Focus…Engage!

Many times we hear ourselves, friends, family, or co-workers lament about how there never seem to be enough time in the day to complete things.  There are always ways in which our well-laid plans go awry.  Worse, it seems that the more time-saving devices we acquire, the less time we end up having.  Because let’s face it, there are only 24 hours in a day no matter how you approach it.  Many of us fall into bed, exhausted, only to wake up a few hours later to try and get it all done again.

How can we get the most out of our daily schedules?

In addition to coaching, I also provide others ways in which their daily lives can be more productive, satisfying, and meaningful within a useful schedule.  It’s simply not true that in order to get everything on your schedule completed that you must sacrifice quality time.  I have worked with executives, government officials, celebrities, athletes, and individuals on finding ways to create a daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly schedules that not only gets done all the things a well-arranged schedule should, but also leaves ample time to pursue the things that are important to them.

Many of the creatives that I have worked with also suffer from time shortages, often finding that they’ve neglected their basic responsibilities in order to have more time to create their work.

Every day we are bombarded with information that seduces us into believing that we “must” visit this place, buy that product, solve our problems in 22 minute segments, or we’ve failed as humans.  We are susceptible to all the input because that’s how society has conditioned us.  However, it’s not terminal.  There are ways in which we can snatch back our personal time – and our desire to actually think for ourselves without a commercial or marketing campaign telling us how to think or feel or act, which is never in our best interest anyway – and still lead a fulfilling life.

We’ll take an example from my own life.  Many people wonder how I manage to raise three happy, healthy dogs, work a full-time job (in which I schedule for no less than four exceptionally busy government officials), exercise, write pieces for three blogs, work on my novel, maintain a household, take on new coaching clients weekly, and still manage to “squeeze in” leisurely reading time.  Do I enjoy myself?  With vigor.  How is that possible?  Most cannot wrap their minds around such a schedule.   It can be done even if you’re the parent of children or teenagers, or whether you’re trying to simply maintain your own life or manage schedules for others.

When we allow our focus to wander, our goals and plans become scattered, chaotic.  Often it’s unintentional that we get pushed off track by unexpected events or circumstances.  It’s the intelligent planner who allows for such things as the unexpected so that we do not become derailed in our efforts.  In learning how to manage unscheduled and disruptive events, it soon becomes second nature.

We can retrain our brain to stay on track.  There are simple exercises and tricks that you can use to help stay on schedule.  Here are some basic tips for getting started:

1. Put everything on your calendar.
Appraise your time honestly—a trip to the dry cleaner may seem like a five-minute errand, but is it, really? People tend to ditch their schedules in frustration after they fall behind on more than a task or two, so err on the side of overestimating. There’s lots of stuff you’d like to do, but be totally honest with yourself about what’s practical.  Always schedule a few more minutes than you think you’ll need so that you don’t become frustrated over unforeseen events (like traffic, long lines, etc.).
2. Use our calendar rules of thumb.

  • Estimate how long each task will take and add at least fifteen minutes to that number.
  • Schedule a short break for yourself every hour and a half, no matter what you’re doing.
  • Build in 30 minutes to go over your calendar at the beginning of each month. At the beginning of each week, spend 15 minutes reviewing it. Spend no more than five minutes on your calendar each day if possible.
  • One month ahead is as far out as you need to think. If you’re big into planning ahead, it’s okay to chart out the whole year (when you’ll buy gifts for friends’ summer weddings, when to choose Thanksgiving plane tickets, etc.). Otherwise, don’t sweat it.

3. Break every project into smaller parts.
Don’t put “presentation to the marketing department” on your calendar. Instead, break it down into micro-tasks: Tracking down last year’s budget, calling people for artwork, etc.  If it’s transporting your child to soccer practice, your breakdown might include packing snacks, equipment, and a change of clothes.

4. Sneak chores into your schedule.
Hide annoying chores that won’t take too long in other activities. For example, set water to boil for tea and knock off a quick chore by the time the kettle whistles (jotting off an email, paying your credit card bill, throwing out stuff in your fridge). For more time-consuming chores, buckle down on a leisurely weekend morning. Wake up at a comfortable time, brew yourself a cup of coffee, scramble some eggs, flip on your favorite music, and tackle whatever it is (going through your closet, grad school applications, rebalancing your portfolio).  Multi-tasking is perfect for this.  Often while making my morning tea, I will empty the dishwasher or wipe off the counter tops to get those tasks out of the way.

5. Use technology to your advantage.

  • Pick one program to store your calendar and stick to it, rather than splitting up bits of your schedule between Google Calendar, Outlook, iCal , BlackBerry calendar, or any other program.
  • If someone invites you to an event on a different platform (like getting an Outlook invite when you’re an iCal user), always accept the event on your platform. Add it manually, if you have to.
  • Sync up your smartphone so that the calendar on your computer matches up with your portable calendar. (This should be relatively easy, whether you’re using Google SynciPhone/iCal synching, Outlook synching, or any other program.)

6. Websites And Apps Make Sure We Never Screw Up.
Our favorite two apps are so good at managing our lives that soon, we’ll never having to think again:

  • Diacarta: This iPhone app makes a visual representation of your schedule, using big, clear graphics. It’s visually beautiful, but doesn’t sync up with other tools like iCal. If you’re the kind of person who can stick to a real schedule, we suggest you do that instead. If you know you won’t maintain a hyper-detailed calendar and yearn for something simple, this is a great option.
  • RememberTheMilk: This free site will send reminders about anything to your phone, IM, or email. New source of that friendly text reminder to, uh, pick up the milk on your way home.
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2 thoughts on “Focus…Engage!

    • I agree…I am a procrastinator toward those tasks that I don’t enjoy doing, even if their completion is a necessity for a productive day. I abhor vacuuming the carpet, and enjoy Sundays when I cook and plan my meals for the week ahead. While I’m waiting for the oven to pre-heat or a pot of water to boil, I can easily vacuum the carpet and be done in time to get the cooking done. It’s when we look at undesirable chores and let them derail us that they become a problem. 🙂 Thanks for your comment, Margaret!

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