Have you ever planned to get things done and then got distracted? And then by the end of the day you realized that time’s all gone and you got nothing accomplished?! Time is just like money, if you don’t know how to manage it, someone else will do it for you. There’s a comfortable and powerful sense of relief, when you have control of your time. I’m not talking about owning a time machine or foreseeing your future. I’m talking about being productive and effective. Planning ahead gives you a vision and purpose of how you want your future to look like. It’s an idea, a blueprint of an intentional desire to aim and thrive for. Being productive and effective requires structured planning. Becoming aware that our lives and days are divided in limited compacted segments like work, sleep, family and school, allows us to prioritize and utilize our energy where it is mostly needed!
The 21st century is a very demanding and intrusive era. Facebook notifications, emails synced to our phones, and receiving “urgent texts” from relatives can distract us and deviate our intentions to get things done. And despite that, calendars, planners, and smartphone’s organizing software are at our finger tips, structured and intentional planning are rare. Structured planning is more of a mindset. It is a lifestyle that can be mastered with discipline. It requires practice. Having a plan empowers you to get things done. It also allows you to differentiate between the things you need to do versus the things you want to do.
The following four simple steps have helped me to organize, become productive, and effective at various segment of my own life.
Step #1 Activity Log Monitor. If you are new to recording things on your calendar, a logging monitor may be a good start for you. A logging monitor will also help you track down where exactly are you spending your time on. By buying a detailed day-to-day calendar or simply writing down hour by hour what you do throughout your day. You may start by recording your 8 hours shift and increase your logging to the amount of time that takes you to commute to work, or prepare for the day, etc. The data collected will show you within a 5-10 days period your own patterns. Those patterns can either be categorized or structured towards achieving your goals. A downloadable template activity monitor here.
Step #2 To Do List. These types of lists, tend to trigger a tone of urgency. For the most part, they are effective because the list ‘must get done’. The idea is that you list the items that need to be completed within a reasonable timeframe. Usually the same day or the following day. Items recorded in a ‘to do list’ must be short, realistic, and tangible. Teaching your daughter how to ride a bike, or getting your car’s thermostat replaced are examples of items that you should not put on your list. On the other hand, items like paying the energy bill, calling Amanda for an estimate, or responding to John’s email are fitting examples of short and tangible tasks to record on your to do list. Read the 5 best ‘to do list’ tools on the net here.
Step #3 Immerse yourself. If you have the ability to immerse yourself into something, it means that you are able to completely involve yourself deeply in a particular activity and tune out your surroundings’ noise. Being able to immerse and focus on just one activity, without being distracted is extremely hard these days. However, with practice and discipline, one can see the difference and enjoy the outcome. Don’t get me wrong, I love multitasking, nonetheless, devoting your full attention to an assignment will not only increase the chances of you getting it done on time, but the quality will improve as well.
Step #4 Intentional Planning. As a teacher, I’m very fortunate to have summers off. I may be studying or in trainings, but for the most part, I get two months of freedom. I get to do what I want, when I want. Every summer I get to share with my friend John the things that I want to do during the summer. Whether it is traveling, doing projects around the house, reading a few books, or writing a certain number of articles. This past summer my ‘Want to do list’ was not addressed at all. Time sort of ‘flew away from me’ but that’s because I didn’t plan at all. That is exactly the sort of thing that happens if you don’t plan, something else will occupy your time that may not be necessarily what you wanted or needed to do. I guess at times, it is good to have close friends holding you accountable for your actions to match your goals. So next summer, I’ll be intentionally planning my 8-weeks’ ‘vacation’ a little better. Whether it is hiking on the great white mountains of New Hampshire, or writing a thesis, I’ll intentionally plan for it to see my goals fulfilled. A free online planner, from the cool people at Canva here.
Remember, time is continuous and unstoppable. Whether you plan for it or not, time will come and it will pass away. It is up to you to spend it doing something worthwhile. Enjoy!
Santos A. O’Neill, a contributor to this blog, is a senior educator and post-graduate student that works with teens and young adults as they equip to go to college. He also works as a high school teacher and an athletic coach.