I remember the first time that I saw it – smooth, black leather and the perfect size. My desire to own it was nothing short of lust. This representation of control fit perfectly into my hands. As I paid for my very first one, the sensation of calm and control was overwhelming, but empowering at the same time. I went home and unwrapped each accessory and daydreamed about how my life was about to change dramatically.
It was 1986 and I had just purchased my very first Day-Timer planner.
I had just started my dream job as a real estate appraiser. Overnight, I went from doing a job that involved repetitive tasks on a checklist, to a career where my days included property inspections, research, analyzing the market value of all types of commercial properties and a host of other activities. I knew I needed something to keep me organized and moving forward, professionally and personally.
I lived and breathed by my Day-Timer for years. It was an annual ritual to go to the freestanding store to pick up my calendar sheets for the new year. The stores were enticing, with shelves and shelves full of useful forms, pockets, dividers and rulers to personalize my Day-Timer and make it even more precious.
First Things First
About 1990, Steven Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People appeared in the store alongside the selection of Day-Timer covers. Covey basically applied the idea of “first things first” to the business world, encouraging prioritization of days, weeks and months. Day-Timer was on board and gave us a system to make that happen each and every day.
Fast forward to 2003, when I sprang for a Palm Treo, the first Palm smartphone. It offered everything in one device – email, phone and voicemail. It was life changing but, looking back, a lot harder to operate than my old Day-Timer. I hung onto my Day-Timer for years as it is part of my personal story. I still have my last one in the cabinet and peruse it every now and then.
As I reminisce about my purchases, I realize that they are intertwined and very much a part of my personal quest for life balance. For me, each purchase represented another step in my journey to find partners to help me live the life I envisioned. I never thought of these as time management systems; instead, they were my project partners and databases of information important to me and my journey.
Beyond The To-Do List
Today, I think in terms of projects as opposed to time. I always have personal and professional projects that I want to give my time and energy to. I find that identifying, prioritizing and working through my scheduled projects is much more fulfilling than checking off a list of tasks.
I am mindful of time hacks. Email is a black hole for me. I lose track of time and the next thing I know, two hours have passed and I have accomplished nothing. It has taken me a long time to wean myself off of my email dependency and treat it as a project – checking it at scheduled intervals and responding only if it is “part of my knitting.” The same goes for Facebook and LinkedIn. I have to manage my forays into these black holes.
The other thing that I have learned is that multitasking is not productive or beneficial for anyone. Science backs the fact that our brains can do only one thing at a time. Look at a child. They play with one toy at a time, they eat one food at a time and they read one book at a time. Children are masters of the present.
Many adults long for a more mindful life, to be able to focus on the present without an unending barrage of time hacks. I don’t believe that there is only one way to manage your time, nor do I think that my way is also your way. For me, time management is part of my journey to find my life balance. That journey has been a work in progress, particularly influenced by my children growing up and moving ahead in their lives.
There is no quick or easy fix. Everybody is different and you have to be willing to commit to what is important to you and set out on your journey. You also have to be OK knowing that life changes, and so will your life balance. You’ll never find your balance until you take the first step.
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