Time Management = Stress Management

As we launch ourselves into 2012 with a vengeance, some of us will start working towards New Year’s Resolutions if we make them. Others may forego official resolutions, but still take stock and decide that a new attitude or taking up a new positive habit or two is worthwhile. Or perhaps resuming your regular routine after the seasonal holiday hiatus, or disruption (depending on your outlook) is adequate for some? In any case, as I head back to the gym with the masses and my regular schedule starts to fill again with work, social obligations and new projects, I seem to be aware of my rising stress level and look to how I can counter and manage my stress. For the last two months of 2011, I was not on my regular schedule and looking back to 2010, it seems that was the case back then too. I find there is an adjustment period back to my regular habits that allow me to implement my personal time management strategies. It occurred to me that some of these strategies that I use and share with clients might also be helpful for others.

For me, a significant component of stress management is time management. Time management tends to be like healthy eating – we all know what we should do, but it is hard for most of us to do it properly. The details will be unique to each person, but the basic principles should still apply:

– Organize time into categories, e.g. work, family, volunteer, personal appointments, social and “me” time.
– Prioritize your time and tasks within each time category, as necessary.
– Set boundaries: learn to say “no”.

The above principles may seem obvious, but they are not as easy to implement for many people. Not everyone will be motivated to do this, but if you were to make a time budget, what would it look like? Log your activities and the time it takes to do each for a week or two. It may be overwhelming at the beginning to go too granular (such as listing detailed tasks at work), so if you prefer, start with broad strokes and perhaps do something like this:

Time Budget Example.

It may seem tedious, but it is a good way of tracking your time if you do not have a good grasp on where you are spending your time. After a week or two, you can categorize into time categories and then from there, prioritize. Seeing how you are using your time in black and white also shows you where you may be able to spend less time doing an activity that is really a lower priority for you. It can also give you the opportunity to outsource certain activities that maybe lower priority, but high in terms of time value. An example of this could be housework. If you are spending two or more hours cleaning your house each week, you may want to determine if it is financially viable to hire a cleaning service. If the cleaning service is costing even 10% less per hour than you are earning, that may be an option to help you “buy” time. When you determine your priorities, you can also then work out when you should be asserting yourself to set boundaries and say “no”. This will enable you to keep your time for your higher priority activities. The art of being assertive is a separate discussion!

Developing the habit of time management takes time (how ironic), effort and commitment, but the payoff is that it will lead to having better control of your time; you will feel like you have more time. Ultimately this new habit should result in reduced stress. I will be exploring other topics of stress management in relation to mindfulness in my next post. Stay tuned.

For more information about time management and time budget techniques, you may find this article by Sid Savara of interest: A Powerful Time Management Strategy – The Time Budget?