Call it a New York/Long Island thing, blame the entertainment world or the fact that iPhones have made us accessible 24/7, but it just seems like everyone is so busy these days. Alice Price, professional organizer and coach and founder of Organize Long Island, Inc., finds that this is especially becoming a problem with young women.
“Many young women today are really getting walloped by this and part of it is they’re taking on the ‘should,'” Price said. “They’re buying into what they see on TV, women who have it all. You can’t have it all.”
And while women are being told to Lean In, Republican nominee hopeful Jeb Bush recently suggested Americans work longer hours, though studies show the standard 40-hour workweek is already actually longer than that. Add in birthday parties for the kids of people we kind of know, nonstop work e-mails, volunteer obligations and family commitments and then subtract any time for yourself and it’s a recipe for an unbalanced life. It’s no wonder you can’t find your keys in the morning and always feel like you’re running on empty.
“With time management, you get so involved in the should and the lowest priority in the world for you is you and that’s so unhealthy,” Price said.
Here’s a newsflash: you can’t have it all, but you can have what’s important to you. Organizing your life is not as easy as 1-2-3, but Price has made it as simple as possible.
Step 1: Decide What’s Important
When Price begins working with a client, she starts by asking them what their values and goals are. “Be true to that,” she said. “What do you want truly in your heart?” Take a piece of paper and divide it into four squares. Label them important, unimportant, urgent and non-urgent. Based on your goals and values, put the items on your weekly schedule into those boxes.
“We have to focus our time and energy on what is urgent and important. What is not urgent and important, we really need to eliminate,” Price said. Keep in mind that this is about you. Your friend may be able to juggle three volunteer organizations, motherhood and her job, but you get dizzy just hearing about her day. “People should not be comparing themselves,” Price said. “People have to learn what’s right for them.”
Step 2: Set Rules
Next, set rules and boundaries. Price recommended stashing your keys, eyeglasses and phone on the same corner of your desk at work and in the same basket at home so you’re not wasting time looking for them. Perhaps one night a week you have a cell-phone free dinner and everyone goes around the table and tells a story about the highlight of their day or maybe you’re going to stop taking work calls or answering work e-mails at 9pm each night.
“Sometimes, you have to make a rule and stick to it,” Price said. “Unless you’re a heart surgeon and a heart just became available, there’s really no crisis that can’t wait a half an hour while the family has dinner.”
But what will you do without access to Facebook for 30 minutes? Relax, those pictures of your friend’s puppy will still be there after you’ve listened to your spouse’s highlight-of-the-day story. In fact, Price suggested limiting time on social media during the work day, too. “Social media has its place, but it can be a form of procrastination,” Price said. “I’m a very big believer in using timers to give yourself time on social media or playing Candy Crush. When you complete something, allow yourself 20 minutes or a half hour.” In other words, answer that e-mail that’s been sitting in your inbox for two days, then check Facebook. Added bonus: you won’t be answering it during dinner.
A word of warning: Don’t try to do too much at once, especially if you feel like your life is completely disorganized. Try starting with just one of Price’s suggestions. “They say it takes 21 days to develop a habit and to do it a little at a time,” Price said. “Just chip away at it.” Once you conquer one, move on to the next.
Step 3: Learn to Say No
Here comes the hard part for many. Certain things, like social events or chairing a committee, just aren’t going to fit in if you’re staying true to the rules and priorities you have set.
“Sometimes we go to social events because we should,” Price said. “That’s really not a good enough reason.” Back out gracefully. “For a work or volunteer situation, very often if you say, ‘No, but I think so and so would be interested in taking that volunteer position or chairing that committee,’ the person that’s asking will be very happy,” Price said.
Make sure you check with that person first to make sure s/he has enough time for the responsibility. If you’re the kind of person that immediately says yes to everything and regrets it later, Price advised to always say, “I’ll think about it and get back to you tomorrow.” “That gives you a little time to think about if it’s something you really want to do, whether you can fit it in your schedule or whether you should say no at this time,” Price said. If you find yourself feeling guilty, think of it this way: “It’s like the airline where you put the mask on yourself first,” Price said. “You have to take care of yourself first. You have to allow for some downtime for yourself before you can really be productive for other people.”