Time-Shifting & Sinkholes

It takes time to get a business up and running. It also takes time to learn how to work smarter, vs. harder. All the while, we need to make space on our calendars for connecting with others, caring for our families and tending to our homes. We all have the same 24 hours in a day. So why do some people seem to accomplish so much more? I asked my mentor, Michele Woodward, Master Certified Coach, successful author, advice columnist, speaker, teacher, mother and friend, how she “makes the time.”

AM: How do you tend to organize your day? What planning tips/devices can you share?

MW: In the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, I have a definite preference for “J”, which means I like plans, organization, and closure. So, my days pretty much follow the same rhythm. I almost always do the same things in the same order. As I grow older, this is REALLY helpful. I have a daily waking up routine, a daily getting-the-kids-off-to-school routine, a daily picking up last night’s clutter/straightening up the living room routine, a reading-the-Washington-Post routine. After those things are done, I sit down to work. To organize the work flow, I use a spiral bound notebook I got at Staples — it has a to-do list plus a place to write notes. I turn a new sheet for each day, and carry over anything that didn’t get done the day before. It keeps me on track, and when I jot down phone numbers in the notes section, it’s easy to find them again. The hardest part of getting organized is setting priorities and allowing those priorities to shift if something more important comes along. It’s a constant re-evaluating, weighing (which I find really fun!). Back to the Myers-Briggs, it’s really important to understand yourself — your strengths, weaknesses, preferences — so you can design an organizational system that works for you, and that you’ll actually use!

AM: What is the greatest misuse of time?

MW: Worrying. Honest, it’s a sinkhole. The future is unknowable, and shaped by our thoughts. So if you spend a ton of time worrying, you’ll create a worrisome future. Stop worrying, be present right here, right now, and live a great life. If you want a more practical answer, the biggest misuse of time is failing to ask for help. Asking for help makes you more efficient and delivers a better result. Let go of the idea that you must Do Everything Yourself, and you will actually be more productive.

AM: How do you “make the space” for the important things every day?

MW: Maybe it’s counter-intuitive, but I make space by not trying to do too much. I have very realistic expectations and a thorough understanding of how long it’s going to take me to do things. So if something takes 3 hours of continuous effort and I only have fifteen minutes, I’m going to wait until I have the appropriate amount of time, or create a 3 hour space tomorrow. Again, prioritizing is very important.

AM: Why do you think some people achieve more success than others in terms of time management?

MW: I’m going to refer again to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. Some people have a strong preference (Perceiving) toward openness, no plan, a “go with the flow” attitude. These people will not manage time well because to do so feels like being restricted. They want to leave all their options open — it’s their big motivator. All things being equal, they want to be free to choose to do whatever appeals in the moment. People like this succeed in time management when someone else (an assistant or business partner, for instance) does the scheduling and holds the Perceiver’s feet to the fire. This has to be done in a loving and safe way, though, so the Perceiver doesn’t end up hating the partner! When you know that the person “hemming you in” has your best interests at heart, it’s a bit easier to take.

AM: What helps you to balance your personal and professional life?

MW: After years of accomplishment and achievement I have come to realize that I am not particularly ambitious, competitive or driven. And people will say, “Ah, she’s not a player, then! All players/successful people/superstars are ambitious, competitive and driven!” And I would say, not true. I have worked at The White House, had leadership jobs in corporate America, been on national TV, written a book, and made a ton of money. By any measure, I’ve had an extremely successful life. I am able to balance it all because I know I’m successful and the choices I make are not shaped by having to make my mark, get ahead or achieve. I already have, I already am, and I already do. So the pressure’s off. And it feels really great.

Michele Woodward is the author of Lose Weight, Find Love, De-Clutter & Save Money: Essays on Happier Living, available at Amazon.com. She also writes an advice column at the fast-growing web presence for women: BettyConfidential.com. Michele is a sought-after speaker, leads a number of workshops and classes and writes a popular blog. Find her online at: http://www.michelewoodward.com/