How are your relationships?

The fourth plan that I recommend concerns setting goals for relationships and setting time aside to help you to achieve your emotional and relationship goals. None of us can have too many friends or too much family. However, there are times when we are dissatisfied with both. In a balanced life, we must manage our friendships and relationships. This takes time. Your time is precious and will quickly slip away if not budgeted and planned.

Even if you are already in a close relationship, you must spend time on the relationship or it will wither and die. My spouse Karen and I have set aside Tuesday night as talk night and family time. With no children home, we still find that problems and issues arise that need to be discussed. When we skip our planned talk days, eventually something breaks down and we realize that skipping these days is not a good idea. In addition, we set aside time to be by ourselves and do things alone and we set aside time to spend with our friends, our children and our grandchildren.

The emphasis on our planning is to try to keep a happy balance. When we are feeling dissatisfied, it is a good indication that we are not spending enough time on some aspects of our relationships. You do not need a very formal system to create such a plan. Karen and I simply discuss it from time to time and have our own rough guidelines for spending time with family and friends. I do regard appointments and times with friends as important enough to mark on my calendar and I seldom cancel dates that I have set unless something really important comes up. I have all of my friends in my address book and many on email. For awhile, I was using a group email list to regularly visit with friends and relatives each month, but I drifted away from this method. It certainly has pro’s and con’s.

How much time do you spend trying to maintain or improve your relationships? Do you think this is enough time? Do you wish you had more friends or closer relationships with your spouse or family? When can you set aside the time to help achieve these goals? Begin your plan by setting aside time to talk to some of these people either weekly or monthly about the important things in your relationships. Mark down some general overall goals for who you want to spend time with and how often you think you need to. You can simply write these on your calendar in the margins or sides.

How about a plan for your knowledge?

The third plan that I have found essential is for my mental and cognitive development. Yes, I mean a plan to expand my brainpower or at least my knowledge base. It has been said that the only real job security we have is between our ears. In this day of rapid obsolescence, the knowledge that one has becomes outdated very quickly. We need to think of learning as a lifelong endeavor and not just as a series of degrees or diplomas. To do that, each of us needs some type of learning or self-development plan. This is too important to trust to employers or others with the hope that they will provide us training and education. We need develop our own lifelong training program. This plan will be different for each of us. It will depend on your knowledge, skills and abilities and your personal interests and goals.

I try to develop a plan each year to insure that I am keeping up with technology and the key insights in my chosen career field. I am now able to use the Internet to help me do this. The use of RSS feeds (Really Simple Syndication) and other automatic downloads helps me to keep abreast of what is happening in the workplace. I also try to subscribe to current magazines that will help me to keep abreast. If you cannot afford new magazines and books, you can make a weekly trip to the library and simply scan the newest magazines for insights. Belonging to professional associations can be somewhat expensive but may be well worthwhile if you can use the time effectively for growth and development. Professional associations give you the opportunity to meet and network with leaders and experts in your field. These contacts can be invaluable. Finally, do you look for opportunities to attend workshops and conferences that will give you new learning and insights? There are many free podcasts, webinars, videoconferences, teleconferences, papers and articles on the web that are wonderful resources and they do not cost a cent.

If you do not have a plan or as you start to develop your plan, here are some key questions to think about:

• How will you ensure that you remain knowledgeable and informed?
• What could you do now to be better informed about your world and what’s
happening in it?
• Can you read a book, take a class or attend a lecture each month?
• Are you taking advantage of the free opportunities for education and
training on the Internet?

Make a schedule of activities that will keep your mind healthy and flexible and see if you can stick to it for the next year.

Do you have a health and exercise program?

The second of the five plans that you need to better manage your time deals with your health. All of us want to be healthy. You have only to visit the health clubs the day after New Years to witness all of the people who have suddenly decided that their goal for the New Year is to become healthy. However, it takes more than just desire to become healthy. You have to also have commitment, follow-through and a plan. Have you ever noticed that the more successful people are the more time they spend taking care of their health. All the money in the world will not do you any good if you don’t have your health. True, some health problems are not preventable by good diet and exercise. However, bad diet and no exercise will make any existing problems worse and perhaps create a multitude of life-style related illnesses and disease. The medical dictionary is full of disease and illnesses that are preventable or ameliorated by good diet and exercise.

