Time Management: Tools for Mental Health

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Wow! There are plenty of people devising software and gadgets to help other people organize their time...

Wow!  There are plenty of people devising software and gadgets to help other people organize their time. This is a topic that could fill many posts – there are whole blogs devoted to the subject – but below are some suggestions that I’ve found useful (and a few I plan to try).
Prioritize. "Do-lists" only work if they really help you organize, as opposed to totally overwhelming you with how much you have to accomplish.  I found a simple tool for helping prioritize tasks on Slideshare that involves assigning tasks to a spot on a four-box grid.  The point is to focus on fewer, high-impact tasks, and only tackle one task at a time.
Minimize distractions. Even if you know what you want to work on, it’s easy to get distracted.  According to one report by Gloria Mark, a leading researcher on the science of interruptions, people spend only 10 and a half minutes on a task before being interrupted – either by themselves or someone else.  What’s more, it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back to the same task, if they return to it at all.
So try taking some steps to minimize the chances that others will break into your train of thought.  If you know your office will be noisy when the parents' morning out kids are coming or going, or that your secretary's office will be filled after a Bible Study class adjourns, consider saving your sermon-writing for a later, quieter time.  Similarly, schedule times of the day when you'll read e-mail, and times when you will not - and let people know you only answer e-mails at those times.  The rest of the time, turn it off.
Prune. With so many messages vying for our attention it can be difficult to find important information readily.  Try some of these ideas to keep the inflow under control:

  • Keep what’s visible to a minimum. Organize your e-mail into folders or tag the messages with keywords so that you can find messages quickly.  At the end of the day, move each item that doesn't require immediate action into a folder, making it easier to see what’s still left to do.
  • Install a desktop search function on your computer.  Microsoft's version searches both files stored on the desktop and hard drive, as well as e-mail messages.
  • Consider shifting to an online calendar and email account that you can sync to a smart phone.  They require a small investment in time (and money, for the phone), but they can pay off handsomely in terms of efficiency because you forget less and always have your calendar and contact information handy.

That's enough cheery helpfulness for one day.  If you have a great time or information management technique, don't hesitate to share it.
Yours in health,

Robin Y. Swift, MPH
Health Programs Director
Clergy Health Initiative

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