Achieving Balance: Make the Most of the Time you Have

Katie Corbett holds the book "I Know How She Does It."

By Katie Corbett

No person wants to feel like one area of their life is dominating over all others. I first had this experience when I was working a data entry job fresh out of college. I went from primarily spending my time how I liked to being at the same location for nine hours a day, five days per week, doing work I didn’t enjoy. This period of my life forced me to manage my time better during off-hours.

I didn’t read time management expert Laura Vanderkam’s book, “I Know How She Does It,” until a couple years after leaving that first job, but she makes many points I have found to be true and have made more of an effort to apply to my life. She first points out that every week consists of 168 hours, so there is a lot of time not spent at work. I spent 45 hours at the office and 7 hours sleeping per night, resulting in about 49 hours of sleep. That meant I had 74 hours free the rest of the week. Making the most of that time is the best way to fit everything in to live a full life.

One way I made the most of my off-hours was to take charge of my commute. Since I’m blind and cannot drive, I either hired a driver or took public transportation to work. I found that taking the bus was ideal, since I could listen to audiobooks on my daily commute. Taking the bus also meant I needed to leave at the same time every morning, so I had to head out the door and be ready bright and early. As a result, I made a point to plan what I was going to wear and have for lunch the night before. Taking the bus also involved a walk from my home to the bus stop, and another walk from the bus stop to work. This brisk exercise, repeated for my commute home after work, was a great way to get outside and move, even just for a few minutes each day.

What area could you take charge of each day to make yourself more productive? In what ways could you make the most of your time when not at work? Share any suggestions in the comments. I look forward to reading them!

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To Get More Done, Track Your Time

Katie Corbett holds the book "Coach Yourself to Success" by Talane Miedaner.

By Katie Corbett

If you don’t already have a job when you are looking for your next one, job hunting can involve huge swaths of time that will get away from you. You might intend to apply for jobs, only to discover you spend your whole day watching videos on YouTube or going down the rabbit hole that is Thought Catalog. How can you know when is the best time to apply for jobs or when to schedule interviews so you will be at your best mentally? And if you do have a job when you are looking for your next one, how can you keep yourself from wasting the limited time you do have to fill out applications so you can find work that is a better fit? For me, the answer came when I decided to track how I spent my time.

In her book, “Coach Yourself to Success,” Talane Miedaner says that the best way to determine what you do that wastes time, as well as to find your most productive hours of the day, can be deduced by writing out how you spend your time during a typical week. I did this by creating a spreadsheet with the hours of the day running across the top, and the days of the week running down the side. I kept track of what I did during each hour of the day. (You can create a template and print it out, or find a time-tracker app for your phone, or order a journal with the time blocks already mapped out. Do what will work well for you.)

If you are thinking, “But, Katie, that sounds super tedious and boring,” you are right, it kind of was. But what I learned from this exercise has made any frustration I felt totally worth the effort. As a result, I learned:

• How Much Sleep I Needed: I discovered that I usually slept for seven hours within a 24-hour period.
• I Can’t Take Short Naps: When I conk out, I’m asleep for at least 90 minutes–if not three hours.
• I prefer to Problem-Solve in the Morning: I made it a point to schedule job interviews in the morning, because my brain was most fresh and ready to meet challenges at that time.
• I Slow Down in the Afternoon: This time was great for taking a break, either to relax with friends or to bake or read alone.
• My Best Creative Solutions Come at Night: I would sometimes lie awake at night and get a great business idea, think of a contact I should reconnect with to help with my job search, or get some inspiration to write a fiction piece or start a new hobby.

After I learned these insights, I did my best to act according to them. I stopped calling myself lazy when I laid down to sleep, since I knew I would be up in about seven hours. I scheduled interviews, cold calls, and cover letter writing in the mornings, made plans for relaxation in the afternoons, and kept a notebook or my phone handy late at night so I could jot down my ideas.

What could you discover if you tracked your time for a week? You never know until you try it. Be sure and pick a typical week, free from vacations or business trips. Jot down what you are doing during each hour and note how much energy you have. What are you waiting for? Grab your spreadsheet or journal and get to tracking.

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Have More Fun: Install Ten Daily Habits

Katie Corbett holds the book "Coach Yourself to Success" by Talane Miedaner.

By Katie Corbett

When a person has almost total control of their time, and nothing concrete that needs doing, it can be easy to become bored. Job hunting can be a time with little structure and not very much fun. I found a tip in “Coach Yourself to Success,” by Talane Miedaner, that was a game-changer for me during my search. This tip involved developing a list of ten daily habits.

The trick in sticking to this list is that the habits need to be fun. It should not be just another list of things you need to get done that day. Some of the items on my list included:

• Trying something new
• Reading fiction
• Spending time with a friend either in-person or on the phone
• Praying at specific times of the day, which served to keep me on a more set schedule
• Flossing my teeth. Admittedly, this is not very fun, but it only takes a minute and I always feel amazing afterward.

