When I am overwhelmed with work and life, I want to jump in as quickly as possible and tackle things. Who has time to plan? Resist that temptation. Take a breath, and take the time to plan. Would you build a house without first drafting a plan? Of course not. Take the same approach to your day and your life. You actually save time when you make a good and thoughtful plan. And when you take five minutes to meditate before you plan, your planning will go more smoothly and efficiently. Meditation will clear your mind of the noise and allow you to breathe, slow down, and think.
How to Approach Your Time
1. Plan everything and put it on the calendar
Plan on a yearly, weekly, daily, and by project basis. Keep one calendar with everything on it — work deadlines and appointments, family obligations, and personal items (like exercise) — and sync it to all your devices.
My friend Vanessa Price, who is a solo attorney in Southaven, Mississippi, works about 50 hours a week. She is married to a lawyer and has two school-age children. For her, the only way she can manage work, life, and family is by sitting down every Sunday with her husband and kids to plan the week. “We lay out all items on the calendar: kids’ activities, soccer, baseball games, driving the kids, gym classes, work stuff, everything,” she says.
Like my friend, I put everything in my Google calendar, which I can access on all my devices (work laptop and phone, personal laptop and phone, and any other device with internet). I follow the calendar. This is especially important when it comes to exercising. I can always find a reason not to work out, but if I have my workout scheduled in the calendar, including the distance I plan to run or the time that my tennis clinic starts, then I’m much less likely to blow it off.
When things don’t go as planned, I recalibrate and review at the end of each day. Your calendar is your aspirational plan — the way you want the day to go if you could control everything. But not everything will go as planned, so remain flexible and readjust when things change.
As you organize your calendar, consider and include, if possible, the people in your support network who can help you. My ex-husband and I have a successful co-parenting relationship for our daughter in large part because we have a shared family calendar on Google. We may not be married, but we still need to operate as a family for the benefit of our daughter. Bring support people into your organizing, set up a shared calendar, and decrease the time needed to coordinate, remind, and follow up. You can even send a calendar invite to your support people, just in case they don’t review the calendar as often as needed.
2. “Chunk” your work into manageable timeframes and take breaks
It’s easier to keep your time organized and your efforts focused in smaller chunks of time, so schedule your work in 45- to 90-minute increments. Then take a break or switch to something else. If you must keep working, switch to a separate project or to a new task within the same project — for example, switching from writing to reviewing documents or responding to client email.
If you can, schedule in short breaks — go for a walk, do five minutes of stretching, or engage in a meditation mini-session. Also schedule in a longer break each day, if possible, where you can get some exercise for rejuvenation and return to work with increased focus.
3. Use your time creatively and multitask wisely
Schedule snippets of “extra” time. Early on a weekend morning before the family wakes up, or in the evening after everyone else goes to bed, can provide more time for work or personal tasks. If you have more control over your schedule, you can work hours that fit your life — for example, not working after the kids get home from school until after they go to bed, then heading back to the office, or into your home office, for late evening hours.
Also get creative with multitasking. Despite research on the negative impact of multitasking on productivity, you can multitask wisely by combining an intellectual task with a mindless task. Some examples? Dictate a blog post or presentation or email response on your smartphone while walking to work, then convert it to text and email it to yourself. Or dictate a to-do list and client updates into a small digital recorder while driving between meetings or events.
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