01 July 2015

Own your time, own your life

Do you feel like a hamster on a wheel, running as fast as you can but going nowhere? Take back control of your life with these simple steps.

If you feel as if there are never enough hours in the day to get everything done, it’s time to take a step back and assess how you can better manage your time. A few simple changes could make a world of difference – freeing up your time to do more of the things you really enjoy.

Read: Wasting time and money

Apply these practical time-management tips to get your life back on track:

1. Get a diary

You would be amazed at the difference the use of a diary can make. By diarising your meetings and deadlines, you can keep tabs on your daily commitments and prepare accordingly – no more nasty, last-minute surprises.  

If paper is too last-century for you, there are plenty of cool calendar and daily planner apps for your smartphone and PC that will help streamline your day by setting up events, saving to-do lists and sending you timeous reminders so that you’ll never be late again.

2. Prioritise your tasks

If you feel overwhelmed by your to-do list, take a deep breath and decide which of the tasks at hand are most important: what needs to be done today, and what can wait until tomorrow? 

"Prioritising tasks goes hand-in-hand with optimising time," says South African certified life coach Sharon Moeller. "Have an honest look at how you’re spending your time (or wasting it). By clarifying what’s important to you, your priorities become clearer. Be proactive by working out a strategy, and stick to it, rather than just letting your day take its own course."

Read: What’s your favourite way to waste time at work?

Schedule time for your top priorities first – and make sure there’s a beginning and end time, to help structure your day. Be realistic, though, about how much time you need to complete a task. If you allow yourself too little time, you’ll feel overwhelmed and become unproductive. An end time is just as important to prevent your work from dragging on and eating into time reserved for other activities.  

"It’s also important to differentiate between what’s urgent and what’s important," says South African registered psychologist and life coach Mark Connelly. "We need to move away from focusing on the urgent things that constantly need to be done, and spend more time working on important activities. These are activities that are important to your values and goals, but that aren’t necessarily urgent," he explains.

3. Silence all distractions

Too many distractions will break your concentration and steal precious minutes during the day.

Switch off all technology that’s not essential to your task (that includes logging off social media platforms, switching off the radio and TV, and putting your calls on hold).

Condition yourself in such a way that you don't have to respond immediately to every phone call, text message and email that pops up. If it’s not essential to your task at hand, you can respond later. 

4. Don't procrastinate

We all procrastinate from time to time. Sometimes it's because the task at hand is just plain boring, but often the reason runs deeper and is based on fear – a fear of failure, people's opinions or making a decision that could be wrong.

Procrastination drains your energy and mental strength. The longer you postpone something, the more anxious and miserable you become. "There's nothing so fatiguing as an uncompleted task," American philosopher William James once said.

Read: You can beat procrastination

According to Moeller, procrastination is strongly linked to motivation – or a lack thereof. "If you want to achieve something, clearly visualise that goal and formulate a plan of action. Decide how important this goal is to you, make it a priority, and increase your motivation by reminding yourself often of all the reasons why you need to keep going."

Adds Connelly: "Make a decision on getting the worst, most boring and most frustrating activities done first. Once they’re out of the way, you can focus on all the pleasant activities for the rest of the day. It’s basic time management with some emotional intelligence thrown in as well."

He also suggests that you promise yourself a reward or imagine how you would feel once the job is done. "It's also useful to break down large tasks that seem insurmountable into smaller bits that are easier to manage and which give you a sense of completion and movement towards the final outcome." 

5. Learn to delegate

Even though we would like to believe differently, we’re not super-beings and at times might need help. Asking someone to help with some smaller tasks can make a big difference to your day and help keep your focus on the more important activities at hand.

Delegating goes hand-in-hand with the ability to say "no" to tasks that aren’t directly related to your core duties of the day. Trying to cram too many things into one day will divide your attention and lead to unproductiveness. Don't overcommit yourself. If you really don't have time to do something, say so politely and don't allow yourself to feel guilty.

Read: Learn to say no

"Time is the scarcest resource and unless it’s managed, nothing else can be managed," acclaimed US management consultant and educator Peter F. Drucker is famously quoted as saying.  

Start streamlining your life by becoming more organised, prioritising what's really important and establishing healthy boundaries. If you can own your time, you can own your life.

Read more:

Clutter damages time management

Cope with stress and boost your health

9 items for your worry list


Ask the coach, by Tammy Holyfield (WestBow Press, 2014)

Image: In a hurry from Shutterstock


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