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Time Management Week Blog Post – Creating the Optimal Week

iStock_000016314491_ExtraSmallDid you know that February is officially National Time Management Month in the United States?  Here at Learning as Leadership we thought we would do our part to celebrate by posting a two-part FAQ series with our COO Samantha Cooprider, on how you can create your optimal week.

What does it mean to create an Optimal Week?

It means making a conscious choice to look at the reality of how we spend our time. We all have personal and professional responsibilities as well as goals for ourselves. Yet, for most of us, there’s a disconnect between what we’d like to see in our lives and how we are actually spending the hours of our day.

The Optimal Week is a tool that allows us to make our time reflect our priorities in a way that’s aligned with reality.

How can this tool impact my ability to be productive?

It helps you make the shift from being at the mercy of time… oh, I really need to exercise more, or I want to sleep more, or spend more time with the kids… to being in reality about your ability to make conscious choices about what you do with our time – which is another way of saying that you are interested in being more conscious about how you live your life.

What gets in the way of people doing this?

Most of us just haven’t been taught this as a tool for getting what we want out of life. We don’t learn it in school and we don’t get taught it at home.

It’s really learning to opt-in on a slightly different mind-set. When I first learned about this tool I said, yes, thank you!  I had done so much work around finding clarity on my priorities, my goals and my responsibilities. And yet, it was hard to actually fit them all in.

The Optimal Week tool was the missing link, and also a wake-up call that I might not be able to do everything now. There’s a real freedom in getting to reality about what I can fit in, and letting go of what I can’t.

What about less definable categories about how we spend our time, like email and texting and the buzzing of our smart phones?

We’re addicted to urgency, and in our midst of our addiction, all the little fires get put out while the things that are really important to us fall by the wayside. The beauty of the Optimal Week is that it sets up a structure for us so that we can’t ignore the important things that act as a barometer for us to see how we’re doing.

Just noticing that can be enough to start the shift on how conscious we are about time spent texting, emailing, checking social media sites, etc.

Okay, so how do I start?

Identify a way to physically represent the days and hours of a week. This is a template, a picture of how you want your Optimal Week to look and you’ll use it as a barometer for the way you are actually spending your time. You just need a basic 7-day week layout, one that includes the hours of the day.

Some people use a printout, or a spreadsheet and some even handwrite it with pencil and paper. Drawing it out yourself is a very tactile experience, and really works for some people.

The spreadsheet idea works well because it can give you the freedom to rearrange the cells as you work out the logistics. It’s a creative process, and it’s important to remember that. Think of this as an experiment and a way of being more conscious about your life. It doesn’t have to be perfect, and it’s going to change.

What comes next?

Start to play with and fill in the moving parts of your week, in this order:

Existing commitments

You need to be at work at a certain time, you need to get your kids to gymnastics; you have a weekly Monday morning meeting etc.… Start with everything you are already committed to, that you’ve already made a choice about.  Add it to your template, and make sure you are realistic about how much time that commitment really takes.

Logistics

You might think it takes you 20 minutes from bed to door in the morning, but when you think about it, it really takes an hour. Put that in. 7:00am -8:00am, get ready for the day. Add your driving times, paying attention to the commitments in the previous step.

Regular errands

We all go to the grocery store. We all go through mail and attend to our finances. The day or the hour may vary, but as much as possible, identify the regular errands and tasks of your life and give some thought to the actual amount of time they each take, and plug them in to your template.

It’s important to remember that this is a tool that will help you be clear on how you spend your time. It’s yours, it’s a way to think about experimenting with your time, and you can change it.  If you write down “grocery store” as ideally happening on Saturday morning and then you decide to do something else, that’s okay. The Optimal Week just gives you the opening to ask yourself, so when am I going to get this thing done?

It’s a way to put it all in front of you, and you can change it as you go.

Okay, commitments, logistics, errands. Wow, it’s looking pretty full.

This is where the rubber meets the road. Often people say, no wonder it doesn’t feel like there is time for anything else. That’s part of getting to reality on our choices.

I ask my clients to take this as an opportunity for reflection. What is important to me that isn’t yet on the template? And how much space is left? Are there changes I can make to re-prioritize or streamline?
What would your optimal week look like?  Take some time this week to create the first part of this process. Stay tuned for next week’s post when we will expand on creating the optimal week and address some of the obstacles you may encounter.

