5 Mental Techniques to Master Time Management

Your work space is strewn with paperwork. Your bedroom closet resembles CNN hurricane footage. Your desktop has more icons on it than the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Oh. And by the way. Do you know where your keys are right now?

If that paragraph just filled you with shame, embarrassment and more defensive feelings than O.J. on trial, you are going to love this series. It is part of my ongoing blog on how to to improve your life with my 15 Minutes Per Day method.

But before I cover some practices to achieve better productivity, let’s prepare the soil of your mind.

It is important to develop the mentality to be productive. It doesn’t come naturally.

In fact, think about your closest friend or intimate partner. Think of one weakness or bad habit they possess that you do not share. Have you ever wondered, “Why can’t they get it together like me?” Well, people with excellent time management skills might look at your life and think the same thing.

me_split in two
I fight against my nature in order to practice patience.

However, humility dictates that we realize that different people have different strengths.

I, for one, lack patience. Yet, I have improved my patience (work-in-progress) by adopting a few mental techniques to slow down my impulsive nature.

For instance, in a team setting I tend to get excited and have a lot of ideas. When I experience the desire to jump in and solve problems, I tell myself to breath. Allow at least two or three others to speak uninterrupted. I also force myself to only ask open-ended questions.

99.9% of the time, I am humbled to know that other people have amazing ideas too…if I shut up long enough to hear them.

Likewise, if productivity and time management are not your strong suit, having some best practices under your belt will help you make steady improvement. First, let’s try some mental techniques to help you understand time a bit better.

Mental Technique #1: Know Yourself

How would you describe your personal time style? Do you get frustrated because you don’t have enough time? Or perhaps you think life is a challenge and you are going to enjoy it no matter what?

Look at the following table. Picking one of the parallel items from the left or right, circle which items you agree with most.

Which 1 are you

If you selected more from Column B, then you have set yourself to be happy. You take time challenges as they come. There is nothing wrong with being in either group. What is important is that you are in control to feel happy or unhappy about time. That’s all.

Let’s call group A “Unhappy Busy” and group B “Happy Busy”.

Mental Technique #2: Feel Positive about Time.

Time, a fundamental force of our universe, is limited. This is, in fact, a good thing. If everyone had as much time in the world that they wanted, absolutely nothing would get done. Tell anyone in your office that a particular project is needed but it does not have a firm deadline. What are the chances of you ever seeing that project end, much less start?

Think of time as an equalizer. Everyone has a finite amount of time. In the end, all you want to know is,

how well did i spend my time.pngHence, getting upset over lack of time is just a mental attitude. And, happily, attitudes can be changed. We are never going to have more than 24 hours in a day. And, considering the current trend and wave of technology, we are always going to have more options and things to do.

Adopt this mental attitude: “I have a set amount of time in each day to accomplish things. So let me set some daily goals to accomplish. At the end of the day, let me have organized my time in such a way that I met with success. Yay!”

Mental Technique #3: Realize You Are Time’s Master

“If you want something done give it to a busy person” — Famous phrase

I think about some of the most successful “Happy Busy” people I know. They are not randomly going about their day with success chasing them around. Instead, they plan their days deliberately. They make many decisions on a regular basis. They have routine ways of dealing with recurrent issues. They fill their schedules with time to respond to email and phone calls, manage social media, and have face-to-face meetings.

Outsiders look at them and ask, “How do you get it all done?” And in some form or other “Happy Busy” people answer back, “Time management.”

That’s right. They manage time. Time does not manage them.

“Happy Busy” recognizes that:

① Being busy means that they may have to make difficult choices

② Lack of time is a challenge that is fulfilling and everyone is affected by it

③ Time is limited for everyone

④ Working and accomplishing various goals simultaneously is satisfying and fun

⑤ There is no point to be upset about it

When “Happy Busy” people take time to relax or close out their day, they fondly look back on the day’s accomplishments.

I am one of those people. I sometimes look at my completed to-do list like reminiscing about old friends. I even love to show my calendar off to people. It means nothing to them. But it means something to me.

In one year, I worked a full-time job, engaged in volunteer work, produced a comic book, conducted leadership development classes and loved it! I even still had time for vacations and my gym routine. “Happy Busy”.

Mental Technique #4: Learn to Label

Sometimes we just don’t feel good about doing something. We get bored. We can’t be bothered. Or we just think it’s too hard. There is a simple technique that you can use to redefine your feelings—labeling.

Labeling is calling something other than what it is. In effect, you can fool your brain and kick it into action.

For example, labeling something as “work” makes it feel like work. I, for one, love my job. In fact, I find it very fun. And I make sure anyone I instruct doesn’t feel like it is work to be in a learning session. Instead, I label it edutainment, entertainment with an educational aspect. So, if you name your “work” as “play” you get to feel better when you are doing work!

Here are a few other examples. Can you think of more?

labelingYou can use labeling to restructure our thinking about tasks too. Think of it as an alternative. To be more productive at a task, label it as something you like. Take pleasure in knowing that you have a choice in doing something as opposed to getting frustrated.

Here are two examples:

labeling2Mental Technique #5: Avoid Perfectionism

I just love it (italics indicates sarcasm) when I am conducting a job interview and the person across from me says, “My greatest weakness is that I am a perfectionist.”

I hold back my eye roll and think inside my head, “Oh. Wow. What a hard existence you must have living around all these imperfect people. Your life must feel like swimming through a cesspool of humanity, you self-righteous (I don’t swear)!”

Do you want to manage your time better? Then give up being a perfectionist! (or claiming to be one. Because if you were actually a perfectionist you would perfectly manage your time and probably not be reading this blog except to look for grammatical mistakes.)

The fcta of eth marett is taht gthisn od ton nede to eb prefcet ot wrok wlel.

So-called perfectionists may think that something that has taken a long time is better or has a higher quality than something that didn’t take so much time. There are many examples when this is not true.

For example, a lot of effort can go into designing software tools that prove to be useless or out of touch with customer’s needs. A lot of effort can also go into government policies that not only don’t solve the problem but cause more issues.

Look at it this way:

perfectionYou will better be able to develop great time management skills if you start with these 5 Mental Techniques:

  1. Know Yourself

  2. Feel Positive about Time

  3. Realize You Are Time’s Master

  4. Learn to Label

  5. Avoid Perfectionism

Armed with these mental techniques, you are finally prepared to adopt 10 outstanding practices to achieve better productivity. The illustration below can be printed out. Use it as a visual reminder to refresh your memory on the 10 practices.

10 Practices

Click on the list below to go directly to more information about each practice. I suggest starting at #1, Think on Paper. But you are the master of your own time. Start where you please:

  1. Think on paper
  2. Keep a daily to-do list
  3. Keep a time log
  4. Be organized
  5. Schedule the most important tasks when you are at your best
  6. Focus
  7. Do not procrastinate
  8. Work like a professional
  9. Be flexible
  10. Take time to recharge

(For more on my personal heroes, productivity tips, and articles on leadership visit 15 Minutes Per Day.)

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