How busy are you? No really…how busy ARE you?

If you’re like most people, you’re so busy you barely have time to think. You feel like you’re always playing catch up, and you never quite get there. Yep. Me too.

I like to be busy more than just about anything – that’s probably why I have a full time business, a part time teaching job, two fairly big volunteer commitments, and a pretty active family and social life, offline and online. I usually have a pretty good handle on my time – in fact I pride myself on my time management skills. But this past Fall, my schedule spiralled a bit out of my control.

It wasn’t that I couldn’t meet my commitments – on the contrary. I was able to meet and exceed expectations (especially my own) with everything that was thrown my way. But the problem was, just about every waking moment, I was either working or doing something. I would get up in the morning, make a coffee and breakfast, and head right to the computer. Sometimes I was replying to emails in bed before I even got up. Every weekend I’d aspire to take a couple of days off, but inevitably work would almost always push into my Saturdays and Sundays, because I wasn’t accomplishing everything I needed to during the week.

Before I knew it, I couldn’t remember the last time I’d taken a real day off.

I finally decided enough was enough. My schedule was controlling me, and was time to get my schedule back under MY control.

Laying the ground rules.

There were a few bad habits that I’d developed that I needed to eliminate. Sometimes when working from home, it can be difficult to separate work and home time. It just gets all mish-mashed together. Hence, the bad habits like checking email in bed, and hopping on the computer and getting to work right when I got up.

I had to make some new rules for myself. I needed to make my health a priority. So I filled the fridge with healthy food, and changed my morning routine. It would no longer be wake up, check email, make breakfast, go to work. Now it’s wake up, meditate, exercise, eat breakfast, read, shower, get dressed, sit down at computer and work.

I simply don’t do any email and work stuff until I am ready for my day. I ease into the day now, starting each one off with time for me and my health. And laying that one simple ground rule has made all the difference to my mental state at work, as well as my pant size!

If it’s not in there, don’t do it.

The reason I was missing getting a bunch of stuff done every week was, it wasn’t actually scheduled. I would only really put things on my schedule when I had to BE somewhere…at a client meeting, at school, and so on. The rest of my work day was relegated to a to do list, and things like email and voicemail were just slid in willy-nilly throughout the day.

The result was, the to do list and the emails were controlling my work day. The volume of the average person’s incoming information – new tasks, emails, phone calls, and so on – is much higher Monday to Friday. So with those things bombarding me from all angles during the week, the work I was supposed to be doing wasn’t getting done. Instead, the important stuff got pushed and pushed until a quieter Saturday morning was the only time I could focus on it. Before I knew it, I hadn’t had a day off in six weeks.

All that has changed. At the end of each week, I open my calendar to the next week. I go down my to-do list, and I schedule the tasks on that list into my calendar. I block off time for all the work I need to do. I even have my morning routine scheduled. I schedule when I will check email throughout the day too. I leave blocks of free time for things that might come up (it’s not good to be over-scheduled either!).

Two interesting things have happened since I have started putting everything in my calendar.

First, I find that I am far more focused. I know exactly what I need to accomplish every day, because it’s right there in black and white (and red and purple and orange and blue). Second, and this surprised me…I worry less. Once my week is planned out, I can shut down my calendar and not have to think about it. I don’t have this constant nagging feeling of “Oh, I have to remember to do this or that”. Once it’s in my schedule, I can forget about it until it’s time.

Re-create your time.

We all get the same 24 hours in a day. Even though we all have obligations (you have kids, I have animals to care for), in general, and particularly when it comes to work, we still get to choose how we manage our time, and the things in our schedules we have control over, we can completely control.

Sit down and take a long hard look at your calendar. Instead of letting your time create your experience, you can re-create your time.

So what are you waiting for?

[Photo credit: ramyo]