Making time - for time management

Marc Acito photo boxIt's taken me 40 years to learn how to tell time. I'm not talking about distinguishing the little hand from the big hand (though anything between 25 after and 25 'till kinda confuses me.). No, what's eluded me is time management.

Or perhaps I've eluded it. At the risk of oversharing, I'll mention that my inability to organize and prioritize stems from a lifelong anxiety disorder that could make deciding between paper and plastic feel like Sophie's Choice.You ever look at amoebas under a microscope? That's what my to-do list looked like to me.

But now I have therapy. And yoga. And Prozac. Not since Helen Keller moaned "wah-wah" at the water pump has anyone been more enlightened. It's like a fog has lifted.

So after reading this article in The New Yorker about procrastination, I was struck with a blinding Flash of the Obvious: there are only 24 hours in every day. That is literally all the time in the world.

More importantly, many of those hours are already spoken for by such time-eaters as sleeping, washing, eating, cooking and commuting. That's half the day right there before you've even checked Facebook.

And since time is money, it's best to plan for it, even though money is the root of all evil.

Winston Churchill said, "He who fails to plan is planning to fail." Nowhere is that more true than in what social scientist Joe Elster calls the "planning fallacy," the phenomenon in which people forget the time "it will take them to complete a given task, partly because they fail to take into account of how long it has taken them to complete similar projects in the past and partly because they rely on smooth scenarios in which accidents or unforeseen problems never occur."

Carly Simon may not have time for the pain, but I've never had time for a little something called "reality." Perhaps you've heard of it. As suggested by efficiency expert David Allen (who's become a gazillionaire writing the same book over and over), I write my to-do list with clear, active verbs:

Pick up laundry (off the floor)
Plan to write thank-you notes you never will
Finish making

What Allen doesn't say, but I will (and perhaps will write as the same book over and over) is to estimate how much time my tasks will take. (See "reality," above.)

Not that I don't try to be as productive as I can. Indeed, the more tightly one is scheduled, the more organized they tend to be. For instance, students. According to Zac Bissonnette, authorDebt-Free U: How I Paid For An Outstanding College Education Without Loans, Scholarships, Or Mooching Off My Parents, "if your kid works during college, there is a high probability that his performance will suffer -- in beer pong. Research shows that, on average, students who work during college actually graduate with slightly higher GPAs than students who don't work."

So I'll keep working as much as I can. As for whether my new time-telling system will work, well, only time will tell.

And that, my friends, is The Upside.

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