Feature Articles: 

Time Management Tips for College Students

It’s October, and your teacher assigns a term paper due in December. When do you do it? December? With most classes meeting a few times a week, time seems in plentiful supply. Beware! Midterms will sneak up on you faster than you know it, with your reading pile stacked sky-high. Good time management is the key to a successful college career and a balanced, low stress life. 

1. Use Memory Tools. Busy students with tons to do need good memory skills to help them remember many details. But it’s hard to concentrate when a hundred thoughts flood your mind every minute. Having a sharp memory can be as simple as using some good memory tools:

• Write it down. When I’m doing dishes in the evening, I’m forced to stand still for a few minutes. It’s during this time that I remember small details of things to do. When you suddenly remember an accounting assignment you forgot, stop what you’re doing and make a note to yourself.
• Keep a running list. For errands, chores, and grocery lists, keep a note under a magnet on a hidden side of your refrigerator. Add to it each time something comes to mind or you throw away an empty container. When it’s time to shop, you simply grab the list and off you go!
• Use a voice recorder in your car. I frequently come up with great ideas while driving, but it’s dangerous to try to write. So I use the record feature on my cell phone (or you can purchase an inexpensive voice recorder) to record my thoughts and reminders. The record feature is also great for remembering where I parked or a phone number I saw on a billboard.
• Schedule email reminders. Free email reminder services on the Internet will send you an email when important birthdays, anniversaries, or events are approaching. A free service from www.iping.com uses the Web to send you wake-up calls and other reminders via telephone. You set the time, date, and phone number for each reminder. 

2. Be Disciplined About Homework. There’s a time to play and a time to work. A time to go to class, and a time to do homework! When it’s time to buckle down and get to work, here are some things to remember:

• Self-correct. When you know you’re off task, get into the habit of self-correction: “I really shouldn’t be doing this right now. Get back on task!” 
• Write down your thoughts, but don’t follow them. If you think of something that needs to be done while you’re working on a higher priority task, write it down (paper or electronic) to remember it, and get back at the task at hand. 
• Avoid your known distractions. Personally, I love to surf the net and read the latest news. When I’m working on a high-priority project, such as getting a student workbook created and emailed to a client, I simply do not allow myself to so much as launch my browser. I close Outlook so as not to get distracted by incoming email. I make sure I’ve got a fresh cup of coffee before I begin, so that I don’t have an excuse to get up and go to the kitchen (where I might find something “important” to do).
• Defer interruptions. Resist the urge to check that email that just came in. Ask a friend who drops by if you can come by and visit at lunch, since you’re right in the middle of something important.
• Prioritize. Each day, ask yourself, “If I could only accomplish three things today, what would they be?” or “What would I need to accomplish today to feel good about the day when I leave?” Make sure to do those things first.

3. Read More Effectively. Just as you wouldn’t give an important presentation without ample preparation, don’t just pick up a magazine and start reading without the slightest thought. You need to prepare for the reading activity. Apply this five-step process to help you be a more productive reader:

Step one: Prepare your materials. Try to batch your reading and put larger documents aside to read during a single sitting. Schedule an appointment with yourself to get through them (I like to use the time on airplanes to get through my reading pile). When you reach the appointed time, gather your documents. Grab a pen, a highlighter, and some sticky notes.

Step two: Prepare your mind. If you can, retreat to an empty office or conference room so that you are interrupted as little as possible. Make the mental decision that you are going to attentively read your materials. Don’t think how terrible it’s going to be or groan inwardly. Think positively and set goals around what you plan to accomplish or learn by the end of your reading session.

Step three: Situate your body. Sit down with a straight spine and your feet comfortably on the floor. Don’t hunch your shoulders, and take a few deep breaths to get oxygen to your brain. Try to relax your facial muscles, even turning up the corners of your mouth to match your positive attitude. Rest your book and your hands on the table, or prop it up on a reading stand. Hold your reading square in front of your eyes at a 45-60 degree angle. 

Step four: Scan. When you begin, preview the text quickly to get a basic understanding of how the material is laid out and the main points are organized. For magazine articles, I like to read the title, headings, sidebars, and the first and last paragraphs. By noticing the writing pattern and sections, you’ll help your brain quickly organize the material. 

