Posts Tagged ‘reality check’

Efficient Versus Effective

There's a lot of confusion out there about what it means to be “efficient” — some see this as the holy grail of time management. But there's more to using your day wisely than just how much you accomplish. Efficiency means getting a lot done in a short time — effectiveness happens when you also invest your energies in projects that matter to you.

Think back to a time (maybe yesterday) when chunk of your day was eaten up by a menial task, like checking email. You may have gotten through hundreds of messages, even emptied your in-box, yet still felt vaguely dissatisfied with your effort. It didn't seem as though you actually accomplished much — because it wasn't a task near and dear to your heart. As the old saying goes, you can run as fast as you want, but if you're going in the wrong direction, you still won't end up where you intended.

Good time management helps you find your way. I'm a caver, and I really enjoy crawling around in dark holes underground. I don't know if you've ever been in a real cave before, but it is PITCH black — you can't see a thing. And without my caving light, it wouldn't matter how fast I went — I still wouldn't have a clue where I was headed. I might be going in circles, I might be going backward. However, as soon as I turn on my light, I can see where I am, the passage ahead of me, and any obstacles I'll need to go over or around. And most importantly, I'll be able to recognize it when I'm nearing the end of my journey — getting close to accomplishing my goal. That's what good time management is all about.

Where Does Your Time Go?

How much of your life is spent on “time wasters” — activities that do nothing to enhance your quality of life, and actually prevent you from accomplishing more important goals? Facebook has become my major time-waster these days. While I get a tremendous amount of joy and satisfaction from staying connected to all the people in my life, if I get distracted into playing Mafia Wars or taking any of their stupid “what kind of tree would you be” quizzes, I'm in trouble!

Each person has his or her own “time traps” — but you know you've been seduced by a time waster when you find yourself:

  • watching TV shows you don't really care about
  • checking email over and over throughout the day
  • surfing the internet or cruising chat rooms with no purpose in mind
  • endlessly checking status updates on social networking sites
  • wandering around stores, just looking for bargains
  • spending a few hours every day running errands
  • shuffling the same papers back and forth on your desk

Drawing The Line

Some days it can feel as though, despite your best efforts, you haven't accomplished a dadgum thing. Quitting time rolls around and all you have to show for it is hours and hours down the drain, blown on activities that gave you little or no payoff — not to mention the fact that your to-do list is still sitting there staring at you, waiting to be tackled tomorrow!

It can be very hard to curtail these time-wasting behaviors (isn't it always hard to break a bad habit?) Sure, it's fun to goof off on the internet when you have a few minutes and your brain needs a break — but how good are you at drawing the line and saying, “Okay, time to get back to work?” Do you automatically turn on the television when you get up in the morning or come home in the afternoon? Maybe it's time to give your remote control a rest! The good news is, it's easy to change these mindless habits — all it takes is a conscious choice to spend your time differently, and a little planning:

  • when you come home, leave the TV off and find a more meaningful way to decompress (go for a walk, read a book, play with your kids) — review the TV schedule once a week, find those shows you really care about, and record them to watch later without commercials
  • get into a routine of checking email no more than 3 times a day (morning, noon, and end of the day) — turn off the “you've got mail” alarm and program your system to only download emails on command
  • if you lose track of the world while web-surfing, set a timer to go off in 15 or 20 minutes — then make yourself get up and turn off the computer when it dings
  • for 30 days, shop only from a list — only go to stores that carry the item you need, and if you don't actually need anything, don't go to the mall in the first place
  • set aside a single “errand day” each week and sit down with your family to plan your list — put everything you need in one basket by the door, and plot your route in advance to avoid backtracking — if someone forgets an errand, either insist that it wait until the next errand day, or let them do it themselves
  • take 5 minutes to sort through incoming papers every day — put “to-do” papers into a tickler/action file, and set aside time once a week to file and handle to-do's — set up a spot for papers you're currently working on, and take 5 minutes to clear your desk before you leave each day

Look around your life and see what other daily routines and chores eat up your day. You may even want to keep a log for a week or so, recording how you spent your time and what sort of value you received from each activity (just don't let keeping your log become a time-waster!) You'll discover your own personal time “issues” (spending 2 hours trying on outfits before deciding what to wear that day, taking forever to make up your mind about the brand of orange juice to buy at the store, whatever) and find ways of dealing with each.

See if you can't trim some fat from your schedule — just a few simple changes will free up hours each week. But don't waste this bounty — be sure to put that bonus free time to good use. Block off room in your calendar for those important projects you've been neglecting — and don't allow anything to interrupt you. If someone asks for your time during that slot, let them know you can't because you already have another appointment (you do — with yourself!) And enjoy the satisfaction you get from spending your time effectively!

What Are We Teaching Our Children?

