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Manage Your Time Zappers
Source: Michael Olpin, Associate Professor, Health Promotion & Human Performance, Weber State University, Ogden, UT

A significant deterrent to successful time management is time zappers, those things that take time away from what is more important.

According to a Nielsen Media Research survey done in 1998, televisions are on seven hours a day in the typical home. The same study reports that the average American spends nearly four hours per day watching TV. By the age of 65, he or she will have spent nine years watching TV.

Television viewing is an example of a time zappers because it steals our time away from the precious time that we could be spending on more important things. Imagine what you could accomplish if you spent those four hours working on more productive things like learning a foreign language or how to play a new instrument or even doing homework.

Time zappers include:

  1. Driving from place to place
  2. Video games
  3. Unnecessary meetings
  4. Excess socializing
  5. Oversleeping
  6. Talking on the phone
  7. Surfing the net
  8. Worrying

You can probably think of many other things that would fall into this category of time zappers.

The best way to manage time zappers is by planning.

This chapter has given you several excellent ways to do this. When you decide what the order of your activities will be through the day and follow through with discipline, while maintaining appropriate flexibility, it is easier to say “no” to those things that waste so much of your time.

Work hardest during your “best times” of the day

Most of us have two or three hours during the day when we are the most productive. Are you a "morning person," a "night owl," or do you do your finest work in the late afternoon?" During these times we usually have the most energy, and are the most creative. Frequently this is in the morning. Try to schedule your time so that your most important activities can be done during these "best times" of the day.

Follow Pareto's Law

Pareto's law says that 80% of the wealth belongs to 20% of the people. Extending this law to time management we find that a mere 20% of the tasks yield 80% of the rewards and benefits. In other words, there are certain aspects of most projects that have a higher degree of leverage for completing the task.

For example, you may be working on a research paper. This involves many steps from beginning to completion. You may find that the activity with the highest leverage to complete the paper is the time you spend looking up abstracts and transferring some of that information to a general outline of your paper. This task will be the one you will focus most of your energy on. As you approach any task or assignment, isolate the 20% that controls 80% of its completion.

Keep an Activity Log

Just as a nutrition log measures everything you put in your mouth over a period of time, usually several days, an activity log allows you to see what you do with your waking moments of the day and thus, your time. Without modifying your behavior, make a note of everything that you do, as you do them, from the moment you awaken until you lie down at night to sleep. Every time that you move from one activity, like eating breakfast, to the next, like watching the morning news, to the time you spend getting dressed, make a note of the time in your time log.

After doing this for a few days carefully look at what your log tells you about how you spend your time. You will probably be surprised at how much time you spend doing things that might be considered a waste of time or have little value for you or anyone else.

Learn to say "No!" to the unimportant or less important things. Most of us find it difficult to say “No” to someone when they ask us to do something or to do unimportant things. One way to do this is by focusing on your goals. It is important for you to be convinced that you and your priorities are important to you. Before you agreed to undertake any additional tasks, you can ask yourself if those tasks or activities will lead you in the direction of your goals and priorities. If the answer to this question is that they won't, choose to refuse to allow these unimportant items to take up your time.

Try Delegating

It might be time to re-think the old saying, “If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself.” If some things do not require your personal attention, delegate them to someone else.

Establish levels of acceptable perfection

It is human nature to want to do our best on every task. We find it difficult sometimes to submit work that may not reflect our best performance. But frequently, there are things that we do that don't necessarily require high degrees of perfection. When this is the case, complete the task at an appropriate level depending upon the importance of the item. E-mail sent to a friend, for example, does not require perfect grammar and perfect spelling. There is no point in spending unnecessary extra time making your letter perfect. Take a realistic look at other similar tasks and determine which can be your “good” work and which should be your “best.”

Do the most difficult or most unpleasant tasks first.

Once you have the tough tasks out of the way, you are freer to enjoy your other tasks that are more pleasant and fun. The most unpleasant tasks are usually the ones that rank more highly on our priorities list. When we do those first, we earn the satisfaction and inner peace that comes from doing those things.

Enjoy the Process

Ask yourself how you can do the task and have fun in the process – Maybe you can do your homework with your best friend or go to a place with an excellent view of nature and do it there. If you know that something has to be done, but is unpleasant to even think about, ask yourself how you can add something enjoyable to the process. Maybe you can somehow make it a game or competition with someone else. Your mind will usually give you some constructive ideas.

Give yourself rewards

Even for small successes, celebrate the achievement of goals. Promise yourself a reward for completing each task, or finishing the entire task. Then keep your promise to yourself and indulge in your reward. Doing so will help you maintain the necessary balance in life between work and play.

As Ann McGee-Cooper, author of Time Management for Unmanageable People [view on Amazon] says,

"If we learn to balance excellence in work with excellence in play, fun, and relaxation, our lives become happier, healthier, and a great deal more creative."

Let some things go undone

Follow the advice of Lin Yu Tang who said,

“Besides the noble art of getting things done, there is the more noble art of leaving things undone. The wisdom of life consists in the elimination of nonessentials.”

Let it be okay to not finish some things, and not even get to some things that are on your list. An uncompleted list only has the meaning you give to it. It doesn't mean you are not being effective and it certainly doesn't mean you are a failure. You decide what can be left undone and you can choose to be okay with that decision.