This admonition – Failing to plan is planning to fail – is attributed to both Alan Lakein, the writer of several self-help books on time management in the 1970s, and before that to Winston Churchill.
With all the urgency and demands of the holiday season bearing down on everyone, a plan to use your time efficiently has never been more necessary to accomplish your goals but more importantly, to preserve your wellbeing and basic sanity.
How is one to juggle the list – from assisting Santa, feeding the reindeer, gathering and preparing the food – the tasks are endless. Oh, and is this also a work week for you?
Most folks would probably agree that planning and managing your time sounds fairly obvious, but how do you actually put it into practice as an ongoing survival habit so that you rule your time and not vice versa?
- Keep notes, reminders (and backups) to stay organized: The answer for me for scheduling important tasks, deliverables, appointments, etc. is lists, iPhone notes, calendars – and keeping them updated. Use your smartphone or an old fashioned legal pad, whatever works better. Or, mix it up for variety. I love Dragon Dictation to send frequent reminders to myself as I think of things at various places.
- Create a “time safety net”: Always build in a safety net of time for bigger projects/deadlines. Expect the unexpected monkey wrench to factor in – and don’t be surprised when it does. If you wait to do something the day before it’s due, you are guaranteeing that something will upset your apple cart. You may miss the deadline – or drive yourself/and others crazy in the frenzy to make it. (And is deadline work your best product?) Any number of “no-fault-of-your- own” scenarios will inevitably pop up to short circuit meeting your deadline: illness; fender bender; your computer eats your document; family emergency, etc. Give yourself a breather and complete things the day before – or several days before – the final deadline. If you say, that’s impossible, look around. How do the most successful people find a way to do this?
- Establish life balance rules and boundaries: Don’t say yes to everything: professionally or personally. Determine first what you can handle and how this project/responsibility fits into your overall picture. If it looks like taking this on will result in sinking the boat, consider other options. Sometimes you simply need to say no; sometimes you can work through something with your boss to adjust deadlines or find an alternate solution.
- Delegate more effectively: Remember that you can delegate up or down the chain of command. When your plate is overflowing, try to first prioritize your responsibilities. Once you determine what’s most important and what you can realistically accomplish, look at what tasks can be reassigned to those above or below you. Going to your boss with suggestions for a plan of action will be so much more appreciated than dropping the ball.
- Focus and limit distractions: Block out chunks of time on your schedule for big projects. During that time, close your door, don’t continuously check email and turn off your phone.
- Please share what your best trick is for staying on course!
And now for the supreme irony! I totally missed the deadline for this blog post – yesterday – which got me thinking about the whole challenge of staying on top of things. Yikes, how did this slip through the cracks and never even make it onto my calendar, lists, etc.!?
Note to self: please read the above… again!