My Top 3: Essential Time Management Skills for Increased Productivity (and Happiness)
Many times, when you ask someone how they are "BUSY!" is a common response. Some wear "busy" like a badge of honor. "Busy" indicates that you are so good at pretty much everything that you are constantly in demand. While it's definitely nice to be wanted, it's also exhausting to try to do everything all the time for everyone.
As someone who was formerly a member of every group and an organizer of every event--to the point where it way way more work than fun--I've learned a thing or three about managing my time to increase my overall happiness.
Time Management Skill #1: Saying No
People talk a lot about time management as a way to squeeze the most life into every waking moment. I used to try really hard to do everything I thought I *should* do. (The word “should” is a hint that perhaps I didn’t want to do some things very badly.) Want to know a little secret? One of the real tips for effective time management is deciding what you’re not going to even consider doing.
I always appreciate being asked to help out, attend a function or be a part of a group. Now, I find other ways to help that involve a time commitment I'm willing to make. Do I want to volunteer to run a junior roller derby bout? No, but I'll donate items for the silent auction. Do I want to organize all of the volunteers for the school fiesta? No, but I'll volunteer for an hour to sell tickets or just contribute money. I've learned to say no to things that I'll end up dreading, and to say yes in a way that I won't hate.
Saying no is freeing. It's beautiful to be invited to an out of town wedding for a passing acquaintance and politely decline to attend. It's nice to not to go to every single class my daughter takes and feel like I'm a bad parent if I don't pay close attention to her every move. It feels good when I take care of myself by not committing to go to multiple events on a given day because it's just too much all at once.
I've also gotten better at realizing that I don't need to give an excuse or an explanation for saying no. I get to just say "no thank you" or "that's not my thing" or "I have a conflict" and that's enough. I get to manage my time, priorities and energy as I see fit--and everyone gets to be okay with that.
Time Management Skill #2: The "Stop Doing" List
In life, all of us have received a talking to regarding the value of sticking with things. I came equipped with way to much of that skill. I am the queen of work more, try harder and overachieve. I kept on dating someone way after it was clear that the relationship was going nowhere. I stayed involved in organizations long after the benefit to me was gone out of a sense of obligation (and probably of my own importance). I stayed in jobs that had stopped being interesting because it was easier to stay than it was to find something I'd like more. I've kept going with lots of things because "I'm no quitter!"
Today, I am proud to be a quitter. It's just a matter of figuring out when it's time to keep trying, and when it's time to call it a day.
I decided to end a marriage when there was nothing else constructive I could do to make it work that would not seriously impede my own happiness and self worth. I quit volunteering to run an art festival when I realized it was a source of stress instead of a source of joy. I quit a part time job because the hours were terrible and my time was more valuable to me than the small amount of pay I was receiving. Knowing that you don't actually have to finish everything you start is an important life lesson to learn.
My "stop doing" list was a welcome relief to obligations I was taking on for no good reason. I stopped getting together with friends who weren't fun. I stopped going to family gatherings where my drive time was way longer than time I would get to spend with individual people at the event. I quit finishing books that I started reading, but didn't like and stopped watching tv shows that lost my interest. I also quit denying the fact that I need a fair amount of alone time to maintain my happiness.
Quitting really is freeing when you don't view it as failure, but a non-judgmental ending that opens up the possibility of new beginnings.
Time Management Skill #3: Trying New Things
Really? How is trying new things a time management skill? For me time management is really happiness management. Part of my ongoing happiness comes from learning and trying new things. Now that I've freed up time by saying no and quitting things that no longer serve me, I have time available to try whatever appeals to me at the place I am in life.
Recently, I tried soma yoga, started a roller derby skills class and decided to go roller skating with my daughter weekly. I now block off time to blog and read. I also spend time with my husband, go to movies at my favorite local theatre, schedule much-needed introverting time and hike new trails with my best friend. Over time, I'll hang on to what I still enjoy, move on from what I've discovered isn't my thing. Maximizing my time (whatever that looks like to me) makes me feel better.
What About You?
I am a parent to a teenage daughter. [Insert appropriate level of panic here.]
Personally, I don't think most people really know what they are doing when it comes to parenting. I always felt like there would be a magical day when I felt grown up and like I knew all of the secrets of the world. Suffice it to say that it hasn't happened. Regardless, I have a child, and she's growing up, so I've continued to make things up as I've gone along, and it's been going pretty well. So far, she's a likable, considerate person who gets decent grades, has a lot of interests, and has friends whose parents I don't hate. As an extra added bonus, she gets along with me as a mom and a tolerable adult figure. I consider that a win.
