By MARY STARR
Time, in the Oxford Dictionary, is defined as “the indefinite continued progress of existence and events in the past, present, and future regarded as a whole,” which is a beautifully expressed concept, but for most of us time means something of which we don’t have enough.
Being on time to work, appointments and social engagements can be befuddling at times. Where, exactly, does time go?
Many people are frittering time away. Whether we have our noses in a book, or on a screen, distractions are major time-wasters. Some folks keep written (remember DayTimers?) or digital calendars, set alarms on their clocks, phones and watches and still consider arriving on time nothing short of a major miracle.
It doesn’t have to be that way say two local experts.
Life coach Danielle Sunderhaus said the best way to become punctual is simple.
“If it’s not on your to-do list, don’t do it,” she said, citing distractions as a major cause of tardiness.
The majority of people, she said, plan to be on time, but “something always happens.” That “something” can be a last-minute child, pet or spouse emergency, traffic or a last-minute phone call or text that needs to be handled right away.
The first step to ensure timeliness is to have a plan for the day, and be consistent.
“Time management means to manage priorities, not tasks,” she said. “Make a mental list; your day-to-day obligations take higher priority.”
Learning to manage priorities requires practice, but it can be done.
No one, she said, is a time management failure.
“It’s not that you’re bad a time; you’re bad at deciding what you want to do,” Sunderhaus said. “It’s a priority issue; if it’s high on your must-do list, you’ll get it done.”
Also, choosing to respond, rather than react to specific circumstances can save time in the long run.
Reactions tend to be of the knee-jerk variety, whereas responses are the result of thinking about the situation at hand in a clear and concise way.
Sunderhaus said that multi-millionaire businessman Richard Branson sets his day on what needs to be done, what needs to be accomplished and having fun.
“He takes care of his emails first thing, and then goes kite-surfing before breakfast,” she said. “He then starts his day, and is done by 1 p.m. every day.”
Part of learning to prioritize is to clue the people around you that you are focused on whatever task lies before you.
“Tell people not to interrupt you unless it’s an emergency,” said Sunderhaus. “Set the standard, set your parameters, set your priorities.”
In U.S. society, she said, people have been conditioned to think the 9-5 workday is the norm, whereas researchers are finding that a more flexible schedule is more productive, because people feel like they have less time to complete their work.
There’s an old joke that inquires, “How do you eat an elephant?” The response? “One bite at a time.”
Managing time is similar, said Sunderhaus.
“Bringing your focus in smaller makes the big seem manageable,” she said. “We can be overwhelmed by the scales and sizes of goals.”
Other tips include listening to one’s intuition, quieting one’s mind during noisy situations and listening.
Dr. Pete Snell, vice president for economic development at Coastal Pines Technical College in Brunswick, will be facilitating a time management workshop beginning at 8 a.m. Nov. 13 at the college. Registration information is available at http://www.coastalpines.edu/coned/profdev.
Snell echoes some of Sunderhaus’ tips, beginning with maintaining an ongoing, and fluid to-do list.
“Review your list each evening to prepare yourself for the next morning, so there aren’t any, or fewer, surprises when you wake up,” he said. “Review your list each morning and re-prioritize for the day; sometimes your motivation changes between when you went to bed and wake up.”
People who are faced with two important tasks should choose to complete the most daunting first.
“Discipline yourself to begin immediately, and then to persist until the task is complete before you go on to something else,” Snell said. “You must resist the temptation to start with the easier task. You must also continually remind yourself that one of the most important decisions you make each day is your choice of what you will do immediately and what you will do later, or postpone indefinitely.”
There are several reasons for procrastination, including no clear deadline, inadequate resources (time, money, information), not knowing where to begin, feeling overwhelmed, no passion for the work and fear of failure or success.
The good news is there are also ways to overcome being a procrastinator.
“Your ability to select your most important task at any given moment, and then to start on that task and get it done both quickly and well, will probably have greatest impact on your success than any other quality or skill you can develop,” Snell said. “If you nurture the habit of setting clear priorities and getting important tasks quickly finished, the majority of your time management issues will simply fade away.”
Getting in front of those tough tasks is easy once the tools become available.
Snell says No. 1 is “delete it.”
“What are the consequences of not doing the task at all?” he queried. “Consider the 80/20 rule; maybe it doesn’t need to be done in the first place.”
Other ways to cope with big tasks include delegating, doing it now, asking for advice, chopping it up into smaller tasks, using the 15-minute rule, having clear deadlines, rewarding oneself and removing distractions.
As for the 15-minute rule, Snell said that to reduce the temptation of procrastination, each actionable step on a project should take no more than 15 minutes to complete.
De-cluttering, organizing one’s workspace and managing workflow are also keys to efficiency.
Snell suggests keeping one, or a variety of calendars, along with a to-do list, in the medium of one’s choice to help improve time management and efficiency.
Following a schedule of some sort is key for certain people.
“While schedules are not set in stone, they are supposed to provide a sense of structure when completing tasks, projects, and activities,” he said. “If schedules are ignored or forgotten altogether, it can lead to wasted time management or prolonged duties.”
Again, scheduling your time, setting deadlines and either removing or limiting time-wasters, will help anyone become a more punctual person.
What are some common time-wasters?
• Excessively checking email/text/phone messages
• Boredom or daydreams
• Extra time spent away from your work area
• Extra time spent looking for things
• Taking on extra projects
The last trick is to learn to cope with things outside of your control.
Snell says there are many things in life we can’t control, including illness, rude or mean people, or the weather, but we learn to cope and adapt.
“You can control how you react to certain circumstances and setbacks,” he said. “When we are faced with something we realize we cannot change or control, the key to dealing with it is to, first, accept it. Once you have accepted that you cannot change the fact that it rained on your moving day or that someone almost rear-ended you in traffic, we can learn to cope with them by remembering what we can control.
“You can control what alternative plan you have for moving day and you can control how you choose to respond to the rude driver. Focusing on what you can control rather than what you can’t will help you feel more empowered and less likely to let other obstacles overcome you.”