The time trap

“Oh, look at the time, where has the day gone?” or “How am I going to get all these jobs done before bedtime?” are familiar moans.

Time or more accurately, the lack of it, occupies much of our thinking each day. From organising breakfast to school runs to getting to the office we skilfully juggle these tasks while keeping an eye on the clock.

The day often passes in a blur with minutes merging into hours. Most people complain they never get through their daily workload, be it a mountain of paperwork, shopping for the evening’s supper in their lunch hour or giving the house a much needed spring clean before bed. Despite the best of intentions the hours seem to disappear and we end up feeling frustrated because we have still got lots to do.

Even worse, the tasks we have left undone keep niggling us and we use up valuable mental energy and often a good night’s sleep worrying about them.

Time management is a valuable skill which can teach us how to organise our time more efficiently and devise a system which works effectively for us.

Here are some tips to help you organise your time better:-

Managing your time

* Get started. Avoid dilly-dallying. Do not wait until you feel inclined to organise your time. Start at once

* Keep a time diary. All you need is a sheet of paper with three columns. The headings could be Time Started, Activity and Time Taken. Use these categories to write down everything you do within a two to three day period and how long it takes to carry out the individual activities. Reading over it will be a real eye-opener. Do you really spend an hour on the telephone? Does the ironing actually take two hours? Do you visit the shops every day?

* Organise your hours. Get a good wall calendar and fill it in as far ahead as possible. Mark down school holidays, meetings, birthdays, family get-togethers and so on. Lists are useful too. Have a “Things I must do today” list and also one for the following week. Record everything from cleaning the bathroom to servicing the car to writing that important report for work. Cross things off as you achieve them, this will give you a feeling of control.

* Be ruthless and avoid cluttering up your home and life. Sort through the post you receive each day and throw out anything unimportant. Telephone that friend you promised or write that letter.

* Delegate. If much of your time is being eaten up by performing endless tasks ask for help. See if your work colleagues, partner, children, family and friends would be willing to lend a hand. Whether it’s household chores, looking after the children or doing more in the office - learn to shift some of the responsibility onto other people’s shoulders.

* Teach your children to do more for themselves. Stop waiting on them hands and foot and let the older ones do their own ironing, get their school lunches and help clean the house. It won’t just ease the burden on you, it will also teach them to be responsible.

* Break tasks into segments. If the task facing you is a big one, break it into parts - it will be easier to manage that way. Always try to finish a job, valuable time is lost picking up the threads of yesterday’s unfinished work

* Work rapidly. Once you have set yourself something to do work rapidly and intensively so that you will finish it in a set time

* Set goals. Setting targets for each day, week or month will help you organise your time more efficiently. Goals will give you a sense of direction and help keep you alert and focused. They are especially useful in carrying you over dull and tedious patches. The best goal is accompanied by a mental picture in which you visualise yourself confidently achieving what you want. Goals need not be elaborate, they could be as simple as reading more, getting regular exercise or devoting more time to yourself

* Make good use of your leisure. Leisure periods are important to help us unwind. Their value is greatest if you can direct your full attention to whatever you are doing during your free time. Try to shift your attention right off work/study/family commitments and focus it on something altogether different for this period. If you are having a 15 minute coffee break do not ruin it by worrying about the state of your house, the fact your car is on its last legs or that you have not got around to paying all your bills. Try to banish all worry/negative thoughts from your mind and concentrate on relaxing, enjoying a television programme or reading a good book.

* Know when to stop. Know the difference between boredom and tiredness. If you have worked hard all day and feel weary, leave further work until tomorrow. You will achieve little if you are in a fatigued, defeated frame of mind.

* Make lists. Writing down the tasks you’ve got to do will help focus your mind and ensure you remember to do them! Aim to draw up a list every morning or evening. Make sure you are specific, write out exactly what you have to do. Then break down your tasks into small steps. Is it possible to complete them during the day? If not, you could make out a more realistic day-to-day list or else make two, a short term and longer term one

* Do not put off doing important things. Many of us are guilty of procrastination and find ways of avoiding jobs we find demanding. It is better to get stuck in and get them out of the way.

* Get up earlier. This will give you time to spare lest things go wrong or take longer to do than anticipated

* Ensure you set aside some free time during the day. Then if something unexpected occurs you will be able to handle it

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