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Organizing advice for seniors

Organizing Advice for SeniorsAs far as organizing advice for seniors is concerned, the best advice I can give is to recognize that as you age, your body and mind change, and you have to pay more attention to organizing your environment and yourself as you may have done in the past.

As an octogenarian, I find that my body doesn’t always keep up with my mind and I have to make certain adjustments. Although we may hate to admit it, we become frailer and more susceptible to falls the older we get. And our bones are usually more brittle as well. So keep your home relatively clutter-free. Avoid placing furniture or other obstacles in high-traffic area. Don’t wear hard-soled shoes and avoid having loose throw rugs on the floor.

Most office accidents happen when people trip over electric cords or drawers left open. So make sure there are no cords in the way. And I suggest hanging folders in a frame or step files as opposed to filing cabinets. I have 3 step files that hold about 100 action folders.

The major causes of fires in the home include leaving on a curling iron or heating blanket or an electric heater too close to flammable material – or an unattended burner or stove. I think it would be a good idea to have a checklist to go over each night before retiring – such as pull the plug on electric heater, turn on nightlights, lock door, etc. I’m a great believer in checklists.

I think seniors should keep a checklist of all the prescription and over-the-counter medications they take. Include supplements and vitamins. For each medicine, mark the amount you take, the time of day you take it, and whether it should be taken with food. Store two copies of the list: one on the refrigerator door or where your medications are stored, and one in your wallet or purse.

Some people are notorious for keeping old medications. Periodically organize your medicine cabinet and toss out all the expired and unused stuff. You should store things in the room they are used. For medications, that could be the kitchen. Highlight the expiry date on all your medications. Use pill containers that have separate compartments for morning, afternoon and evening, and fill them with your week’s medications every weekend.

Keep a copy of all medical records in a clearly marked folder. Make it a habit to request copies of all test results, X-Rays, and treatments.

If I were to write a list of tips for seniors, I would include such things as:

• Avoid multitasking. Finish one job before starting another.
• Write things down. Keep a journal. Write notes to yourself.
• Organize your environment, put structure in your life, & develop routines.
• Keep a planner updated. Record every appointment, activity or commitment as they are confirmed. (I prefer a paper planner)
• Keep a photo album with names of friends and relatives clearly marked.
• Take an afternoon nap – around 3 pm if possible. That’s good advice for anyone.
• Have a place for everything, and return it to that place after use.
• Avoid caffeine at bedtime and finish your walk at least two hours before bedtime.
• Get up the same time every morning.
• Keep practicing those skills you don’t want to lose. Habits are helpful as you get older.
• Get involved in associations, causes, volunteer groups, travel.
• Associate with younger people as well as people your age.
• Keep your mind active by doing crossword puzzles, taking courses, reading, playing games.

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Why I still use a paper day planner

As far as I can tell, personal productivity has changed very little in the past 30 years in spite of the efficiencies of technology. One of the results of technology has been to speed up the pace of life. We are working faster, driving faster, communicating faster, eating faster – in short, living faster.

But much of the time savings gained by technology have been offset by increases in complexity, choices, interruptions, expectations, stress, delays and errors. Our bodies are not designed to operate at warp speed and yet eating on the run has become the norm. Sleep, in many cases is seen as an annoying necessity. And we are probably spending more time getting well than staying healthy.

We have automatic washers and dryers; but we have more clothes to wash and we wash them more often. Cars go faster; but we have more distances to travel and we have to contend with more traffic, construction, and gridlock. We complete specific tasks quicker; but experience more interruptions and timewasters. The division between work and personal life has become blurred.

Our executive function skills – those brain-based skills that allow us to execute tasks – including focus, working memory, sustained attention and goal-directed persistence are becoming weaker. Discretionary time is disappearing. Information overload, ADHD diagnosis, stress, inefficiency, and lack of balance are increasing. Perhaps we moved too quickly and too completely into the digital world. It’s as though our goal were to increase speed rather than productivity.

A UCLA study found that people who adopted a healthy lifestyle instead of constantly manipulating their BlackBerrys and cell phones, within a matter of weeks, showed improvement in memory scores and reasoning.