What fun things could be added to each day of your life if you made a list? Could you take up a new hobby? Rekindle your love of an activity you set aside in the rush of your daily grind? How could you impact the lives of others? And I repeat: This isn’t meant to be a list of the things you “should” do. It has to be fun, make you feel good, or bring a smile to your face. If it doesn’t, then it’s not on the list.

Whether you are on the job search or already work, this tip will likely brighten up your day and make life more fun and interesting. So give it a try. What’s on your list?

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Rest your Mind: Taking Planned Breaks

Katie Corbett holds the book "Pomodoro Technique Illustrated"

By Katie Corbett

Just as accomplishing tasks is important, it is also vital to take breaks throughout your productive time. During a week when I had ten articles to write, I don’t know how I would have stayed sane if I hadn’t been deliberately resting throughout the day. I’m of the opinion that taking these breaks helped me beyond the workday as well.

“Pomodoro Technique Illustrated,” a book by Staffan Noteberg, stresses the importance of separating yourself as much as you can from your work during break time. Here are some of the good things I noticed once I employed deliberate breaks:

1. A Chance to Unwind: Taking breaks throughout my workday gave me the opportunity to relax my brain. This might seem obvious, but it really is important. The human brain can only focus for a maximum of 90 minutes in one stretch, so taking breaks is a critical way to refresh and reenergize your grey matter.

2. A New Perspective: Since I was intentionally stepping back from my work throughout the day, I noticed a freshness and clarity in my thinking once I returned to my work. After my break, I could easily decide whether to continue with the same task, or to start something else that was on my to-do list for that day.

3. Fewer Mistakes: As a result of getting a renewed look at my work every half-hour, I noticed I made fewer errors. In addition to giving me the opportunity to refocus my mental processes, Pomodoro empowered me to get a jump on editing, especially when I finished a task before time was up on my alarm.

All these elements helped me realize the necessity of stepping back from my work, and I hope this information gives you a leg up in whatever you are working on as well. Give Pomodoro a try and track what changes you notice. At the very least, build a few breaks into your working time. Your brain will thank you.

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The Power of Focus

Katie Corbett holds the book "Pomodoro Technique Illustrated"

By Katie Corbett

I think that, to some extent, we all know that multitasking does not make us productive. That’s because running around working on ten different assignments simultaneously, while allowing a person to accomplish one small piece of many projects, does not give a sense of achievement since not one task is entirely finished. Multitasking can also lead to more mistakes, since the brain is constantly jumping between tasks. I discovered the benefits of focusing one week at work during which I had ten articles due. I only had 25 hours to get everything done, so I couldn’t afford to waste any time.

After reading “Pomodoro Technique Illustrated,” by Staffan Noteberg, and applying Pomodoro to my work during that week, I have given up the notion that multitasking is the way to accomplish more. (Read my previous post for specifics about how Pomodoro works, or better yet, pick up a copy of Staffan’s book to read all about it.) When I buckled down and focused, I noticed the following three benefits:

1. Less Stress: Since I could settle into one task at a time, I couldn’t afford to spend moments thinking or worrying about other things I needed to do.

2. A Sense of What was Important: Since I could only focus on one item at a time, I was more easily able to evaluate what absolutely needed to get done during that time.

3. End-of-Day Satisfaction: Checking off the projects I finished at the end of every day made me feel productive and happy, especially since I could say I had not procrastinated during my working hours.

These are just a few of the upsides I observed while focusing on just one thing at a time. Give Pomodoro a try for a week. During and afterward, what are the observable benefits or good feelings you recognize? Do you think you got more done by focusing on just one task at a time?

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What is the 80/20 Principle?

Katie Corbett holds the book, "The 80/20 principle"

By Katie Corbett

Life isn’t fair. I’ve heard that expression since I was little. Aside from not getting ice cream before bed because my sister was being rowdy or having allowance discontinued because my brother kept begging to spend his money on Candy every chance he got, I have since learned an economic rule that helps use the unfairness of life to my advantage. This is called “The 80/20 Principle,” or “Pareto’s Law.” Discovered by Italian economist Milfreto Pareto in 897, this law states that a minority of causes, inputs or efforts are responsible for a majority of results, outputs or rewards. According to Richard Koch’s book, “The 80/20 Principle,” this law comes into play in all aspects of life.

I have personally witnessed this law come into play when job hunting. Having tracked the number of jobs I have applied for and what resulted from those applications, I concluded that 80% of the companies willing to grant me interviews were temp agencies. This led me to start reaching out specifically to staffing services, which led me to an interest in recruiting. This, in turn, opened the door to career coaching.

The majority of the jobs you have will use a small number of skills. The ability to write and work well with others have been skills I have applied in almost every job I’ve had, so I know that a job analyzing numbers in a room by myself would not be something I would enjoy or be good at doing.

For more examples of the 80/20 principle at work, as well as suggestions about how to apply it in your life, I highly recommend reading Koch’s book. I will provide a few examples of how I have used the 80/20 principle in my career, but my life experience and the ways I have attempted to apply this principle are nowhere near exhaustive.

What would you like to spend less time doing? Where could the 80/20 principle make your life easier?

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