Teaching People How To Use Your Time

by Ramona Creel

An Epidemic Of Assumptions

People simply assuming that you are free to help with a project or attend a meeting, without asking first. Folks dropping by your home or office to “chat” during work hours, not giving a thought to the fact that you might be busy. Your kids expecting to be chauffeured around all weekend, never once imagining that you might have other plans. And technology has made it even worse — quick, drop everything and deal with each request as it comes in, lest you make the other person wait even 30 seconds for a response! But what about your time? Isn't it just as important?

There is one hard truth out there that most people don't want to face — you are responsible for the fact that other people either respect or don't respect your time. There is no one else to blame but yourself. You have to be the one to set some boundaries about what is acceptable and what is not. The only reason that folks take advantage of you, expect too much from you, or don't allow you the room for personal free time is that you have let them behave that way in the past — and they've gotten used to it. But if you draw a different line in the sand — develop some “time management ground rules” and stick to them — you will be amazed at the change not only in yourself, but in the people around you.

Set Aside Time For You

When we talk about “me time,” most people think of lounging in the bathtub, a lazy Saturday with a good book, or a week-long retreat in which you re-discover your inner child. But “me time” is any time spent doing the things that keep you sane. That might mean exercise or meditation, a hobby or lunch with a neighbor. You could choose to organize your closet, paint the kitchen, or finish up an important professional project. The only rule is that “me” time should move you closer to feeling balanced, caught-up, calm, and in control of your life. For my own personal sanity, I need to have one day a week in which I take care of “administrative work.” I might return phone calls, answer e-mails, pay bills, buy groceries, or clean house. Or I could choose to get my hair cut, attend a yoga class, have a massage, work on an art project, or call a long-distance friend I haven't talked to in weeks. I use my “admin time” to get caught up in all the different areas of my life.

The point is, whatever you enjoy doing with your “me time,” treat it like it is sacred. Once you commit to an admin day, mark it on your calendar and guard that time with your life! If you use a paper planner, physically draw a line through the entire day with the word “Occupied” written across the top — leaving no room for you to accidentally stick in any other appointments. On an electronic calendar, set an appointment called “Occupied” that fills the whole day — and assign it a pretty font or background color as a reminder that you're taking care of yourself during that time. Nothing short of a medical emergency (or a vacation!) should get you to give up your “me” time. I often have a client ask me if I can get together on a day I have planned for admin activities.  My answer is always, “No, I'm sorry but I'm not available that day.” I can't tell you how long it took for me to become comfortable saying that! How dare I turn down an appointment with another person when I don't have anything else in my schedule that day?! Ah, but I do. I have an appointment with myself. And that's the most important appointment of all! Approve

Balance Your Free, Focus, And Buffer Days

A number of years ago, I was introduced to a way of viewing time (developed by personal coach Dan Sullivan) that really resonated with me. It offers a very simple system for using your time in the most efficient way possible. He suggests that you break your schedule into three distinct segments:

1) “focus days” — days in which you do nothing but focus on your job, on those activities that bring home the bacon (seeing clients, making sales calls, writing, painting, crunching numbers, whatever earns you a living)

2) “free days” — you do no work at all (you take that entire day to simply rest, relax, have fun, and recharge the old batteries)

3) “buffer days” – for all of those little chores that have to be done, but don't really make you any money (administrative work, personal errands, dentist appointments, trips to the library, etc.)

A number of things attracted me to this philosophy. First of all, it becomes incredibly easy to draw clear boundaries around your time. You are simply going to focus on one type of activity all day long — no confusion and no waffling about what to do. If someone asks you to do work on a “free day” or do some mindless chore on a “focus day” — the answer is “no,” plain and simple. Second, it creates an automatic sense of balance between the many activities in your life, requiring you to spend some of your time at work and some at play. Third, you really do use your hours more efficiently when you settle into one mindset for the entire day. It's the mental (and physical) switching of gears that slows us down, eats up so much of our time, and distracts us from really enjoying what we are doing at that moment.

