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My Closet, My Calendar

I started a time management coaching course a few weeks ago. The best tip to come out of the class so far is the seemingly simple idea of looking at your calendar as if it were a closet.

The course is being taught by America’s favorite organizer, Julie Morgenstern, who showed us side-by-side photos of a messy closet and an over-booked page from a day-timer. The similarities were amazing. In the messy closet, shoes were jumbled on the floor with purses. Pants and skirts were intermingled with no room for tops or dresses. In the messy calendar, to-do lists were scribbled between confirmed appointments and ideas were written in the margins with no room left to fit in scheduled workout, reading and family time.

Both a closet and a day have limits, one space, the other time. To get a handle on your day, start by looking at everything you do — work, kid time, spouse time, exercise, reading, errands, commuting, hobbies, sleep, etc. Put down what productivity expert David Allen calls “the hardscape”: the hours you sleep, the time you absolutely have to do certain things, for example, be at work from nine in the morning to five in the afternoon or pick up the children from school at 3 p.m. each day.

In terms of clothing, the hardscape would be the suits or uniform you need for work, jeans for casual Friday, a black dress for funerals, your tuxedo or whatever you consider “have-to-haves.”

Next, look at the remaining hours in the schedule. How could you best use your morning hours before work, your commute time, your evenings, your days off?

Clothes-wise, think khakis, a party dress, yoga outfits, and anything else that you either need or would like to fit into the “calendar-closet.”

Morgenstern stresses that the important thing to watch out for in time management is keeping “like with like.” As in a well-organized closet, where you hang pants together, blouses together, skirts together, in a schedule, nothing defeats organization as much as mixing tasks and times. This is especially tricky for people who work from home.

If you designate 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. to work, but really take time out to settle arguments between the kids, mow the lawn, check Facebook and do a little housework, you are not getting the most you can from your “work” hours, and the result is probably that you make up for it by working more in the evenings or on weekends.

Even for someone working in a traditional office away from home, keeping on task and minimizing interruptions is tricky. Like anything in organizing, it takes support and discipline to make changes.

Again, like a closet, we have to purge a few things to get everything to fit and to keep only those items that really serve us. Is there anything you can toss or donate (delegate) from your schedule? Like your clothing, your schedule should reflect who you are and it should help you work toward your goals and dreams.  If a task fits the description of a priority — good time management starts with identifying your priorities before you so much as open a Day Timer — a creative solution can always be found.