Helping Your Life Work
April 2010
Volume 6, Issue 4

'Saving Time'

I began to pay attention to how we waste and save time around the age of eight after reading the story of the Gilbreth family in 'Cheaper by the Dozen.' (The 2003 movie, by the way, has little to do with the original 1948 book.) With a brood of twelve, the father of the clan had, of necessity, found his life's work as an efficiency expert. Experimenting with ways to shave time from his various routines, he determined, for example, that buttoning his vest from the bottom up could save 4 seconds over buttoning it from the top down. That was enough to send me on a mission of developing systems of my own. What was the fastest way to do this or the shortest way to get there?

Now, as we all know, fastest and shortest is not always best. I remember a camping trip through the Queen Charlotte Islands one summer when we decided to eliminate many miles and hours of hiking by following a route that traversed the island rather than circumnavigated it along the northern coast. The only problem was that we had acquired an old map that did not reflect the massive swamps that now blocked our way.  So what looked like a great time saver ending up costing us much time, effort and ultimately money. (The only available hotel on the island at the end of that exhausting day was a very expensive fishing lodge.)

Over the years, I've needed to have that lesson repeated countless times. As my family will attest, taking shortcuts has often resulted in destinations unknown. Rushing to complete a task has often resulted in mistakes and sometimes even accidents. In addition, I have been as guilty as the rest in squandering plenty of my time. If I couldn't respond to a particular task at once, it would often linger for longer than I would like. When much effort, thought and decision were involved, it would cause even further delays. When I had too much on my to-do list or had items that were overly demanding, I would easily overwhelm myself and cause myself to get stuck. 

Well, advancing age and lessons learned have helped me to slow down a bit, to think a little more before I jump right in and to find greater balance. I have experimented with a few time-honoured techniques (pun intended) that have helped me manage my time better, which I thought I would share with you.

  1. Handling things once: While there are certain tasks that require multiple responses, a large number of them can be dealt with more quickly and easily, if we determined what we needed to do with them the first time that we looked at them.
  2. Simplifying to-do lists: Breaking items down into their smallest parts makes tasks more manageable and leaves us feeling more successful.
  3. Think first - act second: Setting aside time every week to think, rather than just act helps to clarify what needs to be done, when and how.
  4. Delegating: Many of us feel that we are the only ones competent enough to complete certain tasks. This results in our being overextended and robs others of the opportunity of learning new tasks. This includes our children.
  5. Consider Murphy's Law: When setting a deadline for yourself, know that there will be something that will cause a delay and account for that time.
  6. Be proactive: Do what you can to prevent problems from arising, rather than reacting to problems as they come up.

I'd love to hear from you about techniques that you have found to be helpful for you.

Barbara Fish, M.Ed.
Personal and Career Counsellor
416 498-1352
“Helping Your Life Work”

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