As a motivational speaker, author, mom, and wife, my list of things to do is always longer than the amount time I have to do it. So time management is critical for me to achieve my goals and have the quality life I want.
I like to think I have a good handle on my time. I make my lists. I understand my priorities. And I can do a heck of a lot of things in a day. But there’s always that one sneaky thing that comes hurling in from left field – the task I didn’t anticipate – the emergency I didn’t see coming – someone else’s need for my attention that breaks into my neatly listed life. Enter in the time sucker.
I have made it a goal to deal with the time sucker – to be proactive rather than reactive – to not let it hijack my day. Easier said than done – especially in business where you don’t always have the upper hand. Some time suckers must be given immediate attention. But I’m finding that I have been giving attention when it’s not necessary. So here’s my plan to deal with the time sucker.
1. Assess the true priority. It might not be as important as you think. Can this task be put on the “to do” list and scheduled during a down time?
2. Watch out for the accidental time sucker. This is a big one for me. It’s called Facebook. I say Facebook is an important tool for me to connect with my audience. And it’s true. But it’s not important enough to do first thing in the morning when I am fresh and have calls to make. And one “quick peak” is always at least an hour or more as I scroll through pictures of your kids and your cars. This is an evil time sucker. So I’m making a new rule. I’m only going to check Facebook at night when I’m winding down and watching television. And now I’m on the lookout for other accidental time suckers – like a laundry basket at the top of the stairs, or a sale in the store window, or wouldn’t it be nice to light a candle right now.
3. Know what must be done first every day. It’s almost impossible for me to manage my day if I don’t have a clear list in my head of what MUST be done before everything else. Sounds basic, but many times I forget and just ramble through the day hopping from one task to another. I need a list to follow – make meals, spend time with son, exercise, blog, follow up on a lead, handle any administrative task relating to that week’s job, etc. I am convinced that without a plan I would have no control over my time and would be a lot more stressed. So I have a plan for my year, which keeps me focused on the big picture. I have a plan for my month, which is really a snapshot of that month’s calendar. I have a plan for the day, which is a task list to the side of my calendar, and includes the things I have determined need to be done every day to meet the needs of my yearly business plan.
4. Have good systems in place for the daily processes. What happens when a lead comes in? Where does it get documented? What happens next? What keeps it from slipping through the cracks? Where do I put creative story ideas? Where do they go when they need to be memorized? Where do I organize them online? My business and life run on many systems, and often when I find time suckers creep in, it’s because there hasn’t been a system designed. You can have a system for household tasks, your health and wellness, your kids’ activities, your sales calls, your customer service, etc. The ideal would be to have every distraction filtered through a system for handling it.
5. Have an email/phone/person distraction plan. We get distractions in many forms. Yours may be people showing up in your office. Mine is phone and email. Working from home gives my friends and family the impression that I’m always available. Taking a personal call during the day is not productive. It’s a time sucker. So I have a scripted response when I get a personal call during work hours. You could do the same for people who come into your office unannounced. And then there’s the dreaded email attack on my life. Email is a boulder always hanging over me. I have this “thing” that I can’t stand to see hundreds of emails in my inbox. I want it empty. And with hundreds coming in every day, this is a daunting task. Emails have become another to-do list for me – culling through spam, determining who needs to be answered when, and handling the tasks associated with each email. Here is where it is CRITICAL that I stay on task. My daily plan is NOT to answer one email and then move on to the next. My daily plan is to do my daily priorities, and treat these emails as distractions, only getting top priority if they truly deserve top priority. And opening that funny video from your Uncle Clyde is not a top priority.
The key to time management is not being able to get everything done, but knowing what must be done now, and what can be done later, and having the right systems in place to handle distractions.
It sounds like a lot of work, staying focused. And it is. But it’s worth it. And when you get a habit down of sticking to your priorities, you will actually be more relaxed and see that there is not as much to do as you once thought. So let’s take control of our time rather than letting our time control us.
KELLY SWANSON is an award-winning storyteller, comedian, author, motivational speaker. She has been described by Our State Magazine as one of North Carolina’s funniest women. She uses hilarious comedy, powerful stories, and a wacky cast of southern characters to make people laugh, remind them of their value, and show them how to stand up and stick out in their lives, businesses, and communities. Her shows have delighted audiences from coast to coast, from board rooms to cruise ships. To invite Kelly to your 2014 event, contact Sue Falcone at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 1-888-766-3155.