You have a growing family that constantly requires your care and attention, a sprawling home to look after, a demanding career and a thriving social life. With every passing day, you bear greater resemblance to the dexterous juggler from circus. The gentle balance you bring to your life helps keep all the myriad balls in the air, but you are increasingly aware that with one wrong move, it could come crashing around you. Interestingly enough, the greatest challenge that twenty-first century life poses is that of time management. With boundaries that mark out the traditional roles and responsibilities between men and women blurring, the economic arena getting tougher and the need to excel in all spheres becoming a crucial survival skill, never before has time management become such an urgent priority.
Sometimes simple lifestyle changes can save us precious moments that add up and contribute towards greater productivity. Here are a few tips that will help you maximise your day.
Follow the adage - a place for everything and everything in its place. Not only does an organised home look neater and more presentable, you'll also waste less time searching for what you need on a daily basis. In order to organise effectively, you'll need to make a few changes. Purchase a set of transparent plastic containers to hold miscellaneous objects like stationary, pencils, paperclips and even random household articles such as dusters, shoe polish and old rags. You'll find that these are easy to stack and effortless to locate when you're in a hurry. Place footwear in closed see-through pouches that you can hang in closets. Sort your clothes according to frequency of use. Put the outfits you wear to work, casual wear and formal wear in separate piles in your closet. Stack accessories in transparent boxes and colour co-ordinate these as much as possible [for instance, place all sapphire jewellery in one box, ruby ornaments in another and pearl accessories, cufflinks in separate cases]. Organise your belts and brooches in the same way, so that you'll find it easy to accessorise, even while on the move if necessary.
Planning out the details of your day beforehand is an excellent timesaver. For instance, lay out the clothes that you will need, the night before. Assemble meals in advance, so you won't have to eat on the run. For instance, use spare time on weekends to chop vegetables and onions. These can be refrigerated in Ziploc bags, thereby halving the preparation time for meals. If you have an important meeting the next day, ensure that your cell phone is fully charged so that office personnel can reach you at all times.
Also, make sure that all your papers, files and documents required for the presentation are up-to-date and neatly stacked in your briefcase. Keeping your attention focussed on small details can pay off in a big way, by ensuring that you are relaxed and able to concentrate on the issues that truly count.
Make to-do lists
From jotting down shopping provisions to recording personal goals for the year, to-do lists are a handy tool for effective time management. Apart from the satisfaction you get when you cross out items that you've accomplished, a list will also give you the luxury of viewing the whole picture. You will be able to understand exactly what is required of you and set about achieving it at a faster pace. Get into the habit of carrying a small spiral bound notebook with you wherever you go. It will help you improve your efficiency quotient, saving you precious time and energy.
Divide your tasks and your day into half-hour blocks
Does any single task look formidable to you? Instead of brooding over the bigger, more daunting picture, learn to divide your day into half- hour chunks and spread the chore over evenly, so that it doesn't seem so intimidating anymore. That, management gurus say, is the secret to getting things done faster. "My boss asked me to re-work the entire filing system for the office. The request came out-of-the-blue and I felt a little overwhelmed, because I was sure it would take weeks," confesses Sudha Krishnan, 44, a secretary working at a leading multinational company in Bangalore. Instead of feeling crushed or defeated, Sudha decided to tackle the task in smaller chunks rather than to approach it all at once, a strategy that helped her successfully complete it in less than half the time. "It was also a more methodical approach that helped me understand the job better," she says. "I first sorted out every file, colour-coded it along the parameters of priority and date, then I arranged it in order in bigger filing cabinets, labelling it to make access easier. I took two hours each day, but was able to complete it all in just four days as opposed to the two weeks that was my initial estimate."
Create a fuller life
The key to effective time management is, to ensure that you have time for everything that matters in your life. Start with a fresh calendar every month. Schedule in all the occasions that are important to you emotionally, such as family get-togethers, parties with friends and even a lunch or dinner dates with your kids. Next record the commitments that you are obligated to attend, such as company fund-raisers, out-of-town conferences and important meetings. Find time for leisure as well and pencil in a golf or bowling session or even time to watch the IPL if you're a hard core cricket fan. Try and set aside time every month to discover a new activity, preferably something you've never attempted before. It doesn't have to be too adventurous or strenuous either - attend a stamp convention, a book lover's workshop, a calligraphy class or a music class. Then for the month ahead, follow your schedule as if it was a page from the Bible and you'll see for yourself how enriching and fulfilling your life can be.
"It's an error to look to one area of your life to provide all your satisfaction and meaning", says Dr Nichols, clinical psychologist and author of numerous self-help books. "You don't need just a hobby. You need a hobby, friends, career and relationships. If your only happiness in life comes from running long distances, you're going to be in big trouble if you get an injury."
Time management is an art that will allow you to clearly pigeon-hole the different events and activities that will make your life deeply meaningful. It will also enable you to get ahead in your chosen career and to improve your efficiency in all aspects of your life, leading to inner satisfaction that lasts long.
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