Step five: Read. My favorite reading technique is called rhythmic perusal, developed by J. Michael Bennett, a reading expert and professor emeritus at the University of Minnesota. You glide your eyes over the upper half of the letters; read each line in a single, smooth movement. The technique enhances your concentration and, with practice, allows you to increase speed and focus.

Make it a productive day! ™

(C) Copyright 2004 Laura Stack, MBA, CSP. All rights reserved. Portions of this newsletter may be reprinted in your organization or association newsletter, provided the following credit line is present:

"Laura M. Stack, MBA, CSP, is "The Productivity Pro"® and the author of Leave the Office Earlier. She presents keynotes and seminars on time management, information overload, and personal productivity. Contact her at 303-471-7401 or [email protected]."

Time Management for New Parents

A new addition to the family is the ultimate test of time management. The first six weeks to three months after your baby’s arrival are a joyous, albeit stressful time. You get to meet your new baby and adjust to the demands of your new baby, as well as your new roles as mommy and daddy. 

Start off on the right foot by taking as much time away from work as possible to allow for on-the-job training in baby care. Mothers and fathers need time to bond with the new baby. Believe me—this event will change how you view the world and your life! 

As a productivity expert, I’m often asked how I managed to stay sane and organized with a newborn. Looking back after my third child, here are some strategies that worked for me.

1. Set Limits—Before our children were born, John and I established some guidelines with our friends and family. My wishes were no visitors for the first two days and no overnight guests for one week. Everyone wanted to visit, but we wanted the first week to ourselves to get to know our baby. We knew that if the mothers showed up, they would “show” us what to do. We wanted to figure out how to care for our baby on our own. Now, that might scare you to death, but it was important to us. You need to determine what is important to you and communicate your limits to loved ones. I made it very clear that when they came to “help with the baby,” that I needed help with cooking, cleaning, and laundry. We wanted to reach for the baby and have them reach for a pile of laundry. That may sound selfish to you, but I’ve seen too many new parents stuck with the chores while their parents get tend to the baby. Of course, our parents still played with and cared for the baby. But remember that this is your time to get used to caring for your infant, and you must establish the rules. A little advance planning and notification will spare hurt feelings and keep misunderstandings from occurring.

2. Drop Perfectionism—When I took my first baby Meagan home, I thought I could still be the perfect spouse and business owner, and now be the perfect mommy too. I ignored the age-old advice to “sleep when the baby sleeps.” That was the only time I had to straighten up the house! I used to have certain standards when it came to dust bunnies and dirty toilets. But after almost dropping my baby from falling asleep while feeding her at 2:00 a.m., I realized something had to give. People who say they sleep “like a baby” simply cannot have one! I was too fatigued to keep “doing it all.” I decided then and there that I needed to lower my standards about cleaning if I was going to stay sane. If my neighbors didn’t understand why my toilets were dirty, they could come over and clean them. I discovered that if I didn’t take care of myself, I wouldn’t be able to take care of my precious baby. And Meagan never gave a hoot about the state the house. So now I follow another well-worn piece of advice:

“Cleaning and scrubbing can wait till tomorrow.
For babies grow up, we’ve learned to our sorrow;
So quiet down, cobwebs,
Dust, go to sleep!
I’m rocking my baby, and babies don’t keep!” —unknown

3. Enlist Help—You and your significant other should work out an initial plan that keeps both of you from feeling over-loaded, with the mutual understanding that you can fine-tune the agreement over time. You can split up jobs or take turns with feeding, bathing, etc. If your parents are visiting, outline specific responsibilities for them as well. If your parents can’t come, hire a helper for a few dollars an hour to help with laundry and dishes or keep an eye on the baby while you nap. Hire a housekeeper to come every other week and do heavy cleaning. When family and friends tell you to “let them know if you need anything”—do it! Tell them specifically how they can help you. For example: “Here’s a list of things I need at the store—it would really help me if you could pick them up on your way home tonight.” “Could you come over to chat and do a couple loads of laundry for me?” “It would really help out if you would bring over a casserole for dinner tonight.” Your friends DO care and DO want to help. Do yourself a favor and don’t try to do it all. Enlisting assistance will dramatically cut down on your stress level.

