By Kelsey Casselbury 2016-11-04 03:47:39
Improvement begins with “I” The Race Against Time » Where does the time go? If you lack solid time management skills, you might be asking this question a little too frequently. You write little reminders on Post-its and add tasks to your to-do list. You flag your emails to follow up with the sender later. You set deadlines with every intention of finishing the project in time. By all accounts, you’re an organized person who shouldn’t have any problem managing your time and, yet... those sticky notes disappear under a pile of other VIPs (very important papers!), and the to-do list stretches to impossible lengths. The flagged emails get buried under other emails, and that deadline? Well, it made a funny sound as it went whizzing by. It doesn’t matter if you work in an office or a prep kitchen. The lack of time—or a perceived lack of time—is a genuine source of stress. Although everyone has 24 hours in their day, not everyone has the ability to manage those hours effectively. In fact, it’s a skill that, if it doesn’t come naturally, must be learned, practiced and perfected. Luckily, it happens to be a skill that publishing a monthly magazine requires, so School Nutrition has some tips for you to beef up your time management techniques. Where Does the Time Go? You can’t fix a problem if you don’t understand its scope. So, the first step to improving your time management abilities is to assess how you currently spend the hours of your day. Step One. At the start of the day, create a to-do list. Estimate a length of time for each task, based on your expectation and past experience. As the day goes along, don’t alter your behavior; simply complete the task as you normally would, but pay attention to how long it takes—especially if there are interruptions. Each time you complete a task, calculate and write down the length of time it actually took to get done. At the end of the day, review your list and analyze the discrepancy between your estimates and reality. See if you can pinpoint possible reasons. Were there unseen factors, such as unexpected interruptions? Or perhaps a task simply takes longer than you want it to take. You may want to repeat this step over the course of a week to get a good sense of the variety of tasks you set out to accomplish. Step Two. Throughout the next week, carry a notebook and record everything you do and the time it takes. If you spend 30 minutes chatting with your supervisor, write it down—as well as the topic of the conversation. If you spend 20 minutes looking up recipes to make for dinner at home, write it down—as well as if you came to a decision and then if you followed through on that decision. If you spend two hours watching TV after work, write it down—as well as what you watched and then if you enjoyed it. Once again, analyze the data. It will help you determine how you’re spending your time, and then decide if that time was productive. Was the conversation with the supervisor purposeful, or would it have been better served via a quick email? Did you spend time thinking about cooking dinner but end up ordering delivery instead? Did you meaninglessly flip from channel to channel, or did you watch two hours of must-see (for you) TV that engaged your interest and enjoyment? What’s the point of these exercises? Primarily, they offer a documented reality check! Are you underestimating the amount of time it takes to complete daily activities? Do you have unrealistic expectations? Are there areas where you could be more efficient if you just applied a little discipline? Is your day filled with “time thieves”? (More on these in a bit.) Look for ways that you can apply the data to make changes in both your day and your outlook. Plan and Prepare Now that you have identified some time management problem areas, how will you go about fixing them? One of the biggest time-wasters is a lack of planning. Although it’s admirable that you want to jump into your day with both feet, it’s more conducive to productivity to take 15 to 30 minutes to establish a plan for the day. Start by identifying and scheduling the most important tasks for your day, as well as any meetings or appointments. Next, add your secondary tasks—the ones that won’t be a problem if you find yourself distracted. Don’t forget to schedule meals, exercise and socializing! The Planning Fallacy Of course, if your self-assessment revealed trouble in planning accurately, you need to face the “planning fallacy.” You simply refuse to believe that a project or task will always take more time than you think it will. Most of us like to imagine a day completely in our control and free from distractions. We make our plans, taking into consideration how much work needs to be done, how much free time we have and the importance of the work, as well as how important it is to meet the deadline. But if you struggle with time management, you probably are not taking into consideration the fact that days are rarely completely in your control and free of distractions. You’ve failed to factor in the potential