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Time Out of Mind


Personal coach H. Les Brown says one of the keys to improving time management is to recognize the difference between urgent tasks and important tasks.  Photograph by Keith MosherAre you time challenged? Do you often find yourself in a frenzy of activity desperately trying to finish projects on time?

Developing good time-management skills puts you in control of your life, reduces stress and increases energy. You are able to achieve balance between your work, personal and family lives. You have flexibility to respond to surprises or to consider new opportunities.

“Time is a finite resource,” says personal coach H. Les Brown, owner of ProActivation Coaching in Rehoboth Beach. “If you need money, you can always get a second job or borrow it, but you only have 24 hours in a day. So which is more important to learn to manage?”

The following are practical ways to make better use of your time.

Know Thyself Knowing yourself and what you want out of life is the first step to effective time management, says corporate consultant Devona Williams, president and CEO of Goeins-Williams Associates in Wilmington. Think about what you would like your life to be like, what is possible and what you can truly achieve.

Keep A Time Diary Before you can organize, you need to get a realistic idea of how much time it takes you to do the things you must do. Most people seriously underestimate the time it takes to do routine tasks. Williams suggests keeping a log of activities to give yourself a picture of where your time is going and what areas you need to work on. Personal coach Mary B. Golly, co-owner of Vector Coaching of Wilmington, suggests that the visually-oriented convert results into percentages and display them on a pie chart.

Plan And Organize Time spent planning is time well spent, experts say, and those who fail to plan, plan to fail. A calendar is essential, but otherwise, organize in a way that makes sense to you, says coach Pat Wood, owner of PACE Coaching in Newark. “Go to the store and see what planners fit your personal style,” she says.

Set Goals
Goals give life direction. But the way you set goals can mean the difference between success and failure. Don’t set targets you can’t hit, Wood says. Break large goals into several mini-goals that can be achieved more easily. That’s what University of Delaware President Patrick T. Harker does. “I lay out a 10-year plan of what I want to accomplish,” he says. “Then I break it up and ask myself, in this year, what do I need to do to keep moving toward that long-term vision?”

Prioritize Setting priorities eliminates the tyranny of the urgent, allowing you to see what tasks are most important at each moment and to give those tasks more of your attention when it’s needed.

“The trick is to recognize the difference between urgent tasks and important tasks,” says Brown. Urgent tasks have serious short-term consequences. Important ones are those with longer-term, goal-related implications. Effective people spend more time on important matters to keep them from becoming urgent ones.
Use To-do Lists Lists are a constant reminder of what you need to work on and when, Williams says. But it’s one thing to create a list and another to manage it effectively. Experts recommend that you list tasks in order of importance and update as priorities change.

Be Flexible Allow time for unexpected distractions and interruptions. Experts recommend that you plan no more than 50 percent of your day. If you get sidetracked, Brown recommends going back over your priorities and considering the consequences of yielding to the interruption.

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Work With Your Biological Clock Are you a morning person or a night owl? Maybe you get your second wind late in the afternoon. Knowing when you’re at your best and planning important tasks for that time is effective time management, Wood says.

Practice Intelligent Neglect
Eliminate the trivial or chores that don’t have big consequences. Family business advisor Jane Luke of Newark used to be meticulous about organizing her magazines and CDs, but now feels the time could be better spent on other projects or just as alone time.

Golly says shucking some tasks, like leaving your bed unmade some days, can be good for the psyche. “Choice empowers,” she says. “You feel like you’re controlling circumstances, not like they’re controlling you.”

Don’t Be A Perfectionist Some projects need to be closer to perfection than others, but paying excessive attention to detail in every task can be a form of procrastination. Williams recommends living by the 95 percent rule: “Which is worse, missing the deadline or making it and being 95 percent right?” she asks.

Conquer Procrastination
Many people procrastinate, but some are so chronically affected that it stops them from realizing their potential and jeopardizes their careers. Brown recommends reminding yourself of the consequences of not finishing a project.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, life coach Hope Ellsworth, president of Light Quest in Lewes, suggests taking the Swiss cheese approach. “Try poking holes in the project,” she says. “Start on one of the easier parts of it, or give yourself 10 or 15 minutes on it. Chances are you’ll get to a point where you’ll want to finish.”

Delegate Assigning some tasks to others allows you to devote time and energy to important activities only you can perform. Delegating may often be difficult for high-achievers, but it frees up your time while helping others develop their talents.

Learn To Say No
It’s such a small word, yet so hard to say. Focusing on your goals can help, but first you must be convinced that you and your goals are important—which seems to be the hardest part, says life coach Linda Lucerno of Newark. Harker has had many invitations to join worthwhile groups since he became UD’s president, but he realized that, for now, he had to devote his time and energy to the university. “That will change over time,” he says. “But I think if you have a fairly clear sense of what you need to accomplish and when, it’s easy to say no.”

Multitask Many low-intensity activities can be accomplished simultaneously. Attorney Mike Parkowski has managed the fine art of listening, reading and thinking about totally different things at the same time. “It’s a necessity, not a choice,” he says. “I think you can do it if it’s not something intense.”

Minimize Interruptions Technology has done much to improve productivity, but being wired 24-seven can hinder your ability to get work done. Experts recommend you establish times when you will not tolerate interruptions.

Schedule Down Time
Like your body, your brain needs to power down and recharge. Brown favors meditation. “The brain needs that space to connect at a deeper level,” he says. “That’s where your good decisions come from.”

Reward Yourself
Celebrate successes, Williams says. Promise yourself a reward for finishing tasks and completing a job. Parkowski says his career is at the point where he can indulge in long weekends at the beach during summer. “I leave on Thursday, so Friday seems like Saturday, Saturday like Sunday and Sunday like a bonus day,” he says. “It’s amazing the difference it makes.”


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