image: The Weight of Time by Julie de Waroquier

Time is finite. There are only so many hours in a day (24), week (168) or month (720). In a traditional work environment, we are expected to work 40 hours a week. This equates to 160 hours a month. Though this used to be the norm, in major cities like New York, San Francisco and LA, it’s more likely that the average employee works 45-55 hours per week. This is closer to 200-225 hours a month. In addition, the average American commuting time is 45 to 60 minutes each way, which means another 30 to 45 hours is spent just commuting each month!

In addition to work, we (hopefully!) have a personal life, a major part of which includes a good night sleep. Regrettably, most Americans don’t get enough recommended sleep (8 hours); for most folks, it simply isn’t an option. 6 to 7 is more the norm.

So work, the commute and sleep alone monopolizes about 430 hours of a month, leaving very little time for friends, family, personal obligations, chores and leisure activities. This is why it is so important to be smart and disciplined in managing your time, especially if you are trying to reach specific goals. The following is a list of suggestions on how to better use and manage your time.

1. Set SMART Goals! If you haven’t determined any targets you want to accomplish, it is difficult to actually get anything done. Create a list of projects or tasks you want to finish so you have a clear idea of what your efforts are meant to achieve.

2. Create a Calendar! The most obvious way to successfully manage time is to create a calendar and abide by it. Scheduling a daily agenda allows you to maximize every second of every day. It does not mean that you have to fill every second of every day with something to do, it just provides a guideline of what needs to be done each day, resulting in a roadmap to success.

- Create your calendar for the week every Sunday so you can begin the week with a plan.

- Break monthly goals into weekly goals and weekly goals into daily goals so make tasks and activities are more manageable.

- Keep a DONE list in addition to your TO-DO list so you can see what you accomplish and feel good about it.

- Don’t forget to include time for relaxing and/or meditation.

3. Maximize Time During the Commute

Public Transportation -

- If and when possible, travel with a laptop or tablet that enables accomplishing work-related tasks. This could include reading and responding to emails, scheduling appointments, reviewing presentations, researching upcoming projects and so forth.

- Elect to utilize the commute as recreational or personal time to listen to music or a book on tape, read, watch a movie, meditate and so forth. Sometimes this is the only opportunity for some to enjoy a few moments to themselves.

- Commuting can also be an opportunity to build social and political capital. An example of this could be striking up conversation with another passenger and establishing a new connection or even friendship. Relationships are always a good investment!

Private Car -

- Return phone calls to clients (using a headset, of course).

- Elect to utilize the commute as recreational or personal time to listen to music or a book on tape, read, watch a movie, meditate and so forth. Again: this is sometimes the only opportunity for some to enjoy a few moments to themselves.

- Socialize with friends or family via phone (using a headset, of course). These conversations might otherwise occur in the evening, when time could be spent working, job hunting, researching and other important activities that require more attention.

4. Eliminate the Commute! If you have the option of working at home versus commuting back and forth, provided you feel your productivity won’t suffer, this might be something to consider. However, working from home can be lonely and isn’t for everyone. Boundaries and routine are required to be productive and prevent work from invading your personal space.

5. Minimize Time at the Gym

- Take the stairs versus the elevator.

- Set a reminder to do a set of push-ups, sit-ups or squats periodically throughout the day.

- Spend breaks taking a quick walk, either outside or just through the halls of the office.

- Take phone calls standing up.

6. Maximize Lunch Breaks

- Build or nurture your existing network by having lunch with others, either those in other departments at the office, or people you want to be associated with (exploratory lunch).

- Take a walk, make social phone calls, search for a new job or read.

7. Set a Time Limit on Tasks to be Completed - setting time constraints for these items will help you better focus and work more efficiently.

8. Ditch the Attempt to Multi-task! It is a scientific fact that the brain is not equipped to juggle various tasks. If you divert 20% of your attention, you lose it elsewhere. So when working on something, turn off the phone, close the other tabs on your computer and give the task at hand your full attention. Not only will your do it better, but you will also likely get it done faster - hence actually saving more time.

9. Leverage Wait Times - Use the time waiting at the doctors office, grocery store, airport terminal and so forth by answering emails, listening to a podcast, reading an e-book and so forth.

10. Learn to Say No! Time is valuable. Before accepting invitations, check your calendar. Only accept meetings, dates and activities that contribute to your happiness, well-being and goals.

Managing your time wisely is the cornerstone of success. Our world today is a whirlwind of noise and activity, rife with distractions and interruptions that can slow us down and hurt our spirit. Keeping your time organized and being cognizant of how you spend it is a major factor in keeping focused on your goals and minimizing stress. How else can you enjoy any time you have left?