Time often holds us hostage. We wrestle with endless to-do lists, pressurized deadlines and spiraling guilt (from failing to get it all done).
But there is a way out. Good habits, planning, organization and focus, can unlock the prison of "not enough time." Check out these five time-management pointers, culled from experts, and let the tips set you free.
1. Focus on values.
Instead of going full-throttle at every task, invest time in identifying your core values. Then, schedule selectively. Take a look at your life and determine which activities are vital: high-payoff, crucial, life- or business-sustaining.
How to: Break activities into categories, family, work, friends, home, self. Assign a different highlighter color to each category. A glance at the color-coded schedule will reveal how balanced (or unbalanced, as the case may be) your life is.
Then, set aside an hour on a Sunday to ask yourself what's really important. Make a list and grab your calendar. If you love art, schedule museum trips like you would a dental appointment. If family time is key, designate one day per month as a family outing day. Think creatively.
2. Prioritize, prioritize, prioritize.
Prioritizing is the key to greater efficiency as well as accomplishing what really matters. Assess each activity or task at hand and ask yourself point blank: What results will this gain?
How to: Establish a way of ranking items on your to-do list by relearning your ABCs. Give A-items (rich in reward) your full attention first. Set aside a special time each day or week to accomplish these things. Focus less on the B's (they offer minimal payoff). Brush aside or farm out the C's with the 4D's: delete, delay, diminish, delegate.
3. Disarm distractions. Taking a call at random or chatting with an unexpected visitor can eat away your day. Manage distractions by asking upfront how much time is required. Be proactive in deciding whether to proceed or postpone. If you're in the middle of something, offer to meet at a later time.
How to: Get ahead of the game by starting early in the day. One hour of quiet, uninterrupted work time is worth 3-4 hours later in the day, according to time-management studies. Also, don't start each morning with the simplest tasks on your to-do list to warm up. That tactic simply wastes your most alert hours.
4. Batch 'em. Imagine your time is like a closet. See your day as a limited space that accommodates only so much and benefits from organization. Group common tasks together. Hit the grocery store, cleaners, and health food store all in one outing.
How to: Counterpoint management: Pick off-times to pick up dry-cleaning and stock up on groceries. Leave 30 minutes earlier in the morning to avoid rush-hour traffic. Added benefit: You'll get in quiet time at work.
5. Just do it!
Procrastination is a chronic time guzzler. Set up a rewards system to stay motivated. Say a deadline out loud to someone else to solidify it in your mind and to commit yourself to it. If you are consistently late, set an early deadline and write reminders in your planner, calendar, or on post-its.
Don't let fear of failure, or success, paralyze you. Jump in and get started.
How to: If you are feeling unfocused and having trouble getting something done, take a 15-minute break. Set a beginning and end to the break to make it guilt-free.