A few weeks before school starts, I start to get a knot in my stomach. I am not ready for fall. The kids aren’t ready for fall. Where did summer go? How are we going to get everything done this fall? How can we keep from overbooking ourselves and feeling so rushed? I feel a queasy panic begin.
 
Can you relate to this? Many of us spend the last few weeks of summer commenting about how busy our lives will get this fall. Activities and school start up again, and, good grief, even Christmas is coming! Life gets hectic. How can we be less busy, but still accomplish what we want? I will share a basic time management technique to help keep things under control. It can keep you and your family on track for fall or for life.
 
For me, the best step to manage time effectively and prevent becoming overwhelmed is to have a plan. The experts call it "goal setting." It is simple. Set life goals, then five-year goals, and then one-year goals. After that, pull the one-year goals into monthly and then weekly, and finally daily to-do lists. I think of my to-do lists as the physical representation of where I want my life to go.
 
Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. We’ve all heard about goal setting. It feels a little like going to the dentist or buying life insurance. It is one of those things most of us agree we probably would be wise to do, someday, but we delay because it isn’t “fun” or the rewards don’t seem as tangible as a new purchase or a remodel. Why is it important to set goals today? Because our time is our life! That’s it. No commercials. You can’t rewind your life tape when you get to the end.
 
Do you know anyone who spends more time and energy researching a new purchase, like a toaster oven or television, than they spend planning their life? Think about that the next time you spend a day at the mall looking for something to make your life better. I say that because I have been there, at the mall, unconsciously trying to fix my life by purchasing just the right thing. Now I have discovered if I set goals and work on them, I really can change my life. I believe this.
 
Another funny thing is that planning or goal setting really doesn’t take long. Less than a day at the mall. You could grab a piece of paper and be done in less than an hour. Here is a manageable list of life areas to set goals:

·  Family/Relationship
·  Professional/Career
·  Financial
·  Personal/Self development
·  Community Service
·  Spiritual/Religious
·  Social/Relaxation
·  Health/Exercise

There. That wasn’t so bad, was it? It was a reasonable number (8). You might even cross out or prioritize the goal areas. Put them in order of priority for you. You could also create other categories for yourself. Some of us might even admit to a "material stuff" or “travel” category, acknowledging that many of us look forward to and plan major purchases and vacations. Regardless of the categories we choose, most of us could spend five to ten minutes thinking about each area of our life and jotting down some life goals.
 
So what is the trick to make goal-setting really work?

Well, there are three tricks or techniques. First, we must break broad life goals down into practical action steps that eventually get incorporated into a daily to-do list. A broad goal such as "I want to spend the rest of my life being more physically fit" might become a one-year goal to "Lose thirty pounds." The monthly goal could be "Join a health club," and then the weekly goal would be to "Exercise on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday morning."
 
Effective goals are specific, measurable, and doable. If they aren’t specific (Lose thirty pounds), how do you decide when you reach your goal? If they aren’t measurable (Get on the scale), how can you track your progress? And, finally, if they aren’t doable (Lose thirty pounds in two weeks. Hah!), well, it won’t be realistic for you to get it done.
 
A tip from those who are consistently better at achieving their goals than the rest of us: Recognize life’s interruptions, and make contingency plans for your goals right away. For example, plan that if you miss exercising once during the week, you will get up early on Saturday to do it. Contingency plan development on the front end is what separates the professional from the amateur goal setter.
 
Another tip I learned in Weight Watchers is this: Recommit. Recommit. Recommit. If you were on a diet and fell off the wagon last night, don’t quit. Simply recommit. Recommit as many times per month, week, or even day as you need to get back on tract and eventually achieve your desire!
 
The second technique is to save and periodically review your life goals to track your progress. It won’t take long. Just jot it on your calendar quarterly. Pull out your original plan. Remind yourself of your priorities. See how you are doing. This will help you stay on course. You won’t let important things slip away. You will be motivated to continue when you start to see your progress.
 
The third technique is to prioritize your daily to-do list, and do your high-priority stuff first. Your list for the day might be: pick up milk, mow the yard, buy a birthday gift for Saturday, and exercise. Are all items equally important? Maybe you must pick up milk for your family. Maybe you want to mow the yard before it gets too long. You know you have to exercise–it is a priority, and so you admit you could get the birthday gift tomorrow.
 
When I make time to work on priority to-do items, I am happier. I feel satisfied because I make progress in life areas that really matter to me. How I spend my day or my week or my life is my choice. So, next time you get bogged down with fall busyness, consider goal setting to prioritize and simplify your life.

Goal Setting Supplies & Books

To make the transition from life goals to daily to-do lists, consider buying or creating a personal planner. Check out office supply stores to find all sorts of planners and calendars. Don’t be shy about creating your own categories and tailoring them to fit your life. Something will fit your style! Remember, though, there isn’t a product out there that will manage your time or your life for you. You still get to do that part!
 
Here are a couple of time management books that provide goal-setting ideas:

How To Get Control of Your Time and Your Life by Alan Lakein (Signet, 1989) is a classic time management book that many subsequent books are based on. Why not read the original? It focuses on goal setting.
 
The Overwhelmed Person’s Guide to Time Management by Ronni Eisenberg with Kate Kelly (Plume, 1997) covers goal setting and other helpful techniques to manage time more efficiently.


This column adapted from Clutter Clearing Choices: Clear Clutter, Organize Your Home, & Reclaim Your Life by Barbara Tako (O Books, 2010).

Barbara Tako is a clutter clearing motivational speaker and author of Clutter Clearing Choices: Clear Clutter, Organize Your Home, & Reclaim Your Life (O Books, 2010), a seasonally organized book of clutter clearing tips that readers can pick and choose from to fit their personal style and needs. Sign up for her free monthly clutter clearing tips newsletter at www.clutterclearingchoices.com.


Barbara Tako is a clutter clearing motivational speaker and author of "Clutter Clearing Choices: Clear Clutter, Organize Your Home, & Reclaim Your Life" (O Books, 2010), a seasonally organized book of clutter clearing tips that readers can pick and choose from to fit their personal style and needs. Sign up for her free monthly clutter clearing tips newsletter at www.clutterclearingchoices.com.