With that less than stellar resume of my parental qualifications, here are my top 3 pieces of unsolicitied life advice for my teenage daughter. Who knows. Maybe your child, or any random adult for that matter, will learn a little something.
1. You actually don't "HAVE TO" do most things.
There are some basic life things that we all have to do--but there's a whole lot that we actually don't have to do, but that we do out of obligation. Let me rephrase. You do not have to do everything people ask or tell you to do, like or try. You get to say no and you don't even have to give said person a reason why either. How cool is that?
You don't have to like a band, hate a person, identify as gay/bi/straight, try a drug, do a shot, dye your hair, eat food, take a dare or do anything physically that you don't want to do. People of all ages will try to tell you otherwise, and they are wrong. This also goes for hugging someone creepy, eating a dessert that a coworker made or having a second helping of casserole because someone says "You are too skinny!" People often want some sort of validation for how they live their lives, and they will try to get someone to affirm their own choices by choosing them, too. You don't have to be that someone.
The flip side of this is that other people also don't have to do everything you tell them they have to do either. We each get to make our own choices, and take a "No" or "No thank you" or "I don't think so" as a real answer. Set the personal boundaries that are right for you, and accept other people's boundaries, too.
2. Plan ahead--at least a little bit.
Children and adults alike each deal with "emergencies" on a regular basis--many of which wouldn't have had to be emergencies with just a wee bit of forethought. Many day to day "emergencies" can be mitigated by having your cell phone, $10 in cash, and your house keys.
On the low end, here are a few super-easy tips from me to you. Bring a towel with you into the bathroom. Brush your teeth before you put on your lipstick. Put on your knee pads before your wrist guards. A little forethought goes a long way.
On to bigger and better things. Many other perceived "emergencies" have only become so because of neglecting to look ahead a few days to see what is coming up or a general lack of communication. On Sunday, look ahead at your week. Give me a heads up that you have a band concert, volleyball game, birthday party or sleepover at least 2 days before it happens. If I have to fill out paperwork, or give you permission to do something, or figure out any logistics, make that a week. All those activities that you are involved it don't just happen. It takes a bit to get a doctor's appointment for an athletics physical or request a copy of your vaccination records or lay hands on the special whatever-it-is that you want to get whats-her-name for whatever thing it is she's celebrating.
Also, just know that if you don't plan ahead, I am at the point where I'm done making your poor planning my emergency. I've got things going on too--must of which I had to schedule and arrange to accommodate all of your activities that I actually knew about.
Overall, take responsibility for your own life because no one is going to care more about your activities than you do. Get a calendar and write things down. While I'm temporarily still your chauffeur, I am not your concierge.
3. Seek out help when you need it.
Everyone needs help from an adult sometimes. Everyone. You can talk to me, or if you'd rather, try out these people: your dad, your step-dad, my best friend, your best friend's mom, a teacher at school who you like. Talking to your friends is great, but sometimes you need an adult opinion. (I have 30 years of life experience on you--which means I've been through a few things that are totally new to you.) You are fortunate that you have many, many people who care about you who want you to be well. Even if you think it's the most horrible thing that anyone could ever do, let's talk and figure out what's next. Give me a chance to help before you do something extreme like running away, hurting yourself or hurting others. I am also happy to share my list of stupid things that I did as a child (and some after that) that I also thought were super horrible then that you will find laughably lame, now.
If you know of someone who you think needs help, tell one of us about that, too. I am happy to talk to your friends, their friends, other people's parents, or whoever else you think is struggling to help them get through it--whatever it might be. Life is often hard, and going through it alone makes it even harder. Let one of us help--which includes picking you up and helping you get out of a messed up situation at some god awful hour in the morning (which I will happily do whenever it is needed.) I'm also not going to yell at you or give you a hard time. Again. Here to help.
What is your top "adulting" advice for others?
The Challenge of Behavioral Change
About a year ago, I began driving to and from work on a daily basis. Consequently, I have become an avid audiobook listener. I enjoy reading non-fiction, and I focus on topics including business, management, social science, and health.
I've read a lot of books focused on personal improvement. While the information is always beneficial, here are three books that stood above the rest. They include convincing arguments for making positive life changes, straight talk about personal accountability, and specific steps to take to take needed action. In fact, each of these books was so helpful that I initially listened to them, then bought them in a hard copy to have access to the exercises and as a reference moving forward. Here they are in the order that helped me to take best advantage of the information.