Best of all, it's not a rigid system. You can label as many days in a week as “free” or “focus” or “buffer” as you need to, and you have the freedom to change a day's activities around at will. I've even broken it down further, counting my time before lunch as a “focus” period, and the time after lunch (when I'm sort of brain dead) as a “buffer” zone. Although you may not have total control over your schedule — especially when you work a 9 to 5 job — you can still apply these principles to your life, making weekdays “focus” days, setting aside one day a week for “buffer” activities, and saving at least one weekend day as “free.”

Healthy Boundaries

Most folks have no clue how to draw the line with people who ask too much of them — unfortunately, it's not something you really learn in school (why don't they offer a class called “Boundaries 101″?) In fact, parents and teachers often instill the exact opposite values in kids — expecting them to cram more and more and more into their schedules, teaching them to automatically say “yes” to any request under the guise of being ambitious and accommodating (and we wonder why they turn into overwhelmed adults!)

We're always so afraid of offending another person by saying “no” — even if acquiescing is going to stress us out or keep us from being able to take care of other more important tasks on our list. But you need to learn how to tactfully dodge a request if you ever want to regain control over your time. The best way to do this is to offer another alternative.

If you can't participate right now because you are too busy, but you would really like to help at a later time, say so. “I'm sorry, I can't do it just this minute — but I'll be free Friday afternoon, if you still need some help.” Or you might suggest another, more appropriate resource. “I'm too busy, but I have a friend who has been wanting to get involved. Let me give you her number.” And finally, if you are asked to do a job that really doesn't interest you or is outside your area of expertise, offer to assist with a different task. “That's really not my strong suit — but I would be happy to help out with ________.” You will assuage your guilt and feel as though you are still making a contribution, when you follow that “no” with a suggestion for getting the job done another way.

Healthy boundaries also mean letting go of the idea that you can (or even should) do it all yourself. We like to imagine ourselves as indispensable — falling prey to the “no-one-else-can-do-it-as-well-as-I-can” syndrome. We become unwilling to delegate jobs to other people, to ask for help, or to simply say, “I'm not going do that.” That leads to frustration and resentment — we blame other people for heaping too many responsibilities onto our plates, even though we're the ones who said, “pile 'em on!” Just understand one thing — as far as everyone else in the world is concerned, you are replaceable. I don't mean as a human being — of course you are a unique individual and we would all miss you if you were gone. Wink I'm talking about the tasks you complete, the responsibilities you take on, the favors you do for other people. It's amazing how often we think, “If I don't do it, it won't get done.” Not true — if you can't do it, they'll find someone else.

Stick To Your Guns

It's not going to be easy to change people's behavior, especially if they've grown accustomed to your being at their beck and call. But this battle is well worth fighting — if you want to survive in a crazy world with out-of-whack priorities about how we use our time. You'll hear comments like, “You were always available to babysit at the last minute before” — or, “You never had a problem working weekends in the past.” So what? You don't have to explain yourself or justify your decisions to anyone — it's your time, apportion it as you see fit! It's unfortunate, but most folks out there believe that feeling stressed, pressured, overloaded, and trapped is simply the status quo. You will have to convince them otherwise by your good example.

So if other people don't understand at first, they will when they begin to see the positive changes in your life. Suddenly, people will be asking, “How is it that you can have time for a hobby (or reading for pleasure or travel or spending a day at the park with your kids)? Can you tell me your secret?” And that's an amazing day — because you get to help one more person regain control over his or her life. You are spreading the gospel of “setting boundaries” — you touch one person and he or she touches one person and soon we have a society that's regained a sense of perspective about its priorities. Hallelujah!

© Ramona Creel, all rights reserved. Ramona Creel is a modern Renaissance woman and guru of simplicity -- traveling the country as a full-time RVer, sharing her story of radically downsizing, and inspiring others to regain control of their own lives. As a Professional Organizer and Accountability Coach, Ramona will help you create the time and space to focus on your true priorities -- clearing away the clutter other obstacles and standing in the way of that life you've always wanted to be living. As a Professional Photographer, Ramona captures powerful images of places and people as she travels. And as a travel writer, social commentator, and blogger, she shares her experiences and insights about the world as we know it. You can see all these sides of Ramona -- read her articles, browse through her photographs, and even hire her to help get your life in order -- at www.RamonaCreel.com. And be sure to follow her on Twitter and on Facebook.