As this tenth-grader rattled off her list of daily activities, the problem was apparent. She rose at 5 AM for school and stayed 1-2 hours late each day for a different extracurricular club. She then had either soccer practice or dance class, and spent 2-3 hours a night on homework. She would fall exhausted into bed around 11 PM, get 6 hours of sleep, and start all over again the next day. By Friday night, she was so wiped out that she slept all weekend, just trying to recuperate.

Does this sound familiar? Are you inadvertently pushing your kids too hard, asking that they fit more than is humanly possible into a 24-hour day? I'm sure you don't mean to, but you can't help it. As adults, we aren't very good at recognizing our limits — and we're passing this disability on to our kids. We try to do too much, set unreasonable expectations for ourselves, and walk around feeling overwhelmed most of the time. Our children see us in action and mirror our behavior — they're just doing what they're taught.

What most kids are mirroring is overload. In simply raising our offspring, we're creating a newgeneration of stressed-out, overcommitted adults — but we have theability to change this by consciously adjusting our attitude toward time. Start by recognizing that you can't do everything, no matter how hard to try. Take a second to figure out your own priorities, then bring your behavior into alignment with those values. The key to teaching your children good time management skills is for you to learn them, first. “Do as I say do, not as I do” just doesn't cut it with kids. You have to show your children that you are in control of your schedule (not the other way around).

Re-Evaluating Your Child's Schedule

When you want your child to have every opportunity, it's easy to go overboard. But when their days are filled with structured “enrichment,” there's no time to explore, daydream, and just be a kid. I find it disturbing that children can't even knock on a friend's door and ask if so-and-so can come out — they have to schedule a “play date” in advance. I'm not sure when society collectively abandoned the idea of goofing off as part of growing up, but it's not a bad tradition to try and bring back. Leave some unscheduled time in your child's day, even if you have to limit the extracurricular side to do it — they'll thank you for it later when they grow up to be more balanced adults.
If you tell your kids that family is important but find yourself working 80 hours a week, they will get the message — just not the one you intended. Do you really want to live your life like a cheesy Harry Chapin song? Set aside at least one evening and one weekend day as “family time” – no one is allowed to schedule anything else so you can actually enjoy each other's company. Even you just order pizza and play board games, you will be teaching your kids  how to make room for life's true priorities.

Getting Organized As A Family

Have you ever had one of those frustrating days when no one in your family knows what anyone else is doing? At the last minute, Tommy asks for a ride to soccer practice, and Susie needs 3 dozen cupcakes for the class party tomorrow — but Mom has a meeting that she can't get out of and Dad has to work late tonight. Chaos! Sit down together as a family once a week and plot out each person's schedule for the next seven days. Hang a wall calendar in a high-traffic area like the kitchen, and record each person's activities in a different color pen (blue for Tommy, red for Susie, green for Mom, purple for Dad). You will immediately be able to see and correct scheduling conflicts, plan ahead for upcoming events, block off your “family time,” and even plan the week's meals. Just be firm about your policy. If it isn't on the calendar, there is no popping up at the last minute expecting everyone else to rearrange their schedules. When Tommy forgets to tell you that he has a ball game on Wednesday night and you've already planned to go to your book club, don't cancel on his behalf.

Remember that old saying, “Your failure to plan ahead does notconstitute my emergency.” It's his responsibility to arrange a ridewith a friend or he will just have to miss the game. And next time,he's more likely to put it on the calendar. I know it sounds mean, butit's time for a little tough love!

Knowing What's Really Important

We often focus too much on the daily grind (paying bills, keeping the house clean, writing reports, etc.) and too little on our real priorities. Those many details may seem urgent at the time — but if you look at the bigger picture, that they really aren't all that pressing. And it's sad when we end up missing out on the important things in life (experiences and relationships) because we're so caught up in the minutiae. Do you really need to be organizing the garage, or spending time with your kids at the park? Is it a higher priority that you decide how to arrange the chairs at the upcoming sales meeting, or that you develop a strong agenda and provide guidance during the group discussion? Will you benefit more from zoning out in front of the television, or taking a walk around the neighborhood with your spouse? Ask yourself where you will get the biggest bang for your buck. That should be where you focus your attention, and let someone else handle the rest. A not-to-do list helps identify those chores, errands, and daily responsibilities that can (and should) be delegated.

Keep a notepad handy, and record your activities for a week. You don't have to log every second of your day (“8:00 — got up / 8:05 — used bathroom / 8:15 — had breakfast” isn't going to help you be more effective and efficient!) But if you can start tracking your work responsibilities (a paid job, housework, or whatever fills your day), travel time to and from activities, and any other external responsibilities (committee meetings, carpools, volunteering), you will begin to see places where you can trim and tighten your schedule through delegation. Make a note of what you are doing — such as “checking e-mails” or “cleaning oven” or “buying groceries.” Then, estimate how much time you have spent on that particular chore (don't forget travel and prep time). Later we'll look at whether this action needs to be done at all (!!) and whether it needs to be done by you. But for now, that's the start of your “not-to-do” list.

