Edited by Leslie Gordon
leslie.gordon@penton.com

You’ve read countless time-management books, blogs, and workbooks. You’ve been to seminars and workshops. You’ve attended Webinars. But you’re still overwhelmed. There’s too much happening in your day to simply let things take their course. It’s time to regain control. Recently, my time started to get away from me. So I reviewed some of my favorite books and blogs and came up with a list of potentially helpful tools.

Your most basic tool is your calendar. I use Google calendar; I can access it via computer, telephone, and iPad. If an event isn’t on my calendar, it’s not going to happen in my life. I use the calendar for both business and personal appointments.

Next, you need a list. Whether you call it your “task” list or your “to-do” list, it’s where you record promises you make to others or yourself. The list must be easy to use, or you won’t employ it consistently.

Whether you use paper or computer, you should be able to enter a new item into the list quickly. Your list should have places to note the importance or priority of each item, as well as when the task should start and end. The fewer of these attributes your list has, the more effective it will be. I just started using a Web site called ToodleDo.com. It syncs with my smartphone and iPad and has all the features I need.

Keep today’s list visible. Store the long list of all your tasks where you can see it should you want to, but where the list doesn’t show up when you are not looking for it. Seeing the long list all the time induces unnecessary stress.

Third, adopt the planning habit. If you don’t have the habit, it’s easy to acquire. Either as the first task in the morning, or the last thing you do before leaving work, set aside some time — say, 15 minutes — to go over your list. Rank each task by importance; you can use “A” for the most important tasks, “B” for those of medium importance, and “C” for low importance, for example. Then select the top three tasks by importance, and plan to accomplish them during the day. Don’t forget to include at least one B task and one C task each day, or those lower-priority tasks will never get done.

That’s the daily planning process. You might also consider weekly, monthly, and annual processes. And don’t omit goals: You’ve probably heard the stories about people who set long-term goals and put them away, then months or years later find that they actually accomplished them without thinking about them. It’s worth a shot.

As you go through your list, be mindful of the fact that most of our decisions are made on the basis of emotions. That’s not necessarily bad; our emotions can be good guides, but only if we are aware of being swayed by them. For example, there are some tasks that do not appeal to me emotionally, but I know I need to get them done. When I am aware of my reluctance, I can compensate for it and choose to do things that I find distasteful anyway. And when I do that, I usually promise myself a small indulgence or reward for motivation.

Common wisdom says it takes three weeks to change or adopt a habit. I recommend you try these behaviors for at least three weeks. This might be all you need to regain control of your time.

Let me know how it works out for you. — Joel Orr

Joel Orr, Principal of Orr Associates International, and Chief Visionary Emeritus of Cyon Research Corp. Write him: joel.orr@gmail.com

© 2011 Penton Media, Inc.