Time management can produce financial, social rewards

Friday, October 24, 2003

NEW YORK -- A lot of Americans are working more and enjoying it less.

Many are stressed out with longer working hours and fewer vacation days. Americans averaged 1,878 hours on the job in 2000, up more than 10 percent from the 1,703 hours they logged two decades earlier, according to data compiled by the Economic Policy Institute in Washington, D.C.

Every extra hour in the office is an hour not spent with family and friends or exercising or taking on a volunteer project.

As a result, many are seeking help from professional organizers and time managers to try to rebalance their lives.

"There's growing demand," said Barry Izsak, president of the National Association of Professional Organizers. "What we can do is look objectively at a person's situation to help them see how they're spending their time."

The key is learning to set priorities, said Izsak, who own the Arranging It All consulting firm in Austin, Texas.

"A lot of people think that working longer means getting more done," he said. "In fact, they're often taking the inefficiency they already have and spreading it over a longer period of time."

His advice:

  • Have a plan for every day, preferably one worked out in a few quiet moments at the end of the previous day.

  • Learn to say "no" to requests that aren't important to you or related to your goals.

  • Focus on the job at hand. "People will find that there are a lot of things that can wait -- and a lot that doesn't need to be dealt with at all," he said.

    Valerie Nossal, a time management expert with MeadWestvaco Consumer and Office Products, based in Stamford, Conn., said many people get frazzled because they're driven by the clock.

    "That's being reactive with time," she said. "You have to learn to be proactive."

    In some cases, that means actually scheduling things on your calendar that don't have to do with work, such as an hour for exercise on Monday or family night on Thursday.

    "Many of us could work 24 hours straight and still not get through everything we have to do," Nossal said. "We have to teach ourselves to say, 'At six, I have to go home because I want to spend time with my family."'

    There can be a cost for working fewer hours, which is less pay. But Nossal argues that there's also a cost to working inefficiently.

    If you spend your time doing things that aren't important at work, you don't get the big, important project done, or you miss landing a large bid, she said.

    If you're disorganized at home, you may not pay your credit card bills on time. And that costs you late fees and a damaged credit rating.

    Vicki Robin, co-author of "Your Money or Your Life," offers a different strategy, suggesting people make a conscious effort to stop trying to do too much.

    She asks: How much of what people buy is necessary for their well-being and how much is unnecessary clutter? How much is bought on high-interest credit cards that can take months or years to pay off? How many hours does someone have to work to cover those costs? What don't they do because they have to work to pay for things?

    "The message of the hurry-up culture is that if you're more efficient, you can get more done," Robin said. "Then you can squeeze in more leisure, then you can squeeze in some exercise. But that's back to the 'having it all' mentality, and I think that's a loser expectation."

    Balance, Robin believes, is about knowing who you are and what's important to you -- and making decisions based on it.

    "I think the winner expectation is to have enough of what you really want and none of what you don't want," she said. "That's manageable."

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