Once you've made a list of items that you would love to delegate — who do you hand them off to? You have so many options! Just remember, you aren't in it alone. You simply have to decide whatyou want to delegate and then be willing to ask for help. At home, you can get your family involved in the act (see my dear hubby doing dishes?) Kids and spouses are just as capable of handling those daily chores as you are! At the office, don't be afraid to ask a co-worker for some assistance — and offer to help out the next time he or she needs a little bit of a break. Also make use of your support staff (administrative clerks, assistants, and other assorted minions) — that's what they are there for. If you don't have these sorts of support networks to call upon, hire an independent contractor or freelancer to help with household and business tasks that you don't have time for. You might also think about developing a local co-op for sharing those time-consuming domestic (trading off on cooking, cleaning, errand-running, or child care) — or set up an informal swap with a neighbor.

Reality Check

It's incredibly difficult for folks to admit that they can't do everything themselves. Well,  guess what — you can't! And I don't know that you'd want to, even if you had the time. Some activities are unpleasant, outside your range of expertise, or just not what you want to spend your time on. There's nothing wrong with bowing out, as long as you can find someone else to take care of it. The not-to-do list helps identify those chores, errands, and daily responsibilities that can (and should) be delegated. This is assuming that we're talking about a job that even needs to be done in the first place — if not, let it go and move on!

Unfortunately, most of us don't realize how close to the edge we are until it's too late and we're about to fall off the cliff. The key to creating a successful “not-to-do” list is awareness –paying attention to what you do, how long it takes, how often you doit, and whether or not you get some benefit from that particularactivity. However, we spend so much of our days on autopilot and in astate of overload, that simply trying to recall how you spent yesterdaymorning can be a real challenge!

Keep a notepad handy, and record your activities for a week. You don't have to log every second of your day (“8:00 — got up / 8:05 — used bathroom / 8:15 — had breakfast” isn't going to help you be more effective and efficient!) But if you can start tracking your work responsibilities (a paid job, housework, or whatever fills your day), travel time to and from activities, and any other external responsibilities (committee meetings, carpools, volunteering), you will begin to see places where you can trim and tighten your schedule through delegation. Make a note of what you are doing — such as “checking e-mails” or “cleaning oven” or “buying groceries.” Then, estimate how much time you have spent on that particular chore (don't forget travel and prep time). Later we'll look at whether this action needs to be done at all (!!) and whether it needs to be done by you. But for now, that's the start of your “not-to-do” list.

How Much Is Your Time Worth?

When you were a kid, you probably didn't think much about what it took to earn money — you just asked for what you wanted and somehow, mommy and daddy made it happen. You didn't worry about what stuff cost, and you didn't understand when someone told you it was too “expensive.” Then you got an after-school job or started working for your allowance — and I'll bet you became a lot more discriminating about what you did with hard-earned cash!

It's the same with time.  Very few people really know what their time is worth, in concrete financial terms. They just go through their day on autopilot, wondering where the hours go. Until you recognize that your time is intrinsically valuable, you will never be able to make informed decisions about where your effort is best spent.  Here's a general guide illustrating how much an hour of your time is worth, and how just one hour a day (spent poorly or wisely) adds up over a year's time:

YOUR
ANNUAL INCOME
WHAT ONE HOUR
IS WORTH
ONE HOUR PER DAY
FOR A YEAR
$25,000 $12.61 $3,125
$40,000 $20.49 $5,000
$50,000 $25.61 $6,205
$75,000 $38.42 $9,375
$100,000 $51.23 $12,500
$125,000 $65.10 $15,884
$150,000 $76.84 $18.750
$175,000 $89.65 $21,875
$200,000 $102.46 $25,000
$250,000 $128.07 $31,250
$300,000 $153.69 $37,500
** Based on 244 working days per year

You can always look at delegating in terms of the biggest financial payoff. When I hire someone to take care of an item on my not-to-do list — and I pay them $25 an hour while my hour is worth $60 — I'm coming out ahead. The same is true when I can hire someone to do a task in a half hour that would take me 3 hours to complete. I can be focusing on higher priorities — things that feed my soul or grow my business or let me know I'm alive — without worrying that the work isn't being done.

