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Organizing Time, Schedules Becomes a Serious Business - 2003-07-05

Life is a matter of time, and many people feel that time goes by so quickly that they cannot live up to their daily expectations. Organizing time and schedules has become a serious business. Time management experts consider using time rationally as a basic skill not only for succeeding in life, but also for enjoying every moment of it.

We all have 24 hours in the day, but time management experts say we don't all use those hours the same.

"I think people who succeed, somehow find a way to carve out time for themselves to accomplish what is the most important for them," said Steve Leveen.

Time management expert and lecturer Steve Leveen says regardless of the source of the stolen moments, those successful people have escaped the gravitational pull of a work a day life to pursue their dreams. Some find time for themselves by staying up late at night, while others get up early in the morning, before their regular day begins.

"One of the best examples of that is a woman named Alexandra Stoddard who was working as an interior designer and had young children at home," he said. "She forced herself to get up at 4:00 a.m. to work on her first book. She did that for many months and she came out with that about 20 years ago. Now, she has written 22 books. And it all started when she forced herself to carve out that time for herself."

Mr. Leveen says the busier people are the more important it is for them to carve out time for recreation.

"Lewis Carroll, the author of Alice in Wonderland, was actually a professor of mathematics and he used to tell his students at Oxford, it is very important to take five minutes at least out of every hour and throw your mind completely out of here," said Steve Leveen. "It is very important to find for yourself what things recreate you both on a daily basis and also on longer periods."

Important, but not easy, according to Julie Morgenstern, the founder of Task Masters, a professional organizing company. She says that time is so difficult to manage because it is intangible.

"You know, when you organize a closet or a stack of paper, you can see it, you can hold it in your hand, you can throw things in the trash, and you can move the piles around," she said. "But time is invisible and it is very relative; the length of the day varies based on your energy, what you are doing and there is also the other people factor. We have other people in our life and they make demands on our schedule, then you end up getting derailed from your own agenda, goals and schedule."

In her recently published book Time Management from Inside Out, Ms. Morgenstern says organizing time is exactly like organizing a space.

"Your schedule or your day is a closet," she said. "It is a limited amount of space that only a certain amount of objects is going to fit into, and the more organized way you place those objects in that space, the more you can get out of space. So if you group errands, for example rather than scattering yourself all over town you are going to get them done faster."

It seems that almost everybody has a problem with their "time closet".

Time Manager Julie Morgenstern recommends that busy people constantly review their priorities and look at their daily tasks in a different perspective.

"Every time I give a speech, I ask people, 'what if you had more time, what would you do?' And everybody can think of a something: I'd spend more time with my family and friends, I'd volunteer, I'd do garden more. And when I ask: 'why don't you do that?' they say 'because I have to do laundry, I have to clean up the house, I have to do shopping.' And I say take the word 'have to' out of your vocabulary, because you do not have to do anything," said Julie Morgenstern. "If you are thinking of the things on your 'to do list' in terms of 'have to,' you are going to be miserable. But why do you want to clean your house and the truth is because it makes my house more welcoming. So, it is really sort of a way of enriching my life"

While they may complain about not having enough time, Ms. Morgenstern says some people really prefer a busy schedule, in fact, they thrive on it.

"They love the challenge of being busy and that is fine. I'd never tell anybody to slow down, or you should work less. If you love your work, work as much as you want," she said. "But make sure you are restoring your energy and filling your time with things that are meaningful and not just busy work that keeps you away from other things that are really important to you."

Living in a busy city like New York has taught Lisa Belkin the value of balancing work and the other things that are really important to her. In her book Life's Work, the New York Times journalist shares her personal experiences as well as her readers' stories about the difficulty of finding that balance.

"It is interesting how comforting it is to people to know that it is not just them," said Lisa Belkin. "Everyone thinks that somebody else is managing to keep life completely in control, structured and organized. The biggest value I think in writing about this is that people realize that maybe it is not a failure, maybe it is just life."

Though everything moves faster now, Ms. Belkin believes the challenge of finding enough time was always there. She says to enjoy life people need to stop feeling guilty for being less than perfect in managing their time, that sometimes, if you're trying to do more than one thing at a time, you have to let one go for the other.

"Until we can change the fact that we are human and there are 24 hours a day, less that perfect has to be good enough," she said.

But there is hope for those who want to be closer to perfect. Time management is not a talent, but a skill and organizing expert Julie Morgenstern says anyone can learn how to do it, anyone can learn to better use their time.