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Take Back Your Time

Copyright 2005 Kathy Paauw

"You will never find time for anything. You must make it."
-Charles Buxton

According to the organizers of Take Back Your Time Day, which was held on October 15, if Americans quit working on that date and didn't work for the rest of the year, we would be working the same number of hours as the average European. Even with high unemployment, America has experienced near-record mandatory overtime.

The October 11, 2004 issue of Time magazine reports that on a typical day office workers are interrupted about seven times an hour -- 56 interruptions a day -- 80% of which are considered trivial. "We pride ourselves on being multi-taskers, but the truth is, we're functioning at a state of partial attention," says John White, international program director with Priority Management, a training company based in Vancouver, Canada. "Because of constant interruptions, our memory, follow-up ability, flexibility and quality of work start to erode."

So how do we learn to slow down and enjoy our lives?

Managing our time is about clarifying priorities and being masterful at taking action on our intentions, rather than becoming a slave to the constant flow of events and demands on our time. When we operate in auto-pilot, we take action without thinking, which almost never yields the results we want.

Time management is not just a tool like a calendar or a Palm Pilot. It is a foundational skill upon which everything else in life depends.

Seven tips to help you manage your time:

1. Prioritize your week. Organizing your time without first clarifying your priorities is like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. Ask yourself this question: If nothing else happens this week, what are the most important activities or relationships I choose to pay attention to? Without making plans to focus on these priorities, you will most likely not get to them - especially if they are not urgent. Planning goes far beyond just making lists. A plan is when you have carved out specific time in your calendar (an appointment with yourself) to do something. Need help getting started with weekly planning? Visit our planning tip sheet at: or participate in one of our teleclasses:

2. Learn when to say NO. As Stephen Covey says, 'It's easy to say 'No!' when there's a deeper 'Yes!' burning inside.' When we operate from a big-picture view of our priorities, it becomes much easier to decide what to say YES to and what to say NO to. Remember this truth: Every time you say yes to someone or something, you are saying no to someone or something else.

A good way to learn what to say NO to is to check your self-talk. Are you saying 'I should.' 'I gotta.' 'I have to.' or are you saying 'I choose to - - ? Be at choice! Then write your not to do list and stick to it!

3. Limit your time for activities that consume you. For example, if you find that you are overwhelmed by e-mail, limit how many times a day you check it and how much time you'll spend to read and respond. When I came back from vacation to more than 1000 emails, I was amazed at how unimportant some messages became! Limiting your time can help you to prioritize.

4. De-clutter your life. My definition of clutter: Anything you own, possess, or do that does not enhance your life on a regular basis. By this definition, clutter can be things in your physical environment. Clutter can also be activities, thoughts, and even relationships that don't enhance your life. Once you clean up the non-physical clutter in your life, you'll be able to make better decisions about what to keep and what to remove from your space.

As you de-clutter your environment, you can save a lot of money on your tax returns by donating items to charity. ItsDeductible is a tool that I have used for years to help me value what I donate. Although it guarantees that you will save at least $300 on your taxes, it has actually saved me thousands of dollars on my taxes each year. Visit for more information.

Take our free Professional/Business Organizational Assessment or our Personal Organizational Assessment to help you sort out what areas need the most attention.

5. Schedule protected time. In your calendar, block out time to work on projects that require concentration without interruptions. Then identify what boundaries you need to have in place so you can keep this time sacred. Here are some ideas:

* Put a "do not disturb" sign on your door or cubicle. At Quarasan (an educational-product developer in Chicago), workers take "focus blocks" of up to three hours when they absolutely cannot be interrupted. In any given week, about 25% of the staff use this technique. Signs hang on cubicles, chairs or doors, that say something like this: I AM FEELING TOTALLY FOCUSED RIGHT NOW. PLEASE RESPECT THIS PROCESS.

* Have a conversation with co-workers about needing uninterrupted time to work on your project. At Pitt Ohio Express (a trucking company based in Pittsburgh, PA), claims auditors take turns wearing a special black baseball cap to signal that they are absorbed in a project. Employees at Basex (an information-technology research firm in New York City), use instant messaging. A simple switch to DO NOT DISTURB status signals that coworkers should not call, email or stop by to chat.

* Turn off the ringer on your phone and let voice mail pick up your calls for a while.

* Avoid checking e-mail until you're done with your project time for the day.

* Have a pen and pad of paper handy to write down the things that pop into your head that you 'gotta do' so you don't forget and can get back to them later. Schedule a little time after your protected time for following up with your 'gotta do' list.

6. Reduce stress. Incorporate these into your daily habit: exercise, play, meditation, relaxation or quiet time to still the mind, healthy diet, enough sleep.

7. Separate work from your personal life. If you are regularly taking work home or working overtime, develop skills to negotiate with your boss (even if that's you!) about when, where, and how results are produced. Manage by results, not by how many hours you are working. Take our free Work/Life Balance Assessment at to determine how you are doing with this.

Visit our resource page ( for more ideas about increasing productivity.
Wouldn't you love to stumble upon a secret library of ideas to help you de-clutter your life so you can focus on what's most important? Kathy Paauw offers simple, yet powerful ideas, on how to manage your time, space, and thoughts for a more productive and fulfilling life. Visit


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