Friday, February 1, 2013

Making Time for What Matters

Guest post from ESSENTIAL Class of 2011 graduate Oliver Bernstein. This is the first in a series of posts related to our Healthy Living for Leaders initiative - powered by H-E-B. The program promotes the importance of health, wellness, life-balance, and resiliency to being an effective community leader.  

When I became a working dad, I needed new ways to manage my time so that I could get everything done at the office without missing priceless time with my family and friends.

Time management is not just about doing more in less time; it's essential to our personal ecology. Personal ecology is a concept I love that the Rockwood Leadership Institute uses to describe the practice of maintaining balance, pacing and efficiency to sustain our energy over a lifetime of activism.

In other words, if we're spinning our wheels at the office then we are neglecting our employers. If we are glued to our phones in the evenings then we are neglecting our families. And if we get burned out because we have lost control of our schedules then we are neglecting ourselves.

Here are some tips that work for me:

  • Work blocks - I learned these from The Management Center, and now I'm hooked. Schedule chunks of time on your calendar as if they were meetings, and then use those blocks to write, brainstorm and focus on the long term projects that are otherwise impossible amid the chaos of the average workday.
    • Work blocks are sacred, so don't move them; they are just as important as any other meeting, just more productive.
    • Start with one two-hour work block per week, and decide each week which project(s) to focus on in that valuable time.
    • Let your colleagues know that you are unavailable except for emergencies, and offer to cover for them once per week in return so they can try a work block, too.
  • Better lists - No matter what system you use for tracking tasks and projects, make sure it works for you. Here are some ideas:
    • Break down projects into finite tasks on your list that you can cross off.
    • Write "WF" next to any tasks where you are waiting for someone else to get you something that you need in order to proceed on a project.
    • Go over your list in the last 10 minutes of each work day and prepare a fresh list that will be waiting for you in the morning. This is a liberating practice that gets tasks out of your brain and on to your list so you can leave the stress at work.
  • Use technology wisely – There are thousands of apps and tools available that promise to make you more efficient and organized. Use whatever works for you, but try to find ways to prioritize your tasks, limit distractions and stay healthy.
    • Some of my favorite free online tools are Pocket (which lets you save articles you really want to read later all in one place) and WorkFlowy (which tracks projects and to-do items).
    • Unplug when it matters most. My daughter is only 18 months old, and I can already see how special each minute is with her. So put down the smart phone and pick up your child.

I fully recognize how fortunate I am to work for a supportive organization with inspiring colleagues, to have an amazing spouse (who also works full time) and to have other advantages that enhance my personal ecology. But whatever you are trying to balance in your life - work, family, friends, service, art - remember that it takes practice, commitment and support from your community.

What are some tools and practices that work for you?

Oliver Bernstein is a father, husband and the National Communications Strategist for the Sierra Club, the country's largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization. He is a graduate of Dartmouth College and the Rockwood Leadership Institute's Art of Leadership.

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