People typically have many commitments, and only one tiny brain. In order to keep all of your commitments in memory at any given moment, it is absolutely essential that you write them down in a day planner (nice!) or on index cards (cheap!), or record them into an electronic Personal Data Assistant (or PDA) such as a Palm Pilot or Windows ® CE device. PDAs have many nice features, not the least of which is that you can set alarms on commitments you record therein so that you'll have a warning before they start. Inexpensive PDAs can be purchased for under $100 USD at most electronic stores.
Once you meet a commitment (e.g., attend that class, make that telephone call, pay that bill) check it off your list of commitments. Reschedule any commitments you weren't able to make on a given day for the next day, so that you don't miss any entirely.
As you go through your days, opportunities will come up that you'll want to take advantage of. Some things can't be planned. You will also find that ideas come to you for things you'd like to do. If you can write down your idea and then act on it later, when you can make time for it, then do so (don't engage it at the expense of your regular commitments!). Otherwise, take advantage of the new opportunity and rearrange your schedule so that it fits your new priorities.
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As much as time management is about regimenting your life and sticking to that regimen, it is also about finding ways to make your life simpler and less complex. The more commitments you can throw out, the more time you have to devote to what is important. So time management also includes things like:
- Learning to say assertively say "no" to people who ask you to take on inconvenient non-emergency responsibilities. Click here for more detail on being assertive.
- Altering cherished family roles as necessary to meet goals. For example, if you usually prepare a family meal, don't feel obligated to do so on nights when you have to study - use a prepared salad instead or some take out, or ask your spouse to do the honors that evening.
- Learning to let go of "status" and "highest quality" in favor of "convenient" to the extent that doing this does not compromise your values! There really are good reasons to go out of your way for quality sometimes (for instance, organic and whole grain foods really are better for your health than conventionally grown and refined foods). Sometimes you will decide that it it is worth the extra time or expense it might cost to meet a commitment in a quality way, and sometimes you will note that nothing serious is compromised if you do a little less (for instance, it's okay to shop at the local grocery rather than the one across town, because even though you might pay more at the local grocery, it takes less time).
Because any rearrangement of your commitments will affect the people you live with and who depend upon you, you should make it a point to coordinate any changes you make with them, and see if you can't get everyone's buy-in for those changes. Making room for new commitments and rearranging old ones generally feels like a sacrifice to other people involved who will be getting less of your attention then they are used to. Don't try to hide this fact, but instead talk about the benefits of what you will be doing; how going back to school will make it easier for you to get a better job which will improve everyone's lives, for instance.
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