Balancing high-tech with high touch can actually strengthen “executive function skills.” It pays to limit technology and maintain balance in your life .I suggest this could be done by welcoming more paper back into your life – which to most people might think is a backward step. But technology writer Danny O’Brien interviewed top achievers and found one thing in common that may account for their increased productivity. They all used some sort low-tech tool, such as a written “To Do” list or a plain paper pad.

Using a paper day planner for instance serves to ground me in reality. I can touch it and feel it and see my scheduled projects the moment I open it. Writing down an appointment solidifies that meeting in my mind, while dictating it to a handheld device makes little impact, little commitment, and little chance I will even recall it the next morning without setting an alarm.

A pen in hand generates focus, attention, commitment, and a “do it now” mindset – something many of us lack. Written down, a name or number stays in working memory longer and has a greater chance of making it into long-term memory for later recall. Fast is not necessarily better; it’s just faster.

Similarly, I prefer to make handwritten notes while on the telephone, jot ideas on a steno pad instead of reaching for a handheld device, write notes on an “Action Sheet” in meetings, and, heaven forbid, even write personal notes on hardcopy birthday cards and send them by snail mail.

There is a place for digital devices. And I do own a handheld Android, an iPad, a netbook and a laptop. And like most people I do online banking, use e-transfers, make calls with Skype, shop online, have a PayPal account, participate in social media, and correspond by email. But I also use a paper day planner and a hard copy follow-up file system, a telephone log booklet, paper checklists, note pads, sticky notes as well as read hard copy books. Paperwork adds structure to my life – because paperwork IS structure.

Your day planner is the most important time management and life management tool, so choose it carefully. It’s not a case of just jotting down things to do. Any device can do that. Planning involves visualizing the future you want and then taking the necessary action in the present in order to make that vision a reality. Your goals are simply snapshots of the future you visualize. These snapshots are then expressed in writing and entered into your day planner as a constant reminder of where you are headed. Here are five things an effective planning calendar should include.

  • A place to record your goals since they are an integral part of the planning process.
  • A place to record your mission statement as well since it reminds you of why you your purpose in life and forms the launching pad for your goals.
  • Each day broken into 15 minute increments, including Saturdays and Sundays as well as evenings to facilitate the scheduling of personal as well as business projects and activities.
  • Daily follow-up sections to record deadlines for assignments due, birthdays and other special events, and notes reminding you when to check the follow-up file.
  • Weekly and daily “To Do” sections to record non-priority items that should be done.

One big advantage of using paper day planners is that you never lose sight of your past. You have a permanent record in your own unique handwriting – your dreams, goals, achievements, activities, and highlights of a lifetime. Your planners serve as journals or diaries – personal mementos of a flesh and blood unique individual, complete with likes, dislikes and personality quirks. You leave footprints long after you have passed on.

You could record the same information in an electronic handheld device; but it’s very unlikely to happen. The purpose of the PDA is to get things done faster, not record them. But it’s easy to scribble notes, times, places and directions in a hardcopy day planner. And it has a permanence that surpasses electrons, immune from an instant delete.

Long after they were gone, my parents were alive again in my mind through their papers – meticulous notes of income and purchases, appointments and events. I could imagine their struggle to keep five children clothed and fed during the great depression, along with their health problems and their hopes and dreams of a better life. I could relive my own forgotten years, the youngest of five boys, oblivious to the hardships that my parents must have endured. None of that would have been revealed in an iPhone, iPad, BlackBerry or other PDA if one had been available at the time.

I record events in my day planner after-the-fact as well. If we meet with someone simultaneously or decide at the spur of the moment to attend a movie or go to a restaurant, the first thing I do when we get home is jot the information in my planner – the time, place, and phone number of the restaurant. At the end of each year, I print that year on the spine of my planner and store them in chronological order in my bookcase.

My life story is in those planners – from my teen years (little pocket calendars) through college, and my forty plus years as an entrepreneur, husband and father. As I get older and the threat of dementia looms, I take solace in the fact that I will never lose my memories; they are recorded for me as well as for my offspring. It sure beats I designed the Taylor Day Planner over 35 years ago, and it still serves me well.

Living in the digital age of speed, I’m almost embarrassed to admit that I hand-write all my books and articles before dictating them to my computer using voice activated software. But I quickly regain my self-esteem when I recall the story of the tortoise and the hare. The objective was clearly not to run the fastest, but to win the race.

