5 Ways to Take Control of Your Time
Do you feel like you can never, ever get to the bottom of your to-do list? Design your perfect day with these tips from a master planner
Think fast: If you could plan your perfect day, what would you have time to do? Maybe you'd take a yoga class, spend an extra hour in bed with your husband, or finally read that book you've been trying to finish. The key to making your dream day a regular reality is to change your mindset about time.
"We treat time like it is the problem rather than us — like there's just not enough of it and it goes too fast," says Samantha Sutton, Ph.D.; vice president and director of courses and seminars at The Handel Group, a coaching group that helps people learn how to design their lives. "Time is simply a medium we live in, and we need to treat it responsibly in order to get the most from it." Dr. Sutton says we tend to underestimate how long it will really take us to complete a task. Or we lie about time, like when telling our friends we'll be able to meet them at happy hour at five o'clock when we never leave the office until five. And often we say "we don't have time," when really we mean we're dreading the task at hand and have no other way to get out of it. In order to fit in all of the things that are truly important to you, you have to reassess your relationship with those precious minutes that are passing you by. The secret, explains Dr. Sutton, is owning up.
1. Start by telling the truth . If you feel like you can't get a handle on time, it's likely that you're not being honest with yourself and others about how long tasks take and how much you can actually accomplish. "You may know in your heart that you can't finish a report for your boss in an hour, but you tell her that you'll have it on her desk by then. We're so used to lying about time that we actually start to lose touch with it."
The first step is to start giving yourself more time than you estimate it will actually take to complete a task. For instance, if you think that your drive home will take an hour, give yourself an hour and twenty minutes. Giving yourself a "time padding" helps retrain your brain so that estimating time correctly will eventually become natural.
2. Stick to the schedule . It sounds simple, but literally mapping out your time helps you get it under control. It doesn't matter whether you create an online calendar or use an old-fashioned day planner, but practice crisp boundaries. Give yourself from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. to answer emails, and then stop exactly at 9 and move on to the next thing on your list.
Start small, such as scheduling a three-hour window twice a week. For a few hours, practice what it feels like to go exactly according to plan. "Planning out a week and sticking to it is actually really hard because we don't practice it all. Just like you have to train for a marathon, you also have to take baby steps when mapping out your time so you don't set yourself up for failure," says Dr. Sutton.
3. Introduce consequences . You're perpetually late for picking up your kids from daycare, but somehow you always make it to the airport an hour early to catch a flight. Why? Because there's a concrete consequence for being late: You'll miss the plane.
In situations where catastrophic penalties for lateness don't exist, give yourself an incentive to be on-time, such as putting a quarter in a jar every minute that you run over your schedule and donating the funds to charity at the end of each month. "It's amazing how you'll start to be on time because you'll actually feel the direct impact of your action when you don't," says Dr. Sutton.
4. Have a catch-all hour . Let's say you overspent on your credit card, so you put off paying your bill because you don’t want to think about it. However, you end up worrying about it when you're shopping or cooking dinner. "The longer you hold on to a to-do, the more energy that gets sucked away by that task," says Dr. Sutton. "That's because our brains only have a finite capacity as to what we can focus on, so you walk around all day with that bill worry in your head, when instead you could be spending your energy on something like playing with your kids."
To free up brain space so you can better focus on the tasks at hand, schedule two catch-all hours a week to tackle those lingering to-dos. When it pops into your head that you have to make a vet appointment for your cat or sell that dress on eBay, send a text reminder to yourself to check it off during one of your catch-all hours. "It saves a lot of stress not having to carry around all those to-dos in your head because you know that you can address them later. This helps you be more productive and enjoy the moment," says Dr. Sutton.
5. Make it public . If you tell your neighbor you'll be over at 9 a.m. as opposed to "sometime in the morning" to help her with her garage sale, odds are that you'll be on-time. "The people around you can be the biggest support system for helping you master time even if they don't do a thing," says Dr. Sutton. "Telling others about when or how long you'll do something makes you more likely to stick to it simply because you're now being held accountable." Sometimes a little adult peer pressure is actually a good thing.
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