There's a reason I cannot seem to get my blog finished in breathable time -- inevitably I back myself into an adrenalized writing frenzy to finish before deadline -- but this happens mostly during the summer.
Summer stresses me out -- in a good way, if that's possible -- because it offers too much of a good thing. Like no other season, I am taxed in summer, trying to fit in all the things I love to do. A personal negotiation unfolds throughout the 17 hours of awake time as I attempt to carve out the space to do what I love best. The problem is I love to do a lot of stuff.
I decided to address my inability to get my daily writing and editing done in a timely manner by becoming "the observer" of my own time management skills. So, the other morning I did a personal assessment to get a baseline of what I was actually doing with my 6 a.m. to noon (morning time) with the hope of improving my productivity without increasing my stress.
At the end of the morning's assessment, my self-diagnosed conclusion was I am suffering from seasonal ADD -- ok fine, it may occur year round, but it's really noticeable this time of year. Here's what the morning looked like:
I woke at 6 a.m. knowing I had a blog to write, three stories to edit and a minimum of 15 emails to return. I wanted to finish all of these by noon and I figured it would take me about three hours to get them done. That meant I had six hours to do three hours of work -- should be no problem. NOT!
At 6 a.m. my husband and I gear up for our 25-mile training bike ride before breakfast and worsening traffic, as we are training for our annual fundraising event for Dana Farber Cancer Center (the Pan Mass Challenge). Since this is my 28th year riding the PMC and his 8th year, we are not stressed about training for the 194 -mile two-day ride, but we know we have to do it.
By 6:30 we are caffeinated, water bottles are filled, doggie is fed and walked and off we go. By 8 a.m. we return sweaty and invigorated and the pedaling time has helped me frame out what I am going to write. How perfect! I now have four hours before noon -- no problem. NOT! This is where the trouble really begins.
As I pull up the driveway, I am already thinking about a leisurely outdoor shower where I can space out and let my mind wander at will. That's where I'm headed -- but, as I pass my garden, I spot some weeds peeking through and notice buds that need pinching on the basil -- so I spend a little time to pick and weed and notice a new bean and a pea pod that needs eating and... I find myself lost in the process. What seems like minutes later, still sweaty and dirty in my biking clothes, I crawl out of the garden, head to the kitchen to put my fresh greens in the sink and am met by last night's coffee cups and dessert plates, all the stuff that didn't fit in the dishwasher. So, I start to wash the dishes -- but there's no room in the dishwasher because I need to empty it.
My blood sugar is starting to feel a little low and I know I better make some breakfast before the shower because I shouldn't wait much longer -- I'm a tad light headed. I spy my new Vitamix and decide to create a morning concoction of fresh-picked kale, berries and some yogurt -- Yum. I am mesmerized by the color that emerges as all the ingredients blend and I proudly pour my morning smoothie into a lovely wine glass. That makes it all feel so special -- and I am truly grateful to be drinking this incredibly healthy mix.
My husband walks into the kitchen, showered and ready for breakfast with the New York Times in hand. (How did he do that already?) He begins to share this amazing editorial about Paula Deen by Frank Bruni, titled, "Paula's Worst Ingredients." OMG, this is a fantastic piece (if you haven't read it you must).
We are deep in conversation about Paula and how the press, her sponsors and a reflective public have finally busted her -- and we begin to speculate as to how her artery-clogging recipes could have become so popular. What seems like minutes later, I am washing my smoothie glass and excusing myself to go up and take a shower -- just then the phone rings. It's my son who is on his way to work. I haven't spoken to him in days and I am thrilled to hear about the first few days of his new job. We talk for too short a time but it feels great to be walking to work with him.
Glancing at my watch, I am shocked -- it is 9:15 and I am still an un-showered, sweaty and dirty mess. UGH. I quickly head to the outdoor shower and within moments I enter a dreamy blissful state with the warm water pounding and the mist of the morning air surrounding me. I decide not to rush this special moment and I stay for what seems like just a few minutes until I notice the skin on my fingertips is beginning to get wrinkly. Ok -- time to move on.