roadblocks—even when you know they exist! For example: Your child was sick last Monday, which meant you weren’t able to plan upcoming menus. It’s three days later, and your child is unlikely to be sick again, but you didn’t anticipate that this time, it’s your employee who is home sick, and you must fill in for their absence. Next, and worse, you get sick! Before you know it, it’s been a full week and your menu planning task is no further along than this time last week. To beat the planning fallacy, complete this simple exercise: • Estimate the amount of time it will take to complete your task—say, two hours. • Then double that time—four hours. • Finally, change your unit of time: Four days. That’s right, we’re saying that, in order to actually give yourself enough time to complete a “two-hour project,” you should plan to allot four days to counter any potential setbacks. Meet Your Time Thieves In addition to making improvements to your planning process, you likely need to address the time-wasters that undermine your time management efforts. It helps to recognize that you’re only hurting your own productivity if you let yourself fall prey to these. Let’s take a look at some common time thieves. 1) Social Media. This one’s a no-brainer. It’s not just following friends, celebrities and politics on Facebook and Twitter. You can easily lose time to Pinterest, Instagram, Snapchat or any other “social media suck.” 2) Smartphone/Computer Games. Are you still playing Candy Crush? How about old-school Solitaire? Sure, you say you’re going to play just “one game” or you’re going to play for only five minutes, simply to give yourself a quick break. Good luck with that. The basic draw of these games is that they’re addictive. You may have to go cold turkey. 3) YouTube. The web designers over at YouTube are smart—they set up the site so it automatically pulls related videos to suggest to you, which makes it super hard to resist. Next thing you know, you’re on your 15th video, and it’s been 45 minutes. 4) Online Shopping. Do we need to say more? Even online window shopping can steal your time for much longer than you expect. 5) Television. There’s nothing on and yet you channel surf. How often do you promise yourself to turn it off at the next commercial break or the top of the hour? Streaming and “binge-watching” a series is even worse, as the next episode starts almost before you can reach for the remote! At work, especially in office environments, common time thieves include disorganized files, emails/phone calls, unexpected visitors, chit-chat and meetings. With so many distractions, many of us feel our productive work doesn’t start until the end of the day when everyone else has left! Now, what can you do about these? Start by being honest—this is why recording your time for a few days can be so important. Are there some time-wasters that are more destructive to your personal productivity than others? Tackle these first. Brainstorm ways to get more disciplined with these triggers. Maybe you will have to go cold turkey—no more Candy Crush, period. Perhaps you don’t need to be that drastic—give yourself permission to set specific times of the day to play Candy Crush as a welcome break. Maybe you need to set a reminder alarm on your phone or empower a family member to nudge you when this break time is up. Find the strategies that work best for you, but try to create a habit. Remember, it takes multiple repetitions to establish an effective habit! Staying on Track According to a 2012 Time magazine article, nearly 50% of American employees say they work productively for only 15 minutes before becoming distracted. Avoiding distractions is helpful, but not always possible. What are some other ways you can stay focused in order to get your work done? • Eat a proper breakfast and lunch; one of the quickest distractors is hunger! • Do you work in an open office environment? Consider wearing headphones and let your immediate colleagues know that ear gears means you are trying to concentrate and request no interruption. • Turn off email, text, Facebook and other notifications, both on your phone and on your desktop. Schedule specific time to check these distractors. • If you can’t solve a problem or figure out how to complete a task, move on. The longer you sit idle, the more likely you’re going to get off track by something else. • If you find yourself unable to focus, get back on track by taking a short walk outside. It clears your mind and lets you get back into your workflow. Watch Out for Burnout Continually feeling like you never have time to complete your to-do list leads to cumulative stress, and you might start to feel the effects of burnout. This isn’t a made-up condition that affects overly dramatic people, but rather a legit medical disorder that has its own ICD-10 (International Classification of Diseases, 10th Edition) code: Z73.0-Burnout State of Vital Exhaustion. And it’s not just a problem at work; your personal life can lead to burnout, too. Burnout, obviously, makes you feel exhausted, both physically