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Exercise and the brain

In the late 1800s, life expectancy was about 40 years. By the 1900s life expectancy had increased to 70 for men and 75 for women. According to World Health Statistics 2014, in Canada, average life expectancy for males born in 2012 is 80 and for females 84. You can experience and accomplish a lot more with another ten years or so in which to do it.

But with an increase in lifespan generally comes a loss of mental function and mobility. Physical fitness remains important since it keeps your brain in shape as well as your body. It is no longer believed that the brain becomes fully developed and then stays that way. It can continue to grow new cells and new connections, rewire itself, and even have some areas of the brain take over when other areas are damaged.

A sedentary lifestyle is the enemy of neuroplasticity. But with exercise you may be able to learn and function more efficiently. According to John Ratey, in his book Spark: the revolutionary new science of exercise and the brain (Little, Brown, 2008), exercise strengthens the cellular machinery of learning. German researchers found that people learn vocabulary words 20% faster following exercise than they did before exercise.

Recent studies show that physical exercise is the key to making more brain cells in the hippocampus, one of the main areas for learning and memory. It makes sense that exercise may also delay the onset of Alzheimer’s. Currently there are 750,000 Canadians with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. In the absence of a cure, this is expected to increase to 1.4 million by 2013. (Toronto Star, November 29, 2014)

There are many forms of dementia, but Alzheimer’s is the most common. Like in other forms of dementia, the gradual loss of cognitive function occurs when brain cells die. But in Alzheimer’s the build-up of plaque and tangles damages the brain and causes memory loss.

One might be genetically disposed to getting Alzheimer’s, but that simply means you should watch your diet and lifestyle so you are not affected. Dr. Jeffrey Bland, in his book The Disease delusion (HarperCollins, 2014), says that people who don’t smoke, consume minimal sugar and saturated fat and exercise regularly, show a 50% reduction in the incidence of Alzheimer’s.

It’s good that we have a greater chance on living beyond our eighties and even nineties; but it’s not as attractive a scenario if doing so means outliving our mind. One way to prevent this from happening is to download (2)exercise.

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Performing acts of kindness

GivingPerforming acts of kindness refers to a holistic time management strategy; but it could just as well refer to Acts 20:35, which quotes Jesus as saying, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”
Well, some scientists may deny that Jesus is God, but they sure agree with the above statement. Study after study seems to come to the same conclusion — giving to others reaps a happier, healthier, more successful future for the giver.

And the amount of the giving doesn’t seem to matter — except when you’re giving of yourself. In 1999, for instance, scientists tracked 2025 Californians aged 55 and older, for five years and found that those who volunteered for two or more organizations were 63% less likely to die during the study than those who didn’t volunteer. And those who volunteered for only one organization lowered their mortality rate by 26%.

An article in the November 30, 2014 Toronto Star reports on the above study and several others. Canada sits in sixth place on the World Happiness Report, (Statscan) and 84% of Canadians donate money to charity every year. 68% of volunteers agree that volunteering has made them feel physically healthier.

There appears to be a definite link between giving and volunteering and happiness, and another link between happiness and health and longevity. Dr. Lissa Rankin, in her 2013 book, Mind over medicine, admits that unhappy people are less likely to eat well, exercise, and enjoy healthy sleep patterns, but insists there is more to it than that.

She goes on to describe the “nun study”, which gave the opportunity to follow the nuns in a controlled environment for the balance of their lives. 90% of the most cheerful nuns were still alive at age 84, compared to only 34% of the least cheerful. (Rankin goes on to explain how, with functional MRI machines and electroencephalography; it is now easier to study the science of happiness.

There is much evidence to support the role of happiness in healthy populations but there is still disagreement as to whether happiness — or attitude, fighting spirit, or positive thinking for that matter — can actually cure diseases. But studies do show an improvement in recovery rates.

Since holistic time management includes strategies that will help us lead a happier, healthier, longer more productive and fulfilling life, we must include the habit of giving and volunteering among these strategies.

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Death by sitting

Tom Rath, in his book Eat Move Sleep,(Missionday, 2013) called sitting “the most underrated health threat of modern times.” So are we at risk of death by sitting? He claims that sitting more than six hours a day greatly increases your risk of an early death.