4. Prioritize Realistically—No matter how organized you think you are, time is in short supply the minute you arrive home with your baby. Begin by accepting the fact that you are no longer in charge of your time. Gone are the days of the “To-Do” list with 33 things on it, at least for the first few months. To my dismay, I discovered that a trip to the grocery store with a newborn was an all-day affair. So I dropped my regular planning methods for the first six weeks. Each day, I disciplined myself to determine what I needed to do and write down my top three priorities to accomplish that day. Maybe making the bed wasn’t important but having clean dishes was. At the end of the day, I felt quite successful if I completed those three items. I didn’t overload myself, beat myself up at the end of the day, or feel guilty for not having accomplished more. I was able to relax, enjoy the first weeks cuddled up with Meagan, and savor those precious moments that only come once in a lifetime.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Infancy conforms to nobody; all conform to it.” With this in mind, this is the best piece of advice I can give you about managing your time with a new baby: the most important way to show love is with your time.

Make it a productive day! ™

(C) Copyright 2004 Laura Stack, MBA, CSP. All rights reserved. Portions of this newsletter may be reprinted in your organization or association newsletter, provided the following credit line is present:

"Laura M. Stack, MBA, CSP, is "The Productivity Pro"® and the author of Leave the Office Earlier. She presents keynotes and seminars on time management, information overload, and personal productivity. Contact her at 303-471-7401 or [email protected]."

Time Management for Business Owners

When do you think about losing 20 pounds—when you’re 20 pounds overweight? When do you pay attention to those you love—when the relationship is in trouble? When do you think about motivating people in the workplace—when they’re demotivated? When do you think about time—when your new business fails?

So, you took the plunge and started your own business (or are considering it). You thought it would give you increased control over your time and your life. Then you discovered you are working more than ever. If you find yourself working harder, longer, and enjoying it less and less, be careful. Eventually this lack of fulfillment will impair your performance at work. So, before you give up other employment and find yourself working 80 hours a week, seriously consider how you’re going to manage your time. After eleven years in business for myself, here are some things I’ve learned:

1. Set Goals—There are two types of goals that must be considered—short-term and long-term. Ask yourself the basic journalist’s questions: What, When, Why, How, and Who and Where if applicable. Always put these items in writing. The why gives you the motivation and keeps you driven when you face obstacles. If the why is strong enough, the how is easy. The how details the action steps required to achieve the goal. These action steps can actually be short-term goals themselves that are needed to reach the long-term objective. For example, a long-term goal may be to institute a comprehensive marketing plan to gross $40,000 your first year through networking, a direct mail campaign, a newsletter, writing a column in a newspaper, and advertising. The why would be so you don’t have to go back to your corporate job. What an incentive to make the how happen! A corresponding short-term goal might be “To purchase, by June 15, desktop publishing software to produce newsletters for customers.” Action steps are to (1) create a checklist of features, (2) research options, (3) select the top four packages, (4) final review and selection, and (5) install system. The why for this short-term goal ties back to the why for the long-term goal. Keep this long-term perspective so you don’t lose sight of the big picture. One of the best things you can do is review your long-range goals daily. Post them on the wall or put them in your planner. Looking at them will help keep you focused and sort out the trivia of your days.

2. Determine Priorities—Because you must accomplish a seemingly endless number of tasks, it’s normal to put in some long hours when first getting a business off the ground. But if you’re still putting in 12-14 hours a day two years later, you’re off balance. Business owners often become trapped by the “tyranny of the urgent,” a phrase originally coined by Stephen Covey. They lose sight of their long-term goals and objectives and get trapped doing urgent but not important tasks throughout the day. You operate daily in the tension between the urgent and important. The difficulty is that you don’t have to do the “important” today, but the “urgent” demands attention NOW. And as you push the “important” back one more day, you slowly cave in to the tyranny of the urgent.