I have been keeping to a diet and exercise program now for over 30 years. I chart my exercise and diet regularly. I keep food goals and exercise goals. I am not trying to be an Olympic athlete. I seldom run any marathons or races. However, I feel good, maintain a healthy weight and occasionally am able to compete in some short local events. I don’t make a habit of it because what is the point? At my age, I am not going to break any records or win any gold medals. My entire exercise and diet program is aimed at what a friend of mine called “maintenance.” I want to maintain an adequate level of heath and fitness to enjoy life daily. Do you have a health and exercise plan that you chart daily or weekly? Does your program work for you? If not, I am going to suggest the following ideas.

Your health plan should address both weight and exercise to start. List your goals in terms of weight and exercise. I use a wall calendar with large open squares to write in. I put my daily amount (length of time running or swimming or yoga or walking) in the appropriate daily square. My calendar is what enables me to track how often I exercise against my goals. For instance, my goals now are as follows: to run at least 16 times each month for an average of 30 minutes a run; To swim at least 8 times each month for an average of 30 minutes each swim, to do 40 pushups or ten pull-ups each day; to do yoga at least twice a week and to walk with my wife for 3 miles at least twice a week.

At the end of each month, I look at my calendar and count the number of times I did each exercise against my goals and I put it in a little notebook. I have been keeping this record for over 25 years now. Writing it down helps me to keep on track and to look back to see how I am doing each month for the current year. I also summarize my weight based on my daily weigh-ins on the bathroom scale and compute an average monthly weight which I list in my notebook. To do this, I simply get on a scale each morning and write my daily weight in a space on the calendar. Even if I miss doing this a few days, the average of 20-25 daily readings each month is much more accurate than taking a once a week or once a month reading. Taking a reading like this also prevents me from over or under reacting to daily weight shifts. For instance, some days I may be up two or three pounds over my target weight. However, the daily reading is not important. It is the monthly reading. By taking this monthly average, I can identify trends and see if my weight is going up or down. This allows me to adjust accordingly by noting those months and events that have an adverse impact on my weight or exercise.

By the way, this might seem like it takes a lot of time, but it takes me no more than five minutes a day to chart my exercise and my weight. I work out an average of about 45 minutes each day if you add up the walking, swimming, yoga and jogging each week. I believe that by staying healthy, you will add a great deal of time to your life. The payback for this time has been worth it for me. It will be worth it for you too. It is an investment in your health and your wealth. The longer you are healthy, the more you earn and are able to avoid forced medical expenses. Well, are you ready to start your plan? Do you need more information? If so, simply type “exercise planning” in Google with the quotes and you will find a number of excellent worksheets and articles to help you get started. Another question is “Will you fall off the bandwagon?” Of course you will. I have fallen off so many times, I have lost count. The real question is “Will you get back on again?”

Do you have a financial plan?

If you want to manage your life well, the first plan you must have is a financial plan. A financial plan will help to insure that you have the money to spend when you have the time to spend it. There is no sense having a lot of extra time if you do not have the money to go anywhere or do anything. Although staying at home can be relaxing and fun, we need to have the choice of doing nothing or something. Money gives us this choice. A financial plan should have both present and projected expenses and it should be as detailed as possible.

You can start your financial plan with using a software program like Money or you can simply use an Excel spreadsheet. In one column, list all your monthly debts, for instance, Visa or insurance or mortgage. In the columns across the top, you should put each month from the time you start your plan. Your bills will be very similar from month to month but you can list your monthly bills and expenses for the next 12 months by cutting and pasting from the first month you start your plan. If you know of any differences that are coming up, you can place these figures in the appropriate box. Fill the boxes for the next upcoming month with any fixed or essential expenses. You can then use another page to set up a “forecast” for projected expenses that are desirable but not essential. For instance, I want to buy a new pair of roller blades. I will put the item in the left hand column and then under a future month, I will budget the item in. You can use this second page for items like clothes, vacations, concerts etc. By having both sheets you can see first what you must pay and then second what you would like to buy.