An article in the November, 2014 Scientific American proves this is not just a case of shock journalism. The author of the article, James Levine, co-directs Obesity Solutions, a program of the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale Arizona. The title of his article is “Killer chairs,” and he gives some statistics based on 18 studies reported during the past 16 years, covering 800,000 people – in addition to his own research.

Here are a few eye-opening findings:

• Following 8800 adults for seven years it was found that those sitting over four hours a day watching TV had a 46% increase in deaths from any cause when compared with those who sat in front of the TV set for less than two hours a day.

• Sitting for more than half the day doubles the risk of diabetes and cardiovascular problems.

• Comparing lean and obese people in the US with similar environments and diets, the obese people sat 2.25 hours longer than their lean counterparts every day, and expended 350 fewer calories.
The surprising thing is that neither Tom Rath nor James Levine seem to be suggesting jogging or marathon walks to remedy the problem, but rather to just get out of your chair. Get up and move around, as we were created to do, rather than lead a sedentary life. Walk around while you talk on the phone, work at a stand-up desk, have stand-up meetings, take the stairs instead of the elevator, walk to the local mall instead of taking the car — are the type of recommendations these authors seem to be supporting.

Tom Rath claims that as soon as you sit down, electrical activity in your leg muscles shuts off, the number of calories you burn drops to one per minute, and enzyme production, which helps to break down fat, drops by 90%. And after sitting for two hours your good cholesterol drops by 20%.
Simply standing increases your energy, and walking increases energy levels by about 150%. Take the stairs and you could increase energy by more than 200%. Stand, stretch, move, walk — anything that will get you out of that killer chair.

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People are just as user-friendly as computers

People are just as user friendly as computers, and we need people more than we need technology in order to thrive in this digital age of speed. It should never be an either or situation.

Thirty years ago, we tended to blame other people for wasting our time. Excessive socializing, unscheduled interruptions, meetings, and gossip at the water cooler were all common complaints expressed in time management seminars. Fast forward to today, and you don’t hear as much about people wasting our time – at least not in person. Now it’s email, text messages, voice mail, cell phone calls and social media sites like Twitter and Facebook.

Technology has not decreased our time problems as much as it has taken away the human element. And yet research is telling us that strong relationships lengthen your life, boost your immune system and cut the risk of depression.

The higher the quantity and quality of your relationships, the longer you live. Data collected from Brigham Young University showed that people with active social lives were 50% less likely to die of any cause than their non-social counterparts. Low levels of social interaction evidently have the same effects as smoking15 cigarettes a day – and even worse effects than being obese or not exercising.

Research published in the February, 2008 Personality & Social Psychology Bulletin, showed that daily social contacts may boost brain power and cognitive abilities. In a University of Michigan study of 3500 people, it was revealed that more time spent chatting with friends was associated with higher scores on memory tests. Interaction with people provides greater brain stimulation than watching a computer monitor or TV set.
Research by Sheldon Cohen of Carnegie Mellon University suggests that the more social connections you have, the greater your ability to fight infection. And interaction with people provides greater brain stimulation than a computer monitor or TV set.

Researchers at the Mayo Clinic say that having friends can increase your sense of belonging and purpose, boost your happiness, reduce stress, improve your self-worth, and help you cope with traumas such as divorce, serious illness, job loss or the loss of a loved one.
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Leaders of the future will be those who can master some of the more useful technology that becomes available while maintaining their interpersonal relationships and people skills. Not only will they be able to work efficiently, they’ll be able to relate to other people, negotiate, gain consensus, close deals, network effectively and motivate and inspire others.

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Procrastination is the biggest barrier to goal-setting

ProcrastinationProcrastination is the biggest barrier to goal-setting; but you can overcome with a little self-discipline. With the average Canadian spending over 45 hours online each month, there’s not much time left to focus on goals. And goals are seldom urgent so they take a back seat to our firefighting duties. In addition, research suggests that Internet use is having a negative impact on how we think and behave, affecting our ability to focus, store memory, and interact with others.

Yet goals add significance to your life, and along with it, a sense of pride and accomplishment, a boost in your self-esteem, and a sense of purpose and fulfillment that impacts your health and well-being.

