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What feels better than a day in which all your to-do’s are crossed off the list?
The rare experience of “getting it all done” is empowering, thrilling, and deeply satisfying on all levels. But for every day we master time, we undoubtedly log twice as many feeling the pressure of deadlines, standing commitments, confused priorities and distractions.
How you spend your time depends entirely on how you relate to it on a personal and philosophical level. And, particularly for freelancers, how you spend your time often determines how much you earn and how you value your work.
You may not know it yet, but the theories and misconceptions you have about time show up in your days like sand traps, sucking your time and keeping you stuck, frustrated and unproductive. Listen to the following examples of some common time management misconceptions and see if you can’t spot your own version:
Time Management Trap #1: "This will only take a minute."
We sit down to write an email, or pay a bill, or sort through the mail, and suddenly an hour and a half has gone by. Why do we persist in misjudging how long something will take?
Try This Instead: Set a timer for everything you plan to do, and stop when the timer goes off (think "pencils down" in an exam). Get used to working within the truth about what can get done in, say, a 30 minute increment. If you stick to this, very quickly you will learn how to plan and set expectations realistically.
As a bonus, you will become more efficient and focused, because deadlines just have a way of making that happen, no matter what! As an added bonus, your confidence will increase because you will impress yourself by how much you can get done when you set your mind to it.
Time Management Trap # 2: "I have to say yes."
Another big mistake we make with time is thinking we have to say "yes" to others. Take a minute and think of all the interruptions you had today where other people asked you to do something and you replaced your priorities in order to please them.
Here’s a fact: these sacrifices eventually catch up to you in one way or another. Saying “yes” to everything is insincere, unsustainable and unhealthy, and does more than just waste your time.
**Try This Instead: **Schedule your day purposefully. Start with the most important things: sleep, meals, exercise, your most important work or family objectives, and then fill in the rest. Make sure everything important to you is in your daily plan and has a time slot in your calendar.
Is there time left over? If so, then you can say yes to other people's requests. This way, if you choose to forgo something in honor of something else, you make a conscious decision in favor of something you believe to be more important - like an unexpected surprise guest or a golden opportunity.
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Time Management Trap # 3: "If I structure too much, I'll lose my spontaneity."
You might be thinking that precise planning sounds tedious, limiting, and intimidating. That's NOT TRUE, but you won't know this until you try. The truth is this: when you have a plan, you feel relaxed; when you don’t have a plan, you feel overwhelmed.
The best part is that you can actually plan for spontaneity too. You'll feel a lot freer and happier when it's "go with the flow" time because you know you're not avoiding or jeopardizing something important. My personal day plan often includes “1 hour for putzing around the house doing random activities”. Since it’s on the schedule, I know I won’t be doing it during a time when I should be working, exercising, or spending time with my kids.
There isn't a cookie cutter answer for how much pre-planning you need. That's the artistic and creative part of dealing with your relationship to time: you get to experiment and see.
Try This Instead: For just two weeks: schedule your day entirely, hour by hour, and include “unplanned time” in your schedule. After each day, debrief what worked and didn't work and what structures you want to keep. *Tip: You'll have to schedule the assessment time.
Don’t give up! You have to try this for the full 2 weeks to really find your balance.
Time is everything. All the little choices you make about how to spend your time add up to the kind of life you have and how you feel about it, every day. Your relationship to time, then, is one of your most important relationships, and should therefore be nurtured, respected, and cherished like any other important relationship in your life.
Share your time managment tips with other freelancers in the How do you plan your day? Hive!
Laurie Gerber, Co-president, Handel Group®
We're teaching a Mastering Time Workshop later this month at the Centre for Social Innovation in NYC on this exact subject - come join our our growing community and get inspired! Not local to New York? Sign up for our free Mastering Time Tele-Talk, call in from anywhere in the world, and learn how to design and nurture a relationship with time that makes you proud, gets you more productive, and most importantly, gives you an incredibly gratifying peace of mind.