My last assignment in the Navy was as an officer recruiter. We were required to maintain a weekly planner, which I hated! On Fridays, I would break out a bunch of markers and have to color-code different things that I was doing for the next week. A yellow block of time meant that I was meeting with someone thinking about joining the Navy, blue meant that I was meeting with my fellow recruiters, purple was for training, and on and on. I called it “arts and crafts hour” and felt it was a complete waste of my valuable time. On top of creating the plan, I had to track changes to the schedule as the week went on. By the end of the week, the planner looked like a hot mess with pencil arrows showing meetings that had moved, rescheduled trainings, and canceled presentations. There was, however, a genius to using a planner. The particular genius to the planner was that most of the really important things tended to be shifted, not canceled.
I am going to say that again — most of the really important things tended to be shifted, not canceled! Once I separated from the Navy, my wife and I realized our lives were out of control. We were both trying to find time to run our business while raising our two toddlers, and I was going to be pursuing my master’s degree full-time. I soon realized we needed “arts and crafts hour.”
Create the Ideal Week
My wife and I have a stay-at-home business, but that creates a lot of ambiguity in the schedule. Having a business with such a flexible schedule, we can work or not work whenever we want. That flexibility is a blessing, but it also creates a lot of strife because we feel guilty when working on the business and not spending time with the kids, but feel guilty playing with the kids and not working on our business. We discovered that we needed to balance all of our commitments and rid ourselves of guilt by setting up distinct boundaries between family and work. Although we have a stay-at-home business, I think a lot of people end up in a similar predicament. Have you ever seen anyone emailing work while at a family function?
We took the dates and times we normally worked on school and the business and blocked them off. We made sure we had times designated where we spent quality time together as a family; no texting or Facebook allowed. We made sure Sundays were for family and church only. We also made sure my wife and I had time to ourselves to read, reflect, and/or exercise. Creating our ideal week forced us to look at our priorities in life and create stability and balance. In the year that we’ve been using an ideal week, we’ve had one, maybe two, weeks that actually looked like our ideal week. That’s life! Having a plan lets you roll with the punches, not get smacked in the nose.
Make Time for Yourself
This is especially important for parents or people who work extra-long hours. The tendency is to do everything we can to please everyone else and make sure everyone gets their fair share of our time, but we all need our own time to reflect and recharge. People tend to do this in different ways. I’ve heard of people recharging by working out, reading the Bible, journaling, showering, biking, and meditating. You should notice that all of these things are healthy and cheap activities geared toward bettering your mind, body, and soul. Whatever makes you feel refreshed, make sure you spend time for yourself at least three days a week. No excuses!
I was doing executive coaching with some of the most successful people in our business. The idea was to talk to people who didn’t really need the coaching, but could offer feedback on my approach that I could use on the people who needed it more. One of the ladies (we’ll call her Ann) was in the top 1% of the company and had just won a huge award for her business vision. I thought she had it all figured out.
I was talking to Ann about her schedule and how she divided up her time. I asked Ann what her priorities in life were and she answered family, religion, and health. Finally I asked her how she scheduled her week. She said she didn’t really have a plan, she pretty much said yes to every meeting and never really thought about where her time went. I asked Ann how she made time for the priorities in life. She paused and finally said, “I guess I just hope I can slide them in there. That’s not really smart is it?”
It was clear Ann had never really thought about how backward her scheduling approach was before that point. If you don’t take control of your life and make sure you spend time on your priorities, your life will find a way to bump out those priorities and replace them with whatever gets tossed your way.
Create Your Weekly Plan the Week Before
You should have a pretty good idea what your next week will look like by the Friday or Saturday before. If you’re married or have someone whose schedule is linked to yours, work out the schedule together. Block out the times you know you’ll be at work, school, practice, volunteering, or appointments. Look for opportunities to spend time with family/friends with no distractions. Designate time to work on the priorities in your life. Finally, make sure to add times for yourself. Don’t worry if you have some white space on your planner. That’s where you can make up study time or spend more time with your family.
You’re going to start to see patterns in how you plan your week and how your week actually goes. In planning your week, you’re probably not going to designate a lot of time toward Facebook or TV. It’s not to say those things are necessarily bad, but if you don’t care enough to designate time to them the week before, then why are you wasting hours of time on them each week? The second thing you’ll notice is that the things that are important will just get shifted, not forgotten. Things happen and that’s OK. The key is to shift the important things in your life, not drop them.
There is a saying about Texas Holdem poker that says, “It takes five minutes to learn, but a lifetime to master.” That’s how I feel about time management. As much as my wife and I have a system that works, every four months or so we reach a breaking point where we’re trying to do too much and need to get back to basics.
Eric Ludwig is a Penn State World Campus student in the Master of Professional Studies in Human Resources and Employment Relations program.