for something you need but couldn’t find right away?

6. Determine what time of day you are at your best. The time of day that you are awake, eager, creative, sharp, in the zone. Now, reserve this hour or two for your most important work of the day. Block it off on your calendar as a meeting or spa appointment or conference call; whatever it takes for you to not be interrupted. This is the time when you work on the important tasks that you wrote down the night before.

How much time would you save by implementing the above tips? If you save just one hour a day, that is 365 hours a year. Even if you think you work twelve hours a day, that is over a month’s worth of working days!!

In the play “Cheaper by the Dozen”, the father is an efficiency expert. He is always telling his kids how to save time by doing things in a certain way. Finally, one of the little kids asks, “What are we to do with all the time we are saving?” That is the point I leave for you to ponder. There was once a concern about how we Americans were going to use all the leisure time that would be created once computers helped us to do our jobs so much more efficiently. That didn’t turn out to be a big problem did it? “Use your time wisely,” a teacher of mine once said. I wish I had been wise enough to follow that advice.

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