The most common refrain from everyone we meet these days seem to be, “I’m soooo busy”, “I am exhausted, there just aren’t enough hours in the day”. Busy and tired. Yuck, what a rotten way to feel. I maintain there is no such thing as time management, only self-management. Sounds harsh, doesn’t it? The hard truth is that there is no time fairy with industrial-strength pixie dust who can create even a single extra minute in the day. (I’d sign up I a heartbeat for that, wouldn’t you?)

Years ago, in the most unlikely place, I discovered a little secret that actually does give you extra time. Really. You know how when you roll out sugar cookies there are all those little in-between scraps of dough that you can re-roll and make into more cookies? Same idea.

As a (very!) young bride, my first full-time job was working as a customer service representative for a large phone company. Way before multitasking was a “busy badge” of honor we were taught to use natural pauses in the work flow to accomplish small tasks. This might be filing records at our desk while on hold or pulling records for a list of customers who needed reminder calls.

You get the picture? This was not multitasking but more like folding small tasks into the bigger ones by using the spaces in between. In reality, it works much better than trying to do two or three things at once. I am not a big fan of multi-tasking in fact I think it is highly overrated.

Here are some ways I have learned to use that mindset in the decades after my life at Northwestern Bell. Five minutes here and there really add up and there are plenty of ten and fifteen-minute chunks, too, that can be used much more productively than checking Facebook. (Not that I would ever do that- hah!) You will be amazed at how much you can do with these little scraps of time in a day. Here are just a few ideas for you to incorporate in your routine.

Five minutes- (like waiting for water to boil or during a commercial)

  • You can fold a whole load of towels, honest.
  • You can clean your bathroom sink with a disinfectant wipe or clean the bathroom mirror
  • You can clean one shelf in the refrigerator or wipe down an appliance

Ten minutes- (like waiting for the Schwan’s man to gather your order)

  • You can go through your grocery list and organize it by aisles
  • You can sort through the laundry basket and start a load of wash
  • You can make a bed, even one with lots of fancy pillows
  • You can mix up a pan of brownies, brilliant!

Fifteen minutes (like waiting for your husband to get ready for church)

  • You can organize a stretch of closet by garment and color with all hangers facing in one direction
  • You can go through a stack of mail by toss, file or take action destination
  • You can declutter the car. Always have wipes and a stash of plastic shopping bags in the glove box, toss at the first trash can
  • You can plan menus for a few nights and check what you need to put on the grocery list

I actually make a game of it sometimes by setting a timer. (I know, you are thinking NERD!) Other times when in overwhelm, I make a pass through a room and intentionally put exactly 25 things away. Breaking jobs into bite size pieces can help you zoom through things before you know it.

One word of caution, my love. Don’t ever try to become over-zealous about never wasting a minute. No. No. No. You are way more than your list of accomplishments in a day. We do these things simply because we know each day can never be played back. Be kind to yourself. Spend the minutes you save on things that matter. Spend the extra bit of  time on things like being amazed by a rainbow, reading a story to pajama-clad child, or holding hands with your husband. And always be kind to yourself, promise me!

Betty Streff

Betty Streff began her career as a customer service representative for a large corporation in Omaha. Four years later she found herself to be a farm wife in a small rural community with limited opportunities for women. After a humbling self assessment, she listed her assets as talents for sketching, sewing, and the natural ability to strike up conversations with complete strangers. Using these and her optimistic nature, she began stitching up some bibs and pillows for a craft show, who wouldn't? Over the next 25 years she became a serial entrepreneur obsessed with studying faith, spirituality, leadership, motivation, and management as she developed her businesses. Betty has spent the last few years working in corporate America in the hospitality and manufacturing world and she continues to immerse herself in the study of what makes people tick. The explosive growth in the relatively recent science of positive psychology fascinates her. Betty devours everything she can find on the subject and is especially intrigued with people who thrive no matter the circumstances and in discovering ways that happiness and optimism can be learned. She is currently exploring ways of sharing and cultivating the exciting possibilities with both individuals and businesses. She and her husband Steve have been married 45 years and are blessed with 2 incredible daughters, 2 fantastic sons-in-law and 6 amazing grandchildren.