The conversation continues with our popular “Ask the Expert” feature on The Other Side of Organized blog. So far this year, we enjoyed great dialogues about clutter with Lorie Marrero, letting go with Geralin Thomas, next steps with Yota Schneider, and change with John Ryan. This month, I’m excited to bring you prolific author and organizing guru, Julie Morgenstern to share her wisdom about time management.
Julie and I met almost twenty years ago when I attended a NAPO-NY chapter professional development workshop she organized on closet design. Since then, Julie’s become an internationally recognized expert in the organizing field and authored many books that have become industry “must reads.” My deep appreciation and thanks goes to her for taking the time to join us. Before we begin, here’s more about Julie.
Julie Morgenstern, dubbed the “queen of putting people’s lives in order” by USA Today, is an organizing and time management expert, business productivity consultant, and speaker. A New York Times bestselling author, Julie’s five books are timeless reference guides that are insightful and jam-packed with innovative strategies. She has been featured in publications such as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Time, and Business Week. Julie has made frequent appearances on national television and radio programs, including the Today Show, Good Morning America, The Oprah Winfrey Show, and NPR’s Fresh Air. You can connect with Julie on Twitter, Facebook, blog, or website. Check out Julie's line of planners and notebooks on Levenger, part of the Circa notebook series.
Linda: You are internationally known as the “organizing and time management guru” What are your best strategies for successful time management?
- Capture all your to-dos in one place. The biggest mistake people make in managing their time is often quite mechanical—including the habit of scattering their to-dos and appointments among a variety of systems. Decide on one planning system (paper or electronic) and keep it with you wherever you go. Record 100% of your calls, appointments, and to-dos. This reduces pressure to remember, and enables wise choices when prioritizing.
- Schedule “when” you will do things. A to-do not connected to a “when” simply doesn’t get done. Schedule tasks into your planner on the specific day you intend to do them. Add a time estimate next to each item to ensure do-able days.
- Use the 4D’s to lighten your load. Good time management means focusing on the highest and best use of your time. Proactively streamline your workload (at work and at home) by applying the 4 D’s: Delete (discard tasks), Delay (reschedule for a more appropriate time), Diminish (create a shortcut), and Delegate (give to someone who can do it better, faster or good enough).
- Group similar tasks. Batching tasks boosts efficiency, and minimizes the time and energy lost when constantly switching gears. Group DO’s separate from CALLS— separate WORK tasks from PERSONAL ones. Identify the core activities you are juggling your time between (e.g. client service, strategic planning, sales, administration), and create a Time Map that designates regular time for each of those roles—and you’ll find that you will get significantly more done, in less time, at a much higher quality of output.
- Plan tomorrow +2 at the end of each day. People who plan their day find that time stretches—they get much more done, feel less stressed, and avoid getting caught up in unnecessary crisis. Close-out each day by spending 15 minutes reviewing what you completed and your schedule for tomorrow plus 2 days beyond that. A 3-day arc gives you the necessary perspective to adjust your balance as needed and mentally prepare for the upcoming days.
Linda: Everyone has the same 24 hours in a day. Why do some of us have so much difficulty managing our time?
Julie: The single most common obstacle people face in managing their days lies in their very perception of it. Most people think of time as intangible. Unlike space, time is completely invisible. You can’t see it or hold it in your hands. It’s not something that piles up or that you can physically move around. Time is something you feel, and it feels utterly amorphous. Some days go whizzing by while others crawl painfully along. Even your tasks seem hard to measure—infinite and endless in both quantity and duration. As long as time remains slippery, elusive, and hard to conceptualize, you will have difficulty managing your days. You need to change your perception of time and develop a more tangible view of it. You need to learn to see time in more visual, measurable terms.
Once you understand that time has boundaries, you begin to look at your to-dos much differently. Tasks are the objects that you must fit into your space. Each one has a size, and arranging them in your day becomes a mathematical equation. As you evaluate what you need to do, you begin to calculate the size of each task and whether you can fit it into the space. When you start seeing time as having borders, just as a space does, you will become much more realistic about what you can accomplish, and much more motivated to master various time-management tools and techniques to help you make the most of your time.
Linda: What has been your toughest personal time management challenge?
Julie: As a creative person, I tend to be someone who hyper-focuses on whatever I am doing, and sometimes, as a result, I lose all sense of time, as I am so engaged with whatever problem I am solving. This can happen when I am writing, or designing, or am highly engaged in a meeting with someone. The good news is people and projects get my undivided attention. The challenge is it’s hard for my staff to interrupt me when I am in the middle of something. I employ a variety of techniques to stay on track—planning everyday at the end of the day before—and making sure I define the outcome of every working session before I start—so that I stay focused on just the primary goal of that time commitment.
Linda: If you found yourself with an unexpected extra hour on a particular day, how would you spend that time?
Julie: Probably for something fun and relationship oriented—call or get together with a friend, go for a walk, stop by a museum, go to the park.
Linda: Is there anything you’d like to share that I haven’t asked?
Julie: Just that mastering time management is not a static process—it is a lifelong skill, dynamic, changing as your own life, circumstances and interests evolve. You can also tackle your learning in phases and stages. There’s freshman time management and graduate time management. Everyone, at every point in their lives can benefit from stopping to reflect on their relationship to time, the choices they are making, and what they can do differently to create more meaningful and satisfying days.
Thank you, Julie for your wonderful insights and strategies about time management. I’m sure many people will appreciate your concept that time management is not a static process. This brings hope, particularly to the time-challenged. I invite all of you to join Julie and me as we continue the conversation. What are your time management challenges? What works or doesn’t work for you?