You’re not alone in your tendency to procrastinate. Piers Steel, a University of Calgary psychologist, after analyzing psychological literature, concluded that 95 percent of people admit that they sometimes procrastinate. But because it’s common doesn’t mean it’s right or acceptable. You want to leave footprints behind when you leave this earth – some evidence that you have been here, impacted lives, and took advantage of whatever life had to offer.

Don’t use busyness as an excuse to delay your goal-setting. Busyness looks more like real work than real work does – because of the flurry of activity normally associated with it. But don’t let the many things of minor importance crowd out those few things of major significance. You – and the world – can survive without them. If not, you had better work on living forever.

Self-discipline is the rejection of instant gratification in favor of something better – a higher and more rewarding goal. Once you have written down your goals and blocked off times in your planner to work on them, you have a reason to resist the temptation to go wherever your impulses take you. The more you resist temptation, the easier it becomes.

Task initiation is one of the brain-based executive skills that allow you to begin tasks without undo procrastination. Some people have strong skills; but most of us seem to be weak in this area. But our brains are malleable, and we can strengthen these skills though continued effort.

Walter Mischel, in his book, The Marshmallow Test (September, 2014), suggests there is a limit to how much self-control we can exert before fatigue take over, so don’t take overwhelm yourself with too many goals. It took about 20 years for your executive skills to develop so it will take more than a few weeks to strengthen them.

Avoid goals that don’t excite you or you will be more vulnerable to digital distractions and unmindfulness. Telling other people about your specific goals and making commitments rather than just voicing intentions have been known to help as well.

Make it even easier by not trying to accomplish everything on your own. Weight Watchers claims that people who use a support group are three times more likely to lose weight than folks on their own. Have someone to be accountable to when you set goals. The” buddy system” can be applied to job and lifestyle changes as well.

The most important thing is to build the habit of spending a certain amount of time each day or week working on a specific goal-related task. You can then apply this habit to any goal, no matter how large, whether it is writing a book one chapter at a time, completing a self-study course one lesson at a time or becoming a super salesperson one sale at a time.

One more thing – there’s no law that says you have to wait for New Years to start working on a major goal. After all, wouldn’t that be procrastination?

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Are we relying too much on technology?

Limits of techAre we relying too much on technology to do our thinking for us? Is it making us lazy, addicted, uncreative or even sick?

We still don’t know the long-term effects of using technology. For example, research published by Kenneth Hansraj in the National Library of Medicine indicates that bending your neck over a smart phone for hours a day could lead to early wear and tear on the spine, degeneration and even surgery. And smartphone users spend an average of 2 to 4 hours a day hunched over, reading e-mails, sending texts or checking the social media sites. (The Toronto Star, November 24, 2014)

Known as text neck, this problem is caused by an increase in the weight of the head as it bends forward. The weight on the cervical spine varies from 27 pounds at a 15° angle to 60 pounds at a 60° angle.

What about people sitting at their computers all day? If you’re sitting too long, you can’t be getting much exercise. A February, 2013 Australian survey of over 63,000 middle-aged men found that those who sat for more than four hours a day, were significantly more likely to have chronic diseases like high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

Is there a danger of becoming addicted to technology? Digital addiction, claims McMaster professor Nick Bontis, is having negative repercussions such as high levels of anxiety if their phones are not nearby. One survey showed that eight in ten smartphone users say they don’t leave home without their device. (The Toronto Star, July 30, 2013.)

My greatest fear is that the functioning of the brain itself may change for the worse. What will be the impact of being spoon-fed everything from problem-solving to navigation? If our GPS tells us turn by turn exactly how to get from point A to point B, will we eventually lose our ability to navigate on our own?

For example, the study of the brains of London taxi drivers in the year 2000 revealed that they had a much larger posterior hippocampus than men with a similar profile, but who did not drive for a living. That part of the hippocampus is responsible for a person’s navigational skills. The plasticity of the brain can work against us as well. If we don’t use it, we lose it.

A headline in the June 29, 2013 issue of the Toronto Star caught my attention: “Is handwriting becoming a lost art?” It was a letter from a concerned reader commenting on a previous article titled Why Johnny can’t sign his name. Evidently, some schools are phasing out cursive writing and teaching kids only to print. After all, that’s what computers do. And aren’t we bent on merging with machines? We not only work with machines, we are frequently controlled by machines.