If you treat each item on your daily task list as if it has the same importance, you tend to do the easiest one first. Nine out of ten action items will be complete, but the one that is left at the end of the day was the most important. So, a simplified system is to number your tasks in order of importance and discipline yourself to accomplish them in that order. Don’t get too bogged down in labeling tasks A, B, or C. Always ask yourself, “Is this the best use of my time right now?” This 20-year-old counsel by Alan Lakein never goes out of style. If you know your high-priority activities for the week, you can use this question to monitor your choices each day.

3. Plan Weekly—Daily to-do lists don’t work well for some people. They tend to be a collection of random activities that you think of throughout the day with no consistent link to a larger goal. A weekly plan is better than a daily plan for many business owners. It provides a larger view of what you need to accomplish and allows more room for flexibility. To prepare a weekly plan, ask yourself about:
• Results—What are the short-term goals I’m working on this week?
• Activities—What will I have to do to get there?
• Priorities—What is the order of their importance?
• Time Estimate—How long will each activity take?
• Schedules—When will I work on each item?
• Flexibility—Have I allowed room for the unexpected?

4. Batch Administrative Tasks—Don’t become distracted with low-priority filing, copying, reading, faxing, mailing, computer work, and communication. Instead of performing these tasks in bits and pieces throughout the week, schedule an afternoon to complete routine administrative items. Do all your faxing, copying, computer entry (receipts), and filing at one time. Take your reading materials with you anytime that you leave your office. How often have you had some free time on your hands with nothing to read—at the doctor’s office, picking up a child, visiting a client, or waiting for a meeting to begin? Leave non-essential errands for the weekend when most offices are closed. Don’t get into the habit of using valuable work hours for non-essential tasks. This is essentially procrastination.

5. Protect Your Time—Keep external challenges from destroying your focus and eating up your time. Be assertive. Be honest when someone phones you and asks, “Got a minute?” If you don’t have a minute, tell them, “I’ve got my back up against the wall on an important project right now. Can I call you back at 2:30?” Do both of you a favor—if you take the call, you’re not really listening to them and you’re losing valuable time. If you’re really pressed for time, consider letting your voice mail pick up your calls. Also group your outgoing calls. Make a list and start cranking them out. You tend to eliminate a lot of the social niceties once you get warmed up, without being too impersonal. You can also reduce chatter by using natural stopping times. Calling right before lunch or quitting time makes people get right down to business. Control the length of phone calls as well. Standing up can reduce the length of each call by 1-2 minutes. If the conversation is getting off-target, bring it back on track.

Protect your time by investing in needed equipment. How many times have you had to print out a document, trudge over to the fax machine, and send it manually? Wouldn’t fax software save you an incredible amount of time each day, by allowing you to fax directly from your computer with just a few keystrokes? A contact management database and accounting software package are also time-savers. Next, never put off until tomorrow what you can have someone else do today. Determine the value of your time and delegate at every opportunity. Lastly, be careful with appointments. Never leave your office if you can resolve things over the phone. If you must meet in person, try to get the first appointment of the day so you won’t have to wait. Confirm all appointments before leaving and have a written agenda.

6. Relax—Self-care also has a direct impact on the quality of work you produce. Don’t forget to take care of yourself during these long days—remember that you don’t have sick leave! Eat well, get enough sleep, and exercise sufficiently. Know when to take a break and what kind of break will best restore your energy. For some, a short Kennedy nap is good (a 5 to 10 minute doze at your desk), while others prefer to go jogging or fix a cup of tea.

These time management tools will also give you more time to relax while still accomplishing the things you need to do. Determine when you’ve achieved your initial goals and relax your pace a bit. You can make all the money in the world, but if you have no time to enjoy it—what good is it?

Make it a productive day! ™

(C) Copyright 2004 Laura Stack, MBA, CSP. All rights reserved. Portions of this newsletter may be reprinted in your organization or association newsletter, provided the following credit line is present:

"Laura M. Stack, MBA, CSP, is "The Productivity Pro"® and the author of Leave the Office Earlier. She presents keynotes and seminars on time management, information overload, and personal productivity. Contact her at 303-471-7401 or [email protected]."