Today we start our month-long series on organization. We’ll start with organizing your time. Time is the one resource we can’t make more of. Each of us has a limited amount of time. the key is using it well. So how do you do that?
The first step in organizing your time well is doing a “time audit.” How do you spend your time now? Take twenty or thirty minutes to think about a typical day. Divide the day into chunks and think about how you spend each chunk. What do you do between waking up and leaving for work (or getting the kids off to school)? How do you spend your lunch hour? What do you do with the time between work and dinner? The time after dinner? The weekend?
Once you know how you spend your time, you can likely identify some time sucks that don’t really benefit you. If you are like most Americans, they probably have a cord attached – the television, the tablet, the cell phone, the gaming system. That’s where you’re going to find the time you need.
Now, make a list of the things you have to do in a typical week. Which of those are essential? Which are your priorities? (The essential isn’t always a priority. It’s essential that I pay for my newspaper delivery. It’s hardly a priority.)
Schedule your priorities FIRST. If something is really important to you, you have to dedicate the BEST of your time to it, not the leftovers. If you wait to see what time is available, you will never have the time to do the things you care about. Other, less important things will creep in.
First, make time for what matters most. The rest will find their place.
You need to have a family calendar that lists all of your commitments for the week or month. You can hang a paper calendar on the wall or create an electronic calendar that syncs. It needs to be kept up to date – daily! And everyone who can read needs to be able to see it. As soon as you make a commitment (business trip, carpool duty, dentist appointment), it goes on the calendar!
Then you need to schedule your days. Developing routines for common tasks and places for basic objects is a great way to save time. The more often you do something in the same basic way, the more efficient you become at doing it. So doing a batch of ironing one evening a week is likely to be more efficient than ironing a single shirt every morning. Doing all the laundry on a given day, in the largest loads consistent with good cleaning, is more efficient than many small loads, saving time, energy, and water.
One way to deal with chores is to make a list of everything you have do. Divide that list into one of four columns: More than once a week, weekly, biweekly, or occasional. Cooking dinner is obviously more than weekly. Grocery shopping may be weekly. Bill-paying can be biweekly. Washing windows, cleaning the gutters, doing minor repairs, etc. may be occasional. Depending on the nature of your household, doing laundry could be anything from more than once a week to biweekly. I live alone, so I rarely do laundry more than every other week since I have more than enough sheets and towels and underwear. If you have three kids, one still potty training, laundry may be a daily event.
Using that list, assign each chore a specific day in a two-week calendar. Ideally, all the chores — apart from meal preparation — for any given day should take no more than one hour, though thirty minutes is preferable. Keep in mind, that’s 30-60 minutes per person. If several people live in your house, each person should do his or her share. Even young children can learn to do simple chores such as putting their toys away, making their beds, putting dirty clothes in the laundry hamper, putting clean clothes on hangers, and dusting. As a child ages, he or she can do more. A kid old enough to drive a car or be online can certainly master the complexity of a washing machine, a dishwasher, a vacuum, and a toilet brush.
Another way to manage your time well is to use the small pockets of time that appear in every day. I tend to blog during my lunch hour. I also use that time topay bills, make necessary phone calls, etc. If you use public transportation in your commute, you can use the waiting and travelling time to read the paper and update your calendar. Waiting for the kids to finish karate class or for the dentist to finally call you back is not wasted time if you are updating your to-do lists, returning phone calls, addressing birthday cards, using the weekly grocery store ads to plan dinners and shopping lists, etc.
When I find myself with a few minutes to spare, I look for little tasks I can do quickly and easily or at the same time. For example, if I’m having pasta for dinner, I’ll put the water on to boil before I change clothes and sort the mail. If I am running early some morning (it happens on occasion), I can take a few minutes to clean the bathroom sink or sort the laundry or pay a few bills. You can do laundry while you cook dinner. You can run multiple errands on a single trip, saving time and gas.
The key is to knock out the little tasks in spare moments so that these errands don’t suck up the larger blocs of time. As much as possible, you want to have those large blocs available for the things that are your priorities.