1. Emotional Well-Being: Not Nice
Full book title:
Not Nice: Stop People Pleasing, Staying Silent, & Feeling Guilty... And Start Speaking Up, Saying No, Asking Boldly, And Unapologetically Being Yourself
Dr Aziz Gazipura
What I expected:
I was looking for a book on being a better conversationalist. After a couple of false starts with other books that focused on rehearsing conversations and strategies for coping with severe social anxiety, I stumbled across this book.
What I got:
This book is about being more authentic as a person, which can increase personal confidence and make it easier to move freely about the world--including having conversations with people you don't know very well. At it's core, it is about our misconceptions about being nice, and how we "nice" ourselves into insecurity, resentment, and unhappiness.
Dr. Aziz's personal stories resonated with me, and encouraged me to reexamine my attitudes and behaviors. The book includes exercises on everything from evaluating your personal "rules" for interacting with others to thinking through alternative ways to handle common situations. After going through these exercises, I am better at prioritizing what matters to me and living more authentically. As an extra added bonus, having a better sense of myself is helping me commit to the life changes I want to make. By giving myself permission to say no to things that don't appeal to me, and feeling more comfortable really committing to what I care about most, I'm making progress towards healthy eating and fitness.
2. Nutrition: How Not to Die
Full book title:
How Not to Die: Discover the Foods Scientifically Proven to Prevent and Reverse Disease
Michael Greger, MD
What I Expected:
I was looking for a book about nutrition. While I knew the basics, I wanted to eat better, and I thought having more information on nutrition would help. I also thought it had a high probability of being painfully boring.
What I Got:
I got nutritional information formatted in a way that I cared about it and decided to change my whole diet. Given family history of obesity, pain management, and limited mobility, I wanted to take positive steps to position myself for a long, healthy life where I could skip having to take multiple medications, increase my overall level of fitness, and bypass health issues.
This book guides the reader through health conditions and studies showing how healthier eating can minimize chances of getting the disease, or even provide treatment. Using scientific studies, and even acknowledging the shortcomings of some of them, this book lays out the "why" for the way of eating it advocates. The "why" is positioned not as fear mongering or shaming the reader into making positive life changes, but on the benefits of making eating changes that are completely within your control.
The author, Dr Greger, is an advocate for a Whole Foods Plant Based (WFPB) diet, which emphasizes leafy greens and lots of fruits and vegetables. He also mentions that even if people don't become strict in their adherence to this diet, including more fruits and vegetables will have positive results. I would have never seen myself completely change my eating, but this book gave tangible, specific reasons to upgrade my diet for the better and never look back.
I got more than a dry book on nutrition. Instead, I got the motivation and key strategies I needed to make positive, healthy lifestyle changes. As an extra bonus, the Daily Dozen (also available as an app) is a helpful tool to make sure I'm planning my diet around these core requirements.
3. Fitness: The Little Black Book of Workout Motivation
Full book title:
The Little Black Book of Workout Motivation
What I expected:
I will be completing an inline marathon later on this year, and I am making plans for my workouts leading up to the event. I also know that the last time I signed up for an inline half marathon, I managed to not make a training plan and ended up not even doing the event. I went in looking for motivation (and not even really knowing what I expected that to be). I was also not entirely convinced that I could get motivation from a book, but I was willing to give it a shot.
What I got:
This book is the stern talking to I needed to commit to a goal, take steps to motivate me to achieve it, and the "just do it" mentality to take action towards that goal. The focus is not just on thinking positive thoughts, but on doing the work to make success happen. Like with many books focused on personal improvement, there aren't a lot of new and unusual ideas. It does, however, bring together useful ideas and package them together to motivate action. It includes useful tools and exercises to get from "I should maybe sort of kind of do a thing" to "I'm going to the gym right now, and I'll continue to fine-tune my plan as I go."
There are a few helpful exercises to help empower people to get out of their own way. So often, people sort of, kind of commit to a goal, then find every reason not to follow through. Personally, I think of all the excuses I can come up with for not going to the gym. Using the techniques included in the book, helped me to eliminate many of those lame excuses and motivate myself to go even if I don't totally feel like it on a given day.
What Do You Think?
What books have influenced you to make positive life changes? Share your thoughts in the comments.
Brenda is an innovative learning and development leader, instructional designer, and continuous learner.