Once out of the shower I assure myself it will take just a sec to get dressed. I know what I want to wear and begin to look for my workout clothes. Not in the drawer! Rats! I forgot to take them out of the dryer last night. Downstairs I go to the laundry room and see a pile of unfolded t-shirts and socks that need matching -- No problem -- just a sec and I'll finish this one little chore. I grab my workout clothes from the dryer and race up to the room with the folded laundry to finish dressing. I have made a pact to always put sunblock on after my shower so I begin the lathering process, just takes a sec, followed by a quick wipe down of the sink area. Everything looks tidy and I am pleased to be leaving my bedroom and bath orderly.
My computer beckons me and I finally sit down to work. I am aghast at the time. The shower and a few quick extras have taken me into the next hour and it's now 10:30. WHAT! No problem, I'll just return a few of the emails and get immediately to the writing. I have 90 minutes to do three hours of work -- this can be done! Perhaps. My cell phone sits next to my computer and I spy a text from my sister who I haven't spoken to in a few days. She works full time in the school system and this is her first day off work -- I will finally be able to reach her -- we have been having a hard time connecting. It will just take a minute. We have a wonderful talk and just a few short minutes into the call, I explain that I have a deadline (albeit, self-imposed) -- I really have to say goodbye.
Back at my computer I realize it's now 11:00! I regret nothing -- what a great morning I have had. However, my heart is racing as I plow through a few emails trying not to rush my responses and give time to flesh out my thoughts. I start to negotiate with myself -- what's next for today? I have a group Skype with my magazine team -- that will take three hours -- I have to return a few calls -- When am I writing this blog?!
Case study closed.
Takeaways and lessons learned:What would I do differently? Probably nothing but here's some options:
- Get an office to create more structure and less distraction. (No!)
- Become satisfied with a messy kitchen, unfolded laundry and an un-weeded garden. (No!)
- Wake up earlier. (Maybe.)
- Tell my husband we can talk later. (NO and NO.)
- Don't answer my phone or texts from family. (NO and NO.)
And on that note... I realize I left the groceries in the car -- Got to go.
P.S. This blog was completed at 2 a.m.
When it comes to email, voicemail, or paperwork, take instant action -- i.e., read, answer, delete, file -- so you don't have to come back to it. The accumulated time saved can add up to ten hours a month, says Jana Kemp, a Boise, Idaho, "time architect" and the author of No! How One Simple Word Can Transform Your Life.
Depressing reports can distract you from efficiently accomplishing your a.m. routine -- getting ready for work, feeding the kids, mentally preparing for a good day, says Los Angeles lifestyle coach Ruth Klein. If you really want to watch "Good Morning America," TiVo it.
Don't go to the doctor without taking something to do -- work papers to read, stamped notecards to catch up on correspondence -- advises Laura Stack, author of Find More Time. Bring a book or magazine to the bank; pay bills while on hold with a credit card company.
Arrange a carpool for your child's ballet class or soccer practice, Stack suggests (that way, you'll cut driving time by at least half). Wear a wireless headset so you can water plants or pick up toys as you talk on the phone. And, whether you're cooking chili or baking cookies, make a double batch, freezing what you don't use.
Every minute spent waffling can slow down your ability to take action, says Kemp. For example, rather than spending six hours researching the best round-trip airfare deal -- only to save $25 in the end -- give yourself 45 minutes to comparison price shop, then make a decision.
Aiming for "dirt removal" versus "perfectly spotless" can free up a lot of time. "In my house, I wipe down the stall after showering instead of doing a big thorough scrub every week," says Stack. "Consider washable throw rugs rather than carpets that need constant steam-cleaning, and change the heating and cooling system filters quarterly to cut down on dust."
Constantly cycling through a to-do list in your mind hinders productivity and creativity, says Klein. Carry a pad or BlackBerry and jot down what's got to get done, clearing your mind so you can come up with work solutions and new ideas more quickly.
Pinpoint the time of day when you are at your freshest, and remove all distractions, says Klein: For example, route all calls to voicemail and avoid your email in-box. You'll be much more productive.
According to the latest American Time Use Survey by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2005 the average U.S. citizen watched 2.6 hours of television a day. "Reducing your television-watching time by five hours a week adds up to 11 extra days a year," says Stack, who also suggests setting a timer (no more than 60 minutes) for Internet surfing.
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