Just how responsive should we be? “Sorry it took so long to answer, Sam. My cell phone was in the golf cart and I was teeing up my ball before I heard it ring.” Or, “I’m at my mother’s funeral now, Bill. If it can wait, I’ll call you back right after the internment.”

But we’ll become a little more obedient once we lose our tendency to think for ourselves. After all, we need do little of that these days. No need to add or subtract or read or write or look at a map or even remember anything. Computers do that for us.

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The best time management strategy

The best time management strategy is to live longer, healthier and happier. Until now there has been little or no attempt in time management books and training sessions to help a person extend the amount of time at their disposal by extending their lifespan. That is normally a completely different field of study. And yet living longer is the only time management strategy guaranteed to increase the amount of time at your disposal.

Between 20% to 50% of longevity is hereditary; but the rest is lifestyle, attitude, environment and other factors – mostly within our control. Some of the traditional time management recommendations of the past, such as multitasking, working faster and getting up earlier, actually may contribute to a shorter lifespan. And with technology added to the mix, introducing information and interruption overload, and possibly addiction to email, social media, Internet, excessive cell phone use and added stress – lifespan and certainly health span, are under even greater attack.

All aspects of our life – physical, mental, and spiritual – all interrelate when it comes to time management. For example, in my book, Slowing down the speed of life, I show how speed affects everything from multitasking and exercising to sleep, diet, and even our perception of how fast time passes.
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In the “old days”, when I started out as a time management trainer, traditional time management, including such things as to-do lists, quiet hours, and utilizing idle time were aimed at one thing – getting more done in less time.

But times have changed — including technology, the rate of change, and our working environment, the pace of life, and so on. In order to survive and thrive today, we need more than time logs, follow-up files, and time-saving tips. We need holistic time management, which is a relatively new concept.

With your health, strategies that keep you from becoming sick are not the same things that make you healthy. And with your retirement, what keeps you from being poor or destitute and unable to maintain a satisfactory lifestyle, are not the same things that allow you to live a happy, healthy, productive, personally fulfilling life in your senior years.

In your strive to live longer, healthier and happier, it is important to get enough sleep, eat healthy foods, exercise both the body and the brain, develop close relationships, avoid excessive stress and make certain lifestyle changes – in addition to getting organized and practising sound time management principles.
I am writing a series of brief eBooks, available at, to help you do just that. Check out the latest ones at

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Prioritize in advance

PrioritzePrioritize in advance and you can save a lot of time and grief in the future. And there’s little excuse for not anticipating many of the events that will occur. For instance, you know that the car will eventually run out gas. Similarly, you can bet your bank account will run dry, the copier will run out of paper and the printer will stop working. Planning simply involves recognizing that these events will occur and taking action before they do.

Yet people continue to search for a service station while the gauge is pointing at empty, make a special trip to office supply store when the paper supply runs out, and call a repair person when the equipment breaks down. It’s as though they had never heard of topping up the gas tank at their convenience before it is empty, keeping a minimum quantity of supplies on hand, and having their machines serviced on a regular basis.

Planning is not so much a time management strategy as it is common sense. And most of us have our fair share of common sense. Why is it then that we don’t take the few minutes necessary to plan?

The answer lies somewhere between busyness and procrastination. Most of us are so busy racing from job to job or place to place that we don’t have time to think. When we do think of something that should be done soon, we delay it because we’re too busy at the moment to do anything about it. Unfortunately, when the gas gauge is on empty we’re just as busy as we were when we thought of it earlier – except that now we have the added stress of urgency.

What can we do about it? Well first we have to mentally assign labels of important or unimportant to all the repetitive tasks. Important tasks should never be allowed to become urgent.

If you run out of bread or milk, is it important? No, you can survive for a day or two on crackers and water. If you run out of gas, is that important? You bet it is. Can you imagine the lost time, the cost, the frustration and the inconvenience of being immobilized on a highway, perhaps on the way to an appointment?

Planning includes prioritizing the various tasks, including the repetitive ones. If it`s important do it as quickly as possible. If it`s not important, delay it until you have time to do it. If you never have time to do it, which is likely, that`s fine.

After all, you are getting the important things done. And that`s what time management is all about; getting the important things done.