Julie Morgenstern, a productivity and time management expert, wasn’t born organized. Chronically late, forever losing things, utterly disorganized, Ms. Morgenstern lived in a state of chaos. Then, she had a child. She turned the lessons she learned from taking control of her time into a career as an adviser and coach. She is the author of six books, and her latest, “Time to Parent,” was published on Sept. 4.
You won’t find any corny categorization of time management personality types in her work, no Myers-Briggs- or 5 Love Languages-type buckets into which people can slot themselves. Perhaps because of her own messy past, Ms. Morgenstern avoids pigeonholing people by putting labels on them because, she said, “when you get a label, you can feel very channeled, like there’s no opportunity for change or development.” But there are patterns Ms. Morgenstern has identified that can help people understand and improve the way they approach time management.
There are time realists and time optimists, according to Ms. Morgenstern. Time realists look at a task and break down the math of it. They’re conscious of how long things take, and they factor that in to their plans for the day.
Time optimists, by comparison, are just that: hopeful about things they would like to do. It leads to them to overstuff their days and become frustrated when their list of to-dos doesn’t get completed.
Be a time realist. Here’s how.
Take a pause before committing to anything
Don’t automatically say yes, no matter who is asking, according to Ms. Morgenstern. Even if it is your boss, think, “How I can fit that in?’” If, after calculating how long the task will take, considering what else you were going to do in that time against what you could take off your plate, you’re still in need of relief, Ms. Morgenstern suggests going back to your boss and saying, “I could do this, but I’d then have to postpone that. Which way do you want me to go?”
Always end every day by planning tomorrow, plus two more days
Ms. Morgenstern recommends looking ahead. She says that doing so allows you to see in advance if you planned your calendar for the next few days well, “sort of figuring out the puzzle,” in her words.
Put activities in categories depending on your concentration threshold
Batch activities like administrative work, creative projects, hobbies and social activities, by mental function in order to identify your concentration threshold for each. Ms. Morgenstern says that batching activities helps you to carve smaller subdivisions into your days, creating mini-deadlines that make concentrating on and completing dreaded tasks more manageable.
Clean up your email. (If it’s more than a month old, let it go.)
Speaking of dreaded tasks! Here comes some good news for those of you who have 16,942 unread emails in your inbox: Ms. Morgenstern is a believer in declaring email bankruptcy.
She suggests sorting all unread emails by date, moving the most current ones to a separate folder and simply deleting the rest, sight unseen. “How far back you want to go — three days, three weeks, one month — depends on your job or your life. If it’s more than a month old, there’s nothing in there. It’s either going to come back, or it’s gone forever.”
Set aside regular times in your day where you go to your email: open it up and answer, delete, forward.
If anything is going to take you more than three to five minutes to do in that moment, schedule that into your calendar, she suggests.
Use no more than four communication platforms. Yes, that includes Instagram.
Ms. Morgenstern takes a hard line when it comes to the proliferation of communication channels — email, text message, messaging on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, telephone calls — and the limits we need to place on them. She says that “time management is about managing your energy and brain power for peak performance, and so you have to impart control over all this chaos.”
Manage major transitions in your day like you did in school, with a timer.
“No matter how much you want to procrastinate on something big you have to do, the bell hasn’t rung.” Ms. Morgenstern likens the use of the alarm function to being in school — you can’t leave math class and go to arts and crafts, where you really want to be, until the bell rings.
Make the decision: Are you a paper or electronic calendar person? Then stick to it.
According to Ms. Morgenstern, if you can remember, “Oh, I wrote that three pages ago in the upper left corner,” you’re a visual-tactile learner who should use a paper planner. If you think more chronologically — for example if someone gave you a date like April 14, and you think, “oh that was a Wednesday” — you’re more digital-technical oriented and should use an electronic calendar.
Integrate your to-do list into your calendar
To be efficient, Ms. Morgenstern advises adding work and personal obligations to the same calendar and integrating all your different planning systems into one.
Reclaim your personal time, whether it’s writing that novel, or crushing a fitness goal, or successfully binge-watching all 15 seasons of “Keeping Up With the Kardashians.”
She explains that people’s perception of time is that it’s “this ethereal, relative, slippery, conceptual thing. It’s not. It’s 24-hour cycles, seven days a week. You have 168 hours to work with every week. You have to carve out the time if you really want balance.”
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