and emotionally. There are other symptoms, as well—you feel like every day is a bad day, and you’re wondering if you’re competent enough to do your job. You feel hopeless or like you have no control over your life or career. Your coworkers? Well, they’re a constant source of irritation. You might feel cynical and want to skip social obligations. Sleep could be elusive; physical symptoms such as heart palpitations or chest pain might show up (and these deserve a visit to the doctor). The first step is recognizing burnout symptoms for what they are. The second step is applying stress management techniques to regain control. Say no. You can do this. Say it with us: “No.” It feels good, doesn’t it? Of course, this isn’t really an option if it’s your boss asking you to do something, but you can say no to your friends asking you to meet them for happy hour, your coworkers asking you to take on a few of their tasks so they can leave early and your children asking if you can take them to the park later in the day. You might feel a little guilty, but you will never finish the tasks that are already on your to-do list if you keep adding more to it. Assess your interests. Even boredom can lead to time-management-induced burnout. Sit down and have a serious conversation with yourself about your to-do list priorities. Is it that important to fold the kids’ laundry? Are your standards for certain tasks at work above and beyond what’s expected—or needed? Tell someone. This is a two-parter—one, tell a friend, loved one or a professional how you’re feeling, so you can get a little support. Two, your time-management burnout may stem from unclear job expectations, dysfunctional workplace dynamics or having too much (or even too little) to do. Talk to your supervisor about how to rectify the situation—or look for another position. Here’s a final tip for dealing with time-management stress—and one that has other benefits, too! Get moving! Make an effort to get in your 10,000 steps or 30 minutes of exercise as many days each week as possible. Now that’s something to ensure you make time to do! TIP 1 Sometimes, it’s not about time management, but rather attention management. Research shows that when someone switches a task—say, going from writing a report to responding to an email—it can take two hours or longer to return to the original task. Lesson: Focus on one thing at a time. TIP 2 When’s your deadline? Aim to be done early, whether it’s a few days in advance or just a few hours. If your goal is to be on time—and, yet, you never seem to be on time—you’ll probably be late. However, if you set an early goal, you might not make that—but you’ll probably hit the actual deadline. TIP 3 Do one thing every day that you will thank yourself for tomorrow. If the dishes are piled up in the sink, do them tonight instead of pushing the chore off until the morning, when things may be hectic. You’ll be one step ahead of the game, have a smoother morning and you can give yourself a hearty “thanks!” for getting it done and out of the way. TIP 4 Batch similar tasks together. Instead of making dinner around 6 p.m. and then heading back to the kitchen at 8 p.m. to prep the next day’s breakfast and lunch for the family, do it all at the same time. After all, you’re already in the prep mindset, you have the kitchen tools out and then you only have to do dishes once. The Procrastinator’s Motto: TIP 5 Do it tomorrow Painted on the walls at Facebook’s headquarters, according to CEO Mark Zuckerberg, are the words, “Done is better than perfect.” Another old saying cautions, “Don’t let perfect be the enemy of the good.” Sometimes, the fear of getting it just right overcomes the desire to get the work done, so you procrastinate. The longer you put it off, the more insurmountable it seems to complete the task to its fullest potential. Stop! It’s often better to simply finish the task than to get it finished perfectly. Think of the work you’re doing now as a rough draft—it doesn’t have to be the finished version of the work, but a starting point that you can polish up later—or not. While we might be talking in writer’s terms here, this applies to even tasks such as cleaning or prepping. Just pick up 10 items or prep for 5 minutes—that’s your rough draft. You might be surprised to find that, once you get the ball rolling, it’s easier to transition into finishing the “final draft” of your work. BONUS WEB CONTENT The Race Against Time We may have had the time, but we didn’t have the room to fit all of the helpful hints for managing your time more effectively. Head online for this month’s web extras, which include a list of tech tools, reflections on the value of in-person office meetings and more time-ly tips for simple changes. Visit www.schoolnutrition.org/snmagazinebonus to access. Kelsey Casselbury is a freelance writer and a former managing editor of this publication. She is based in Odenton, Md.
Published by School Nutrition Association. View All Articles.
This page can be found at http://mydigimag.rrd.com/article/On+the+Grow/2631838/354828/article.html.