You've heard it before -- "So much to do, so little time." And you've probably heard about the man on his deathbed who bemoans how he chose to spend his life, or the woman who complains incessantly about not having time to read a book, see a movie, get a pedicure, or do something with her child. Other people seem to get more done, even fitting in time for the trip to the museum, day spa, or movie theater while working to pay the mortgage.

The goal isn't to squeeze as much mindless activity into the day as possible. Being successsful doesn't necessarily mean being frantically busy. The goal is knowing what's important, individually and within the context of our family and community, and ensuring that our days and weeks honor those priorities, not because they squeal the loudest, but because they're most important to us.

Tips and tools for making the most of your time:

  • Morning "check-ins" with a mentor or coach or eve nwith yourself to help establish the "21-day habit"of mindful time management.
  • Check in frequently with others: Is this really a deadline or priority? Does this really need to be done now? Do I need to be worrying about this? Can you help me identify some structure for this?
  • Ask positive questions and reframe negative statements into more positive and supportive ones: e.g., instead of "How can I do this faster?" ask, "What's the best way to get this done and when?" How you think makes a difference in how much time you waste worrying.
  • Ask for support from your team: "I'm overloaded today; can you help me reprioritize this or pitch in to get this done?" or "I'm trying to look for ways to do this more efficiently; can you offer some suggestions?"
  • Agree not to take work home for the evening or over the weekend unless it's truly necessary. Workload "sprawl" can be the result of lazy time management or a need to have others think you're busy and therefore important. Learn to be efficient during the workweek so that you can safeguard nonwork hours for refueling and personal fulfillment.
  • Manage interruptions -- e.g., "It'll take me about 30 minutes to finish this up, and then I'll stop by -- or we can schedule another time" or putting a note on your door that says, "I'll be available after 3 p.m., when I meet this deadline."
  • Forward your phone to voice mail or the receptionist when you want to focus on a specific project. If you check your voice mail regularly and return your calls in a timely and reliable manner, no one should mind this. If you don't, you're contributing to an uncivil workplace.
  • Let colleagues know about blocks of "focus" time when you'll be completing a section of work and don't wish to be interrupted.
  • Use visualizations, meditation, prayer, exercise, or all of the above to manage internal chatter and other inner distractions that wreak havoc on personal organization.
  • Taking the long view: Everything doesn't have to be completed this minute, or today, or even this week. Checking frequently on timelines and deadlines when priorities are conflicting. Identify when you're artificially accelerating a deadline for no good reason.
  • Move quickly from "problem space" to "action space." Rather than spinning your wheels on something that you can deal with later or don't have control over at all, either write it down for consideration later that day or week, or acknowledge that, "This isn't my issue, and worrying about it isn't productive."
  • Use your planner to reschedule less critical things for a later date (e.g., if you can and would prefer to address something on Thursday or next Tuesday so that you can complete more pressing deadlines sooner, just move ahead to that day and write the item down so you can refocus).
  • Allocate 45-minute blocks of time, followed by a check-in to see where you are on a project. This can help make overwhelming projects seem less imposing.
  • Break big things into smaller, more doable "action" items, clarifying your role and responsibility. Translate these chunks into smaller action tactics and schedule themout in your planner. (Many people use their planner as a calendar, instead of as a time management aide.)
  • Schedule a mandatory 15 minutes of "plusses only" at the end of each day to recognize the accomplishments, steps forward, new tools, etc., you did that day. Identify a few things you'd like to count on your "plusses only" list for tomorrow.
  • Do your planning for the next day before you leave the office (and before you do your plusses only, so the latter is the last thing you do before you wrap up your work for the day).
  • Consider structuring your day when you know you're working on things that are new for you; e.g., settle in, getyour coffee, spend 10 minutes with your planning, one hour on project A, 15 returning calls and e-mail, take a 15-minute comfort/chat break, work on project B for 45 minutes, etc.

This information provides food for thought rather than counsel specifically designed to meet the needs of your organization or situation. Please use it mindfully. The most effective communication plan should be tailored to your unique needs, so don't hesitate to get individualized assistance from a communication expert.

Jamie Walters is the founder and Chief Vision & Strategy Officer at Ivy Sea, Inc. in San Francisco, CA. Coauthor Sarah Fenson is Ivy Sea's Guide to Client Services.