How You Spend Your Time Is How You Spend Your Life
The specific actions that you choose to take each hour, each day, each week, throughout each year, define your life. Your moment-to-moment choices accumulate to determine whether you succeed or fail as an academic.
Skillful management of your time is not superficial but fundamental. Instead of aimlessly allowing external events and pressures control you, make deliberate choices about your use of time. The way to create a life that is consistent with your deepest values and desires is to set priorities, make plans, and then follow through on those plans.
Set Long Term Goals – Turn dreams into reality by allowing yourself to craft a vision for your future. Aim high. Post your goals a visible place to stay motivated.
Determine Priorities – Use your long term goals to create concrete, short-range actions that will take you in the direction you wish. Rank those steps so that you can work on the most important items first.
Pose an Essential Question – Continually ask yourself “What is the best use of my time right now?” If it is not important, or urgent, don’t do it.
Tackle the Worse First – To craft an effective life, begin each day working on whatever makes you the most anxious. Once you’ve confronted the most difficult work, subsequent activities will seem easy.
Think Ahead – Planning time is never wasted time. Reserve regular weekly periods for assessing both short- and long-term goals. Schedule time each day to work on your top priorities. Review how the previous week went and see what you need to change in order to be more effective.
Postpone Minor Tasks– Resist the temptation to clear up small “to do” items first. Start with top priorities. The quick things can wait until you take a break.
Write Down Results – If huge “To Do” lists make you feel overwhelmed, try writing “Did Do” lists at the end of each day. Keeping track of your accomplishments may help you stay motivated.
Reserve Your Prime Time – Allocate your most alert times of the day for the most challenging tasks. Carve out, and cherish that time.
Pick Your Bird – Are you a wren or an owl? Most of us are at our intellectual best in the morning. Starting the day with a period of productivity also helps us feel good about ourselves for the rest of the day. However, a few of us are true “night-owls” who are most productive late in the evening when distractions subside. Use your prime time wisely.
Practice Telling Time – Estimate before starting and then record how long it takes to complete a task. Note when you tend to underestimate or overestimate the amount of time activities will take. When you can predict how long it will take you to accomplish something, you can schedule it accurately.
Use Little Bits of Time – Keep a list of small “To Do” items for gaps between appointments. Always have an article to read for times when you are standing in line, on a bus, or waiting for an event to begin.
Enjoy Your Free Time – To stay productive you must take breaks. Schedule time for rejuvenation. (See “Avoiding Burnout” ).
Many more time management tips to come in future newsletter articles.
An Organization Quiz
Determine whether you are really disorganized or just have a unique style of organization that looks messy to others: for example, there may be piles of files covering your floor, but you can find any item you need in a moment.)
To see if you are organized, ask yourself the following questions:
- Do your keys disappear when it is time to leave home?
- Do your bills hide when it is time to pay them?
- Do the labels of your files elude your memory when you want to retrieve an article?
- Do you sit down to work only to realize that you don’t have the book you need to begin?
- Do you often crawl on the floor searching for your TV remote control?
- Do you revise a rough draft on your computer only to realize that it was not the latest version of the document on your computer?
If you spend more than five minutes a day searching for the things you need, then your disorganization is interfering with your productivity.
Devote Time to Organizing – Time spent organizing is rarely wasted time. Some of us have the misguided belief that to be well-organized and methodical is to be boring. Give up the myth of that disorganization is correlated with genius. Many brilliant and creative people are highly organized. Most extremely successful people are highly organized.
On the other hand…
Avoid Obsessive Organizing – Some of us organize to avoid working. If you tidy your desk and file your papers in order to procrastinate, stop it! One sign of an over-organized personality is when your idea of fun is spending extravagant amounts at office supply stores. Work first and splurge on those new, color-coordinated organizing products as a reward.
Designate a Place – Determine and then always use a special place to put your keys, or wallet, cell phone, or whatever item you spend time searching for on a regular basis. For example, if you have a hook – or a specific drawer – where you automatically place your keys the second you cross the threshold of your home, you will save hours each year and arrive on time to appointments more frequently.
Make Promptness a Habit – Disorganized people tend to be late. Regular rushing raises blood pressure and creates health-sapping surges of adrenaline. You’ll feel calmer and more in control if you leave yourself enough time to arrive on time. Lateness is always a subtle insult to the person you keep waiting: it is a nonverbal way of saying “My time is more important than yours.” Stop snubbing others!
Neaten Up – Start and end each work session with five minutes of tidying. You’ll feel better about your space and your clutter will start to disappear.
Centralize Schedules – Keep all your appointments, “to do” lists, and work plans in one location. Get a datebook, or a personal digital assistant, and use it without exception. Some of us keep multiple calendars – one for family plans, one for work, etc.,. When multiple systems are used, conflicting dates may be made and other appointments missed completely.
Stay Away From Stickies – Post-it notes are the bane of professional organizers. Write it down where it won’t get lost. Also remember when you write down a phone number to write down who it calls. How many times have you found a scribbled number and not be able to remember what it is for?
Use a Computer Program for Book and Article References – Programs like “End Notes” are a huge boon for academics. Not only do such programs save hours of typing up references, and prevent errors, but they can be used for other functions as well. When you read an article, instead of scribbling in the margins, or on sticky notes, create a summary paragraph in endnotes, and you’ll have half the work done when you begin your literature review. Students also say that brief summaries of articles are a huge help when they study for comprehensive exams. Finally, for those of you who forget the labels of the manila folders and hanging files where you keep your articles, type the name of each label in the appropriate endnotes section so that you can find the hard copy later.
Many more organizing tips to come in future newsletter articles.