Monday, February 1, 2010

Priorities and Time Management

I wrote this in the comment section of another blog I read. Since I ended up spending kind of a substantial amount of time writing it, I'm posting it here, too. Since it was in response to a question about time management, I thought it was fitting to use it twice.
Although I'm no "model student" when it comes to time management, I do have opinions on the subject. I have a large family, each with individual needs; and I need to balance these with my own desires and interests on a constant basis.

The most important aspect of time management is choice. Our lives today are filled with many things. Many, many things. Too many things. But each of us holds innate priorities as part of who we are. The challenge comes in making choices that accord with those priorities.

It is helpful to spend some time clarifying these things. Write down your life priorities in order of import. Then write down your short, medium and long term goals. Keep these lists in a handy corner of your mind. Pull them out throughout your days and weeks as needed. Constantly re-evaluate whether any given activity helps to fulfill the written priorities and goals

Each of us makes hundreds of choices each day without even realizing it. And we often get bogged down by things that, were we to think about it, are not aligned with our priorities. But if a person has clarified what is important and then has spelled out how his or her life goals fit those priorities, it is easier to eliminate those things that are extraneous. There will still be disappointment involved in letting go of some things. But the disappointment will be felt less if one can see how a given decision fits into a life plan.

Sometimes our life goals are too big for one lifetime. But again, when we have a set of priorities upon which to measure our goals, we can choose which of our many callings will appropriately fill the one lifetime we are given.

For instance, my priorities go something like this: God, family, friends in need, personal hobbies, social life.

My long term goals might be: be faithful, loving and giving to my spouse; raise children who hold to my Christian faith, have the skills needed to provide for themselves and their children, and are responsible citizens; keep reading and learning; maintain my well-being; pursue for myself various "to-do-before-I-die" things.

My medium goals would be along the lines of: homeschool my kids as long as I'm able, run an efficient home, live simply.

Daily goals are more mundane: make sure everyone has healthful meals and snacks, constantly evaluate our supply of hand-me-downs and second hand purchases to make sure each child has what they need, do some laundry, monitor the children's assigned chores, spend some time in the classroom helping the children as needed with their assignments, take some time for myself to exercise and write a little.

Each individual day will also include its unique goals: bigger, more sporadic household chores; piano or other music or dance lessons; sports activities; errands; fields trips and outings.

Be as detailed as suits your personality. I like to cross things out, so I even include things like brushing my teeth and making my bed. Other people feel bogged down with so many details and just write down the bigger stuff.

How do all these lists fit in with time management? First off, at a glance, I can see whether I've scheduled too much for a day. This is a definite skill that must be learned. Each of us operates at our own pace and energy level, and this seems to change with the days and seasons of our lives.

But on the bigger time management picture, if a child requests a certain privilege, when an opportunity arises that I'm really interested in for myself or one of my children, if a friend needs help, or whatever, I can refer back to my priorities and goals and determine whether or not to take on that "one more thing." I have an established rubric within which to measure all the various family activities in order to effectively manage my hours and days.

And (this is really important for me, because I have a tendency to beat myself up) for those times when it feels as though I've gotten NOTHING done, I can pull out my mental list of goals and priorities. I may not have accomplished any of my short term goals. But I can see that those moments spent comforting a child grieving over a broken toy, helping the children work out a disagreement, taking a meal to an elderly friend, stealing a few minutes (or even an entire day) for myself, or just plain being with my children and doing nothing, are important parts of the long term plan. As long as those long term goals are being worked toward, the time is not wasted, even when the day went differently than I might have planned.

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