“Sorry, I don’t have enough time.”  That always amuses me when I hear it expressed.  I know—it’s just a colloquialism that rolls off our tongues when we feel overwhelmed.  But the reason it humors me is because I’m not actually sure where we get more time.  I cannot purchase it at the Time Store over on 33rd and Vine or save it from one day to the next.  Nor can I borrow it from my closest friend or neighbor like a cup of sugar or garden tool (and I cannot return it when I am finished with it).  And sadly, I may not live long enough to use or enjoy what I had expected was my “guaranteed” time on this planet.  

Simply put, time usage is about personal choices, daily choices of how to expend 86,400 seconds, 1,440 minutes or 24 hours.  The choices, I believe, come from our attitudes about time and our willingness to set goals that take us to our desired destinations.  I believe ultimately, daily time usage rests firmly on one’s personal mission statement; the written principle about what matters in the world.  (BTW, if you want to see how to write a personal mission, visit my archive blogs—“Living Well.”  You will find the map for it.)

            I don’t claim to be a time guru (there are plenty of them like David Allen, Brian Tracy, and Stephen Covey), but I do consider myself an effective time management practitioner.  I have learned that having a personal mission, changing your attitude about goals, and recapturing squandered time is not complicated but it does take a commitment of balancing life demands.  It is as simple and complex as Covey elegantly writes, “It is about putting 1st things 1st.” 

            What follows are some suggestions from me as a practitioner for managing time and life.  These suggestions are my self-designed amalgamated system of Peter Lowe-Stephen Covey-Priority Systems-Denis Waitley-Brian Tracy-David Allen that I have personally used for about 25 years.  There may be some specific time guru you love more than others.  If so, follow their advice and implement their wisdom.  But, if you don’t have a guru, try this practitioner’s hybrid of ideas for garnering time and balancing life.  I have used them and know they work.

1.      Determine the difference between what you want as balance and priorities in your life and where you actually spend your time.  Drawing two pie charts can reveal this.  In the first pie chart, divide it by proportions or percentages of what are the important things in your life—family, friends, hobbies, work, community volunteerism, etc.  Then in the second pie chart, divide it proportionally by how you actually spend the 24 hours you have each day.  Compare the results after completing this exercise.  Do the pie charts match?  What are the most glaring differences between what is important to you and how you use your time?  This is a starting point—the awareness—for setting a course correction.  It is like knowing where you spend your money.  Want a clue of that?  Spend some time reviewing your check book or bank statement.  It doesn’t lie.

2.      Write a personal mission statement.  I provide the outline for this in my previous blog, “Living Well.”  Look it up, begin the process and write out your personal mission with life legacy goals attached.  What does this personal mission tell you about how to use the time you have available?  What changes will help you become effective in your time usage as you match what you hope to become in life with how you are currently using your time?

3.      Write down your goals.  Unfortunately, most people do not have written goals.  Not having written goals makes those that may be rattling around in your mind nothing more than a “Wish List.”  Goals are tangible and real only when they are on paper.  They represent visually how we will use our time.

4.      Give priority to those activities in your life that are important to you.  Set your calendar by these priorities first (making “1st Things 1st”).  Place all your other appointments around these priority activities.  You must schedule priorities just like any other appointment.  If you do not, they will not be acted upon because they are not urgently screaming at you for completion.  And quite frankly, “Out of sight….out of mind.”

5.      Break down your goals into smaller manageable units.  If your goals do not have tasks, it is too easy to put off starting on your goals because they might be vague in your mind.  Having tasks breaks down your goals into details that must be accomplished if you are to succeed at living well.  Task lists help you determine the amount of time needed for each goal.  The adage, “How do you eat an elephant?” Answer, “One bite at a time” applies to this suggestion.  

6.      Deadlines are an essential element for the completion of your goals.  So often, we start working on our goals with open-ended time frames.  Thus we may start, but because we do not have a time deadline, we put off tasks and steps until they become urgent or a crisis.  When our goals reach that stage they become personal stressors that create anxiety or frustration.  Set the deadline and then work backwards, determining checkpoints along the way that have to be completed with your time resource in order for you to reach the goal.  Plus, knowing the deadline builds in time for “what ifs” that may add stress at the last minute.

7.      Do something daily related to your goals and tasks.  This seems so elementary, but is essential.  We have a tendency as humans to love the process but forget the action needed at the end of the process.  Action is the critical factor.  “Without action,” futurist Joel Barker notes, “we are just passing time.”  Make a choice every day to use your time well and be action oriented.

8.      Make a list of your personal “Time Bandits.”  These bandits are uses of time that sap us of this tremendous finite resource (remember, you cannot get more time tomorrow, more than 24 hours; you have all there is).  Some time bandits at work might be unfocused meetings, cluttered desk, and decision traps like procrastination, the telephone, Email, undefined projects or vague delegation.  But also consider your time bandits at home, like excessive computer usage (Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter; all enjoyable activities but they can easily amass hours of unfocused use of time), watching television, procrastination, and frittering away time on unfocused activities.  Your personal “Time Bandits” are different from mine.  But a personal self-examination will reveal your time leakage.

9.      Balance the urgent with the not urgent (a Coveyism—focus on Quadrant II).  Living constantly in urgency can cause burnout.  While there are always unexpected situations that require our attention, living in constant urgency causes paralyzing personal and mental stress.  Try balancing the urgent (Quadrant I) with ‘not urgent’ time needs (Quadrant II).  Planning, preparation, reading, and formulating strategies are not necessarily urgent but they will allow you to be prepared for the urgency that will most definitely come your way.  Planning, preparation, and formulating strategies may alleviate stress through proactively.

10.  Learn to say no.  This is one of the most vital tools for managing your time and gaining balance in your life.  It is so simple, yet we get caught in the mindset that there is an obligation for us to fill every moment with activity for some great cause (or at least the great causes of others).  Learning to say ‘no’ provides the time you might need for accomplishing what is vitally important and essential to you as written in your mission.

Peter Lowe, a motivational speaker, says, “Reaching goals is like paying down a 30 year mortgage.  The first few years you pay so little toward the principal it seems like it will take 1,000 years to pay it off…. It is like this with goals.  At first it will seem like you are barely making any progress.  Just preserve and you will accomplish your goals.” (Success Magazine, October 2000).  That is an insightful statement related to mission, goals, and the use of your time.  Try at least one of these suggestions in the week ahead.  Try it for two weeks.  It will seem like paying down a mortgage, but by choosing to use your time wisely, I know you will enjoy less stress and more personal mission achievement.  You have every drop of time there is….use it well.

Blessings to you for these next 14 days.  Drop me a note if this practitioner’s suggestions make a difference…and if they don’t.  I would like to analyze the endeavor with you.  As always, may you experience grace and peace.

David Neidert