Time doesn’t really fly, and the world isn’t turning faster — it just seems that way as our days get busier and we are asked to do more for our bosses, our families, and even ourselves.
“There is no such thing as managing time. Time keeps on going by hour by hour, and there are always 24 hours in every day,” says time management expert Karin Stewart. “Instead of trying to manage time, we need to look at what we can control — our focus and our energy.”
Stewart will speak on “Get More Done in Less Time and Without Stress: Time Management for the Rest of Us,” at a seminar at the Center for Relaxation and Healing at Plainsboro. The two-hour event begins at 10 a.m., Saturday, March 24. Cost: $25. To register, contact Michele B. Granberg at 609-750-7432.
“Time management skills are essential for personal and professional success,” says Stewart, who certainly didn’t start her career with a goal of becoming an expert in the area. Stewart grew up in Switzerland (French is her first language) and attended college for engineering, receiving a PhD in from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology.
Planning a career in academe, she did a post-doc at Boston University 15 years ago, met her husband, and “the rest is history. I just never went back,” she says.
Her time at BU also showed her that she was not cut out for academe. “It was too general. I wanted something more, so I went to work for a consulting company that worked with chronic fatigue and sleep disorders and non-traditional schedules.”
She worked with firefighters, healthcare workers, people in the transportation industry, and others who had 24/7 on-call jobs. What she learned changed her life.
“I discovered how powerfully our habits and our schedules impact our lives,” she says. “If people are constantly on-call they can’t plan anything, not a doctor’s visit or even an evening out. Making a few changes in their work, so that they knew when they could expect a call and when not allowed them to make plans. And that allowed them to feel that they had control over their lives again.”
In 2003, Stewart found out what it was like firsthand to live an unscheduled life. “I was working in the corporate world, on a management track, when I got pregnant. I knew that I wanted to be able to raise my son myself, get him to and from school, and be present at all his games and events.”
The demands of raising a child and staying on the corporate management track weren’t compatible, so she left corporate life and started her own business as a paper and time management consultant.
“With running a business and taking care of a baby, I found myself overwhelmed, fatigued, frustrated, and angry. There was simply too much, and there was no time whatsoever for myself in this equation. It was simply unsustainable, and I could see myself burning out in the near future,” she says.
She began reading everything she could find to help her discover “how to have everything while maintaining my sanity.” She used herself as a guinea pig to experiment with everything she learned and find out what worked and what didn’t in the real world.
“In a little over two months, I had regained my balance, was my happy self again, and discovered in the process that making balance a priority actually made me more effective at work — my business increased by 30 percent that year,” says Stewart.
Since that time she has written a book, “5-Minute Time Management Solution,” and not only coaches individuals but speaks to organizations about time management.
Based in Hoboken, Stewart calls her techniques “daily mastery, the science of managing your life on a day-to-day basis for a highly productive, yet peaceful and balanced life now and in the future.”
Her three-step process sounds simple.
Create a productive day. “It’s pretty simple: we all have 24 hours a day, no matter who we are or what we have. What makes the difference is how we use those hours,” she says.
It is difficult to achieve anything when time is “eaten up by trivialities and time vampires” — those people who just love to fill our days with unessential items of their choice, not ours.
Manage resources effectively. “Time is only the first of the resources needed to have a peaceful and balanced life,” Stewart adds. Other resources that must be balanced are sleep, stress, and other emotions that can either aid us or get in our way, other people who can help us, and making sure that the systems we use are organized.
“Once you master this step, a whole new level of effectiveness becomes possible, whether you are a stay-at-home mom or an executive,” she notes.
Make the days count. The final step in Stewart’s plan is to make every day count toward creating or reinforcing the life you want to have.
“Whether your idea of life balance is to have breakfast twice a week with your kids and one day off a week, to work less, or to engage in a passion, your feelings of peace, accomplishment and balance will come from making it happen,” she says.
Strategic Tools. At Stewart’s workshops she shares specific, simple techniques to make the day more effective. “The average desk worker gets 100 E-mails a day,” she notes. That translates into 100 individual distractions.
The time lost however, is a lot more than just the few minutes it takes to read a quick E-mail. Studies show that after each distraction it takes us from 5 to 30 minutes to get back on track with what we were originally doing.
That means that if we stop to read each of those 100 E-mails individually, we will never accomplish anything accept reading E-mails. Saving E-mails for one or two specific times during the day can mean a huge amount of time available for more important endeavors.
A few small changes in your environment can also cut your distractions by 30 percent, according to Stewart. For office workers in a cubicle or open space environment this can be crucial.
“If you work in an office, arrange your desk so you are not in the direct line of sight of someone else. Bring in plants or other objects to obscure your view,” she suggests. Making eye contact with someone is an invitation to speak, so making it more difficult for the person at the next desk or someone walking by to make that contact means that you will immediately become more effective.
The distractions are different but just as real for someone whose office is at home. “If you have to put your desk in your living space try to place it so that you can’t see everything else in the room. It’s easy to get distracted by dirty dishes in the sink if you can see them,” she says. Try to place your desk where it isn’t in view of the television, so you won’t be tempted to turn it on.
Stewart promises that all of her techniques are easy to implement. “I give people simple, straightforward, fill-in-the-blanks, step-by-step tools to tweak or modify what they are already doing. I hate complicated: if I can’t understand it immediately, if it’s not easy to do, I won’t do it, and I assume everyone else is just the same.”