In 2006 Lindsay Vastola had a rising corporate career at a translation services company in New York, where she managed the pharmaceutical and medical device division. “I was working 25 hours a day,” she says. “I was running on a hamster wheel and I didn’t know how to get off.” Because her job involved a lot of project management she was good at coordinating teams of people and having things ready according to strict timelines. But in her personal life her time management was out of control. Like many busy professionals, she felt like she had no time for a personal life.

She decided to abruptly quit her job and begin a new career, one in which she would have more control over her life. Today Vastola lives in Robbinsville, where she runs Body Project Fitness & Lifestyle, a women’s fitness studio; serves as editor for Personal Fitness Professional Magazine, a trade publication; and raises a six-year-old and a one-year-old. Doing all this successfully demands high-level time management skills.

Vastola plans to pass on what she has learned about time management to the Young Professionals Collective at the MidJersey Chamber of Commerce on Thursday, February 22, from 8 to 10 a.m. at 423 Riverview Plaza in Trenton. Cost: $25. For more information, visit www.midjerseychamber.org or e-mail stephanie@midjerseychamber.org.

Vastola grew up in California and moved to Hawaii at a young age. Her father was in the restaurant business, but she was raised by a single mother who hustled to make ends meet. Vastola delivered newspapers between the ages of 7 and 12 to contribute to the household. Some of her organizational skills can perhaps be traced back to her mother, who created calendars and deliberately planned out everyone’s schedules.

“Talk about time management,” she says.

Vastola says she developed her time management strategies by studying clients she was working with, reading a lot, and learning from her experiences as a professional and small business owner. As a fitness and lifestyle coach, Vastola often helps her clients plan their weeks. They wanted to stay fit but struggled to find the time to work out. They wanted to eat healthy but found that it was impossible to cook nutritious meals every day. “My clients and I spend a big chunk of time on how to map out a week so that you’re not trying to fit a square peg into a round hole,” she says.

Vastola says it’s possible to find oneself very busy while not actually accomplishing anything. And feeling a lack of accomplishment can be depressing, she says. Vastola has developed several ways to get out of this situation:

Recognize what is immediate and what is important. For example, all throughout the day, e-mails arrive, demanding attention. “E-mail tends to be a time suck and an energy drainer,” Vastola says. “We think it’s important to respond to those, but there are things we could be doing that have a more direct impact on business, work, or caring for our families,” she says.

Things like e-mail shouldn’t be ignored completely, Vastola says, but it’s wise to find ways to respond to them during specific times so they don’t interfere with other more important tasks. For example, Vastola spends an hour in the morning and an hour in the evening responding to clients’ e-mails but doesn’t touch it for the rest of the day.

Delegate. For entrepreneurs, business owners, and managers who have people working for them, delegating tasks is a viable option. Vastola recommends finding four or five key things that only you can do, while delegating other tasks to subordinates.

Some things are non-negotiable. Vastola advises making certain activities non-negotiable. She says many professionals tend to let things they do to benefit themselves fall by the wayside as work consumes more and more of their lives. But rather than let work take everything over, Vastola says you should set aside blocks of time for things you have to do for yourself, such as giving yourself a non-negotiable hour to work out every Sunday regardless of demands that others place on you.

At the same time, she says, that schedule should be created with the recognition that life can get in the way. Many people will resolve to say, work out at 5 a.m. every day, but abandon their plan in the middle of the week when an early morning meeting prevents them from getting their workout in. Vastola recommends planning around these conflicts. A reasonable weekly schedule might contain one workout in the morning, another at lunchtime on another day, and another on one evening. “It’s about allowing for enough rigidity and structure for accountability, but still allowing for flexibility,” she says.

Different pressures for different environments. Having worked both on her own and in the corporate world, Vastola recognizes that different types of work pose different challenges. When she worked for a company, Vastola found that her personal time had no guardrails around it to defend against her job imposing demands at all hours. She strove to meet deadlines imposed from without.

By contrast, when working as her own boss there was no one to tell Vastola what to do. She had to set her own deadlines to keep herself focused. “It’s easy to fall out of that accountability,” she says. “Your ability to distinguish the immediate from the important becomes much more critical. What can I be doing that will have the biggest impact on my company?”

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