Look At Costs Versus Benefits

Have you ever caught yourself spending a lot of time on a very low-payoff activity? Low-payoff doesn't mean worthless. This task might actually need to be done — like addressing 1,500 envelopes for a business mailing or cleaning all of the window screens in your house. But it's not something that will immediately and drastically improve your quality of life. And it might be a hugely time-consuming activity, where the rewards you will reap don't even begin to compare to your investment of time and energy. Most of these low-payoff jobs really serve as maintenance — but if left undone, they can erode away at your home, your career, your health, your peace of mind and cause serious problems down the road. That makes these chores perfect candidates for your “not-to-do” list — items that really need to be completed, but not necessarily by YOU. Here are some of the most common suggestions I hear from my clients — see which resonate with you as being potentially delegable:

  • house cleaning
  • grocery shopping and meal preparation
  • paperwork (filing/mailings/organizing)
  • errand-running
  • yard work and landscaping
  • home maintenance and car maintenance
  • follow-up with clients (phone calls/e-mails)
  • travel, meeting, and event arrangements

Of course, you also have to ask if you really enjoy the work. Even though I could probably find someone else to maintain my website for me, I love the process of creating new pages, bringing ideas to life, and watching my baby blossom and grow. It is time-consuming, but I'm filled with renewed energy each time I sit down and add a new section to the site. So the payoff for me comes as a sense of satisfaction and a continued outlet for my creativity — and that is priceless, regardless of what my hour is worth. On the other hand, my sister loves gardening. She finds it incredibly relaxing to dig in the dirt and watch a tiny bud explode into color. Lawn care is pretty much my idea of hell — so I would probably hire someone else to take care of my shrubbery and flowers (if I had a yard!) It's all a matter of what energizes you, what fills your life with joy, and what you look forward to doing. If an activity fits this description, keep it for yourself and find other less-pleasurable chores to include on your not-to-do list.

Is This The Best Possible Use Of Your Time?

The final question I ask my clients when setting up their lists is, “What's the best possible use of your time at this exact moment?” Americans in particular tend to focus too much on the daily grind (paying bills, keeping the house clean, writing reports, etc.) and too little on our real priorities. Those many details may seem urgent at the time — but if you look at the bigger picture, that they really aren't all that pressing. And it's sad when we end up missing out on the important things in life (experiences and relationships) because we're so caught up in the minutiae. Do you really need to be organizing the garage, or spending time with your kids at the park? Is it a higher priority that you decide how to arrange the chairs at the upcoming sales meeting, or that you develop a strong agenda and provide guidance during the group discussion? Will you benefit more from zoning out in front of the television, or taking a walk around the neighborhood with your spouse? Ask yourself where you will get the biggest bang for your buck. That should be where you focus your attention, and let someone else handle the rest.

Once you've made a list of items that you would love to delegate — who do you hand them off to? You have so many options! Just remember, you aren't in it alone. You simply have to decide whatyou want to delegate and then be willing to ask for help. At home, you can get your family involved in the act (see my dear hubby doing dishes?) Kids and spouses are just as capable of handling those daily chores as you are! At the office, don't be afraid to ask a co-worker for some assistance — and offer to help out the next time he or she needs a little bit of a break. Also make use of your support staff (administrative clerks, assistants, and other assorted minions) — that's what they are there for. If you don't have these sorts of support networks to call upon, hire an independent contractor or freelancer to help with household and business tasks that you don't have time for. You might also think about developing a local co-op for sharing those time-consuming domestic (trading off on cooking, cleaning, errand-running, or child care) — or set up an informal swap with a neighbor.

Learning How To Quantify

When you were a kid, you probably didn't think much about what it took to earn money — you just asked for what you wanted and somehow, mommy and daddy made it happen. You didn't worry about what stuff cost, and you didn't understand when someone told you it was too “expensive.” Then you got an after-school job or started working for your allowance — and I'll bet you became a lot more discriminating about what you did with hard-earned cash!

It's the same with time.  Very few people really know what their time is worth, in concrete financial terms. They just go through their day on autopilot, wondering where the hours go. Until you recognize that your time is intrinsically valuable, you will never be able to make informed decisions about where your effort is best spent.  Here's a general guide illustrating how much an hour of your time is worth, and how just one hour a day (spent poorly or wisely) adds up over a year's time:

YOUR
ANNUAL INCOME
WHAT ONE HOUR
IS WORTH
ONE HOUR PER DAY
FOR A YEAR
$25,000 $12.61 $3,125
$40,000 $20.49 $5,000
$50,000 $25.61 $6,205
$75,000 $38.42 $9,375
$100,000 $51.23 $12,500
$125,000 $65.10 $15,884
$150,000 $76.84 $18.750
$175,000 $89.65 $21,875
$200,000 $102.46 $25,000
$250,000 $128.07 $31,250
$300,000 $153.69 $37,500

** Based on 244 working days per year

You can always look at delegating in terms of the biggest financial payoff. When I hire someone to take care of an item on my not-to-do list — and I pay them $25 an hour while my hour is worth $60 — I'm coming out ahead. The same is true when I can hire someone to do a task in a half hour that would take me 3 hours to complete. I can be focusing on higher priorities — things that feed my soul or grow my business or let me know I'm alive — without worrying that the work isn't being done.