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  • 11/17/2008

Make More Time for Yourself: Part 2



Step 1: See What You Can Give Up


What distractions can I limit, if not eliminate?


Shut the door. Seriously. If you have work to do, make it clear to your assistant/colleagues/kids/spouse that you need to be left alone.

 A 2004 study found that office workers are interrupted, on average, every three minutes. The study’s researchers also found that it takes about 23 minutes for people to get back to the task they were taken away from. If you don’t have a door to close, put a sign on the back of your chair that says, please do not disturb. (Dorky? Sure. But it works — we’ve tried it.)


•  At work, resist the urge to check your e-mail 500 times a day (or however often you usually do). For a truly rewarding challenge, time-management expert Timothy Ferriss recommends checking only twice a day — at noon and at 4 p.m. “I’ve found those are the times when you’re most likely to have responses to your previously sent e-mails,” he says. And make liberal use of the auto-respond feature: When you’re swamped, direct e-mailers to an assistant or, with his or her permission, a colleague.


•  As for TV, watch a show you love, then turn off the set. The average American spends 2.4 hours a day in front of the tube, but that investment yields sparse rewards. “

We found that watching TV doesn’t make people nearly as happy as activities that really engage them, like playing tennis, taking a walk, and sharing a meal with their family,” says David Schkade, a psychologist and a professor of management at the University of California, San Diego

Step 3: Reschedule Your Schedule

Now that you’ve freed up precious minutes (hopefully lots of them!), it’s time to reshape your days. “Overwhelmed? Take the helm,” says productivity expert David Allen. In other words, decide how you want to spend your energy.


Establish one or two “nonnegotiables” and work your schedule around them:

 For example, eight hours of sleep a night, two hours of exercise a week, or one night out a week for fun, suggests Valorie Burton, a life coach in Annapolis, Maryland, and the author of How Did I Get So Busy?. “You have control here,” she says. “You just have to take it.”


Create your new daily to-do list on a three-by-five-inch index card:

 “The card forces you to focus on what’s important,” says time-management expert Timothy Ferriss

 (If you prefer to think in weeks, fill out five cards.) Write down only what you can realistically accomplish in a day — three to five items is a doable amount. Then consult your wish list and make sure at least one item from the top of the list is part of your weekly plan. Yes, that means writing in “30 minutes on the hammock with my novel.”


Schedule a quick and brainless task first:.

This will allow you to cross something off your list right away and to start the day feeling accomplished.


Schedule your most onerous task second:

 Whether it’s a difficult conversation with a friend or a tedious e-mail to a colleague, plan to get it over with next. “If you have to eat a frog,” professor Randy Pausch cracks, “it’s best not to look at it too long before you do.”


Challenge the list:

 After you’ve finished writing it, try to cross something off.

“Sometimes all it takes to keep your sanity is to drop just one thing,” says Burton.

 If you’re still having trouble, ask yourself: “What item here least reflects what matters most to me?”

Have a reality check every Friday to reassess. Gina Trapani, editor of Lifehacker.com, a website dedicated to time-saving technology tips, is a huge fan of this approach. On Friday afternoons, she sets aside a half hour to go through what she accomplished, both personally and professionally, and to map out the next week. (Even a five-minute version of her ritual can do the trick.) “This helps me remember my priorities,” says Trapani. This also reminds her that it’s impossible to do everything. “When you’re realistic about how much you can do in a day,” she says, “you’re so much happier.” And isn’t that the point?


Tools to Keep You on Track

house work

If only it were sunshine and lollipops from here on out. But let’s face it: Your new-and-improved schedule is going to be under siege — attacked by everything from big projects to good old procrastination. (After all, six out of 10 women surveyed by Real Simple confessed that procrastination was a major culprit.) To ensure that you don’t get derailed, try these tips:


•  Do just a dash of whatever it is you’re avoiding. “Force yourself to work on the task for a short period of time — perhaps as little as one minute,” says Merlin Mann, creator of 43folders.com, a time-management blog. “When you realize how much of the anxiety was created in your head, you’ll give yourself the jolt needed to follow it through.”

•  Post a procrastination-busting Post-it. Time-management expert Timothy Ferriss suggests writing on it: “Are you inventing things to do to avoid what’s important?” Then stick it wherever you’ll see it regularly, like on your computer.


•  Break projects into pieces. The optimal amount of time to spend on a task is 40 to 90 minutes. After that, take a break to recharge, says psychologist Neil Fiore. And keep in mind that work expands to fill the time available for its completion. When you give yourself incremental deadlines, you’re more likely to get things done quickly.


•  Take rest seriously. This eight-hour goal is no joke. Not only will you feel better but you’ll also be more efficient. “When people are scattered, they perceive that they don’t have enough time,” life coach Valorie Burton says.

“Sleep deprivation only makes the problem worse.”

•  Don’t worry, be happy. One parting word of encouragement: According to a recent Real Simple/GfK Roper happiness study, 65 percent of women who say they’re “very happy” make time for themselves. (Only 39 percent of women who are “somewhat happy” do so.) So which comes first, the time or the happiness? Impossible to say. But the odds are good that the more time you make for yourself, the happier you’ll be.

Other Links:

Make More Time for Yourself: Part 1

Walk to Curb Chocolate Cravings

The Two-Week Stress-Less Plan

9 Things You Can Do to Be Happy in the Next 30 Minutes


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