How to Protect Your Most Valuable Career Asset

Tips to ensure a priceless professional resource isn't compromised

(Image: Thinkstock)

Time management is one area where many of us struggle because we do not place the value on time that we should. We rush from one activity to another trying to “catch up” and “make up time” instead of accepting that we have to be a little more disciplined with how we allocate our day.

Time is money, but it is also happiness, rest, achievements and once-in-a-lifetime experiences. The thing we most often take for granted, mismanage or simply give away is the very thing can change lives we lead. On the highest of levels, time represents possibility, and I promise that if you manage time like you should manage money, you’ll be richer for it in the end.

Here are a few tips for reclaiming your day in 2013:

Do an audit. Determine how you spend your day. I have spent the last six years working as a project manager on the agency side of PR. We live by the gospel according to TIME. Agency professionals get drilled with the importance of tracking time because it is how most clients are billed and projects are evaluated. Once you get used to the process, it is great because you know exactly how you’ve spent your day…down to the 15 minute interval. What I’m proposing here does not need to be that detailed, but it wouldn’t hurt either!

Start simple. Track your time by writing down each task you do throughout the day. I switch between paper and apps with the help of Knock Knock and Toggl. Do this every day and take a quick glance at the end week to get a sense of what an average week looks like, but at the end of the month, sit down and add up the major buckets of time: work, commute time, television, cooking, naps, volunteering, family time etc. At the end of this exercise, think about whether or not this is how you actually want to spend your time, and then move on to the next step.

Make a realistic budget. Some of you may be wondering why I didn’t make this the first step. The fact is that we rush to budget because that is the ‘responsible’ thing to do, but first, we need to understand what is necessary and realistic. Use the data from your audit and make a realistic budget that specifies how much time you would like to allocate to activities.

This isn’t just for business either. The number one reason why we are unable to do the things we love is that we don’t make time for them. Budget time for reading that book sitting on the shelf, going for a run, learning a new language or planning your next international trip. Lastly, once you have a budget, do your best to stick to it. When the time comes around for your next monthly audit, think about how you feel following the budget. Is it manageable? Are you happier? If yes, keep it up! If no, adjust it until you have the right balance.

Pay yourself first. We know this traditionally as a financial concept related to saving, but I suggest that you apply this idea to time and be selfish in the process. If you work eight, nine or ten hours a day, it’s easy to feel like your day has slipped away from you. Change the dynamics by paying yourself first. Start each day by doing something just for you —make a great breakfast, read the next chapter in that great book, write the next chapter in YOUR book! Pay yourself first!

If you haven’t caught on to the central theme yet, I’ll say it directly: In 2013, focus on YOU. Reclaim your day and your life.

James S. Walker (@jaywalk1 ) is a global digital manager on the Nature Conservancy’s international digital marketing team. Intrigued by how social and cultural insights connect people on a global level, Walker has completed long-term project assignments in China and Mongolia, and chronicles his thoughts on the industry via his blog, PR Prescriptions, and Website, Socially Diverse.

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  • http://twitter.com/amandamogul Amanda Littlejohn

    Great post – and it is so true, we have to reclaim our days and pay ourselves first. Brilliant!

  • Mike Shaw

    Very good read. I also find that people often mistake being busy…or staying busy with being productive. Not so much. Your suggestion of doing an audit will certainly help delineate time well spent vs. wasted time (i.e. productive vs. busy). Thanks!