19 thoughts on “Time Management Week Blog Post – Creating the Optimal Week

  1. What I really liked about this article was that it was realistic about the things we have to do that are default in our week. Taking those into consideration is a critical part of making time and planning for the things that move me towards my most important goals.

  2. I really enjoyed it too. The point about actually figuring out how much something will take is something I need to work on. Like having friends over for dinner. I always forget to include the prep time, cleanup time, and errands to get everything. A three hour dinner could really mean a six hr commitment. Thanks for sharing!

  3. I have created a template of my weekly “must do’s.” It already looks pretty full! Now, I look forward to what I need to do next. Thanks !

  4. I’m glad you mentioned reflection. I have often found that when I reflect on the things I have done I can often get things done more efficiently in the future. Thanks

  5. My wife and I talk about this often. We usually relfect on our week and often find we didn’t accomplish what we wanted during the week. We then hatch a plan for the following week and sometimes we get lucky, but often fall short.

  6. I procrastinate so much! I always seem to be running late and I have had to adapt to getting things done very quickly, last moment. I definitely need to learn how to get my optimal week – if at all possible.

    • Samantha Cooprider

      The optimal week is the structure that lets me be clear about what I need to do. Procrastination is an emotional issue — very important to explore. You can reflect on what your fears are in doing the tasks you push off. Do you have thoughts about it being too hard, not knowing how, etc?

      The structure and emotional work need to function in tandem.

  7. Freak on a leash

    I use a calendar to plan the week and although I don’t miss appointments, I do find myself rushing a lot. I find that if I don’t write things down on the calendar I just don’t remember everything.

  8. Thanks for the reminder that I need to create a list of what is essential to do during my week. I often forget things.

    • Samantha Cooprider

      For the two previous comments, the act of writing down forces our brain to start doing triage. Then we can make choices in a thoughtful way.

      If we leave it up to the moment, we can fall into what we call “unconscious time management,” meaning that we are reactive. We do what feels comfortable, or makes us feel needed, or what occurs to us, but often not what is most important.

  9. It seems I have adapted to working best under stress, but I do feel the physical and emotional effects by the end of the week. Although I get my week accomplished, it is far from optimal! I know I need to work on this because I am sure it will eventually take its toll.

    • Samantha Cooprider

      We think about this in terms of “sustainability.” Not in the environmental sense, but in the physical, mental and emotional. If I were to go through my work life for the next ten years with this level of stress, would I feel inspired and fulfilled — or I sense a burnout could occur?

      The optimal week helps us think about the rejuvenation we may need (e.g., I also teach classes at a local gym, and it helps me manage my stress), as well as to improve our ability to spend our work time on what most matters.

  10. Time management is a skill. You’re right, we usually don’t get taught this and we figure it out by trial and error. Some people get better at it more quickly, but if your like me, it takes a while! Too bad there isn’t a class in school how to create the optimal week and juggle everything.

  11. My problem is I just can’t keep the routine up. I always start out all gung ho, but then slowly lose interest in keeping up with my time management. Frustrating.

    • Samantha Cooprider

      You lose interest or you get slowly overwhelmed by the number of things, then let it go? When I plan (just before that gung ho start), I’ll also plan a couple of hours a month or so out to regroup, so that I have time set aside to get me back on track.

      Part of the challenge is forming a new habit. When we are starting, it is easy to fall back into our default coping system (whatever you do if you don’t think about it). The more you can anchor a new way that works for you, the more you’ll miss it when you let it go. Now that I work out a lot, for example, I really feel it when I don’t, and need to get back to it.

      It can be that way with how we manage our time.

  12. Good point in that for this to work, you have to jot down the everyday things as well as the appointments. Often it’s the getting ready for things and those other things that we do daily that actually slow us down.

    • Samantha Cooprider

      Absolutely. We the executives that I coach, who do a lot of one-on-ones with their staff, they often don’t include time to prep. So they show up and do the meeting, but it’s often a bit hit or miss. So it’s not just spending the time to do the thing, it’s being ready to do it with all our clarity.

  13. I always thought that getting married would make things simpler in my lifewith 2 people getting things done. But ever since, I find that my week is less optimal and more hectic. Maybe we should start writing things down.

    • Samantha Cooprider

      LOL. It’s takes even more time because now we need to confer with someone! We have people on staff who plan an optimal weekend (really useful if you have kids), others who designate a specific night a week to deal with issues/pay bills. And don’t forget date night!


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