Managing Time for Personal Effectiveness: Achieving Goals with Less Stress

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Betty C. Carlson, EdD

As we begin the last year of the 90s, many of us have promised ourselves "this year I am going to stay on top of things and not fall behind like I always do, this year I am going to accomplish something, this year to "do better", with hoped for outcomes such as higher productivity, reduced stress levels, and more positive relationships with colleagues, coworkers, and family members. This is a good start; saying we're going to do better is the first important step - verbalizing intent is necessary for change to take place. However, saying we are going to change is only the beginning. Self-talk is not the same as action - and action is what is necessary to move from intent to implementation. Most of us do want to be more effective and efficient in our use of time. We want to be more organized, more accomplished, and feel better about how we manage time, one of our most precious resources. We want to move away from missed deadlines, late nights trying to finish things we have procrastinated about for months, lost opportunities, and strained relationships with people we care about. Instead, we want to move towards outcomes that are life enhancing and result in lowered stress: achievement of valued personal and professional goals, an improved self-image, and positive relationships with colleagues, family members, and friends. The good news is that acquiring time management skills and putting them into practice can be learned.

The following steps for effective time management can provide a guide for putting your intentions into action, lowering your stress, and helping you achieve your goals.

1. Identify your personal and work-related priorities.

This is a key step in the process. Think carefully about outcomes that are important to you. Write them down, being as specific as possible. Specify exactly what you want to accomplish and by when. If you have multiple priorities in the same area (personal or professional), try to select only one or two initially, or try to rank them as to importance. Trying to work on too many at the same time will increase, rather than lower, your stress level.

2.Translate your priorities into concrete goals, with component activities.

Break each goal into its component activities; identify what steps are needed to achieve the goal. Identify the requirements and resources you need related to each activity step. This helps you organize for success and have what you need to move forward towards goal attainment. Pinpointing resources is especially important if accomplishment of your goal requires the cooperation or assistance of other people.

3.Identify deadlines/intermediary time frames related to each activity step and goal attainment.

These could include deadlines for personal goals (sign up for an exercise class by March 1) or work-related goals such as report deadlines (gather needed data to complete quarterly report by March 30). Write these activities and their individual deadlines on your calendar; scheduling them gives you a direction and affirms your commitment to carry them through, step by step. If you need access to libraries, media/computing centers, or other resources, find out their availability before you need them. Plan time in your own schedule to access these resources in advance; don't wait until the day before a deadline occurs.

4.Consider your monthly calendar or planning notebook a timesaving device.

Keep it with you and use it to schedule important activities, due dates, deadlines, and appointments. Consistent use of your calendar will provide you with a visual reminder and help you keep track of your commitments. Periodically review your calendar to assess your progress in accomplishing the steps to your goals. Highlight important dates with a marker; this will keep them visible and can serve as a colorful reminder of your planned steps towards goal attainment.

5.Learn to say "No" to opportunities and requests that take your time and don't move you forward towards goal attainment.

To the extent feasible, saying "no" is an important safeguard of your time. Doing so with courtesy and conviction will make it easier to say "yes" at a later date and simultaneously affirm your commitment to yourself to follow through on your scheduled activities.

6. Identify your own barriers to effective use of time.

If you find you tend to procrastinate (join the human race!), overbook yourself, or "forget" to use a planner or calendar, do some thinking about why. Discovering the motivation for your resistance to time management may assist in understanding your behavior, or lack of it. Is the task to be done boring? Do you really want to do it? Do you feel "too controlled" by the use of a calendar or planner? Reflecting on your own thoughts and feelings about using time may help identify areas you may want to explore further, especially if you aren't satisfied with your achievement of personal or professional goals.

7. Strive for a balance between "doing" and "being."

Remember to plan some "fun time" in your schedule. With better time management strategies, you can be more productive, experience improved relationships, and enjoy more "good times" with a minimum of anxiety and stress. Doing "more" is not the ultimate goal of effective time management. More is not necessarily better, and cramming your schedule full of "to do" items doesn't necessarily lead to higher life satisfaction. Effective time management is a tool to assist you to achieve meaningful life outcomes, not merely "more" outcomes. Use the steps presented here as a guide to your own journey of meaningful accomplishment. Good luck!

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