Whenever, you have left over income, or need to prioritize you will have your priorities and needs already mapped out. I also add a third spreadsheet where I track large recurring debts such as home equity loans or credit card loans. This third spreadsheet helps me track my monthly payments on these debts and how much I have left to pay on each debt. Well, does this sound simple? It is! But the benefits are huge. You will take charge of your life and your finances. You will know where your money is going. You will be able to prioritize and spend your money on the things that are most important and eventually you will be debt free and have few financial worries. It really works. Have you started yet? Why not? What is holding you back?

How about a plan or two for improving your life?

What is a plan? I call a plan “organized time.” What is your definition? If my time is not organized and managed, then nothing happens. I believe we all need 5 plans in our lives. These five plans will help you to organize and manage your time to achieve the results and goals that can help make you be more successful, healthy and happy. Although this series of reflections was not going to be a “time management book”, I did feel that there were some key time management tasks and activities that I had learned over the years that I want to share with you.

As I sit here, I am relatively fit, happy, prosperous (but not rich) and lead a very comfortable life. I don’t do drugs and am not on any medication. I am over sixty now and feel as good as I did when I was 40 years of age. Not only do I feel as good, but I am much more satisfied with life and much happier with my life. What do I attribute this to? Most importantly, these five plans that I am going to share with you! In fact, I believe I could have been happier and even more prosperous and successful at an earlier age if I had known about and practiced these plans in my youth.

What is the purpose of planning? It is simply to help prioritize our time so that we get the important tasks done and leave the unimportant and intrusive tasks out of our lives. You do not have to be a genius to plan. You do not need any special skills. The biggest skill you need is simply commitment. You need to commit to a series of goals and objectives and measure your results. Only by measuring and monitoring your results can you see if your plans on working.

Planning needs to be realistic but not necessarily ambitious. Contrary to many experts, you do not need to “shoot for the moon.” In my plans for health, I simply set up a maintenance schedule to “maintain” the level of health I have. I am not interested in breaking my “personal best” time or running a marathon tomorrow I want to maintain an adequate level of health to do the things I enjoy and not spend my time in the hospital or in bed. I do not set goals to be the next Olympic gold medal winner.

Tomorrow, we will talk about the first of my five essential plans. Are you ready to start planning? Can you make a commitment to plan? Remember, some days you will honor that commitment and other days you will fail. That is quite normal. My goals are to simply keep starting over again whenever I fall off the wagon. Find a pencil and paper or a note pad and keep it handy. I like to use a calendar with open spaces to write my daily efforts in. I also use an Excel spread sheet to track my calories and weight. An accountant’s ledger pad would work just as well. These tools simply help to focus our activities and to act as a reminder each day for us.

Are you behind the times?

What does it mean to be behind the times? Have you ever heard this phrase applied to someone? It usually means that we think someone is not up to date or that they lack current awareness of “the times.” But what times does this refer to? For instance, if I refuse to use a computer to send emails to people, would it mean I was behind the times? What about people who like antiques or who still like to buy things they can fix? Are such people behind the times? What if you do not like modern music? What if you have some old clothes that you still like to wear that are no longer fashionable? Are you behind the times if you resist the newest trends and fads?

If you are in step with the times, does this mean you can use the newest technology and that you are up to date with the newest TV shows, pop music and/or fashions? What are the cultural elements of this statement? Can you be behind the times in the US and perhaps in step with the times if you move to another country? Is someone who lives in a less fashion forward area going to be behind the times if they move to NYC or Paris? And what if one is behind the times, can they ever catch up to the times? Are people who are “behind” the times, those who are making a choice or do they simply lack the motivation? Who decides who is behind and who is ahead?

Wouldn’t it be interesting if there was a website that had some type of index or rating which would allow you to see if you were ahead of the times or how far behind the times you were? How far behind can one get? Where do you think you are right now? Are you behind or ahead of the times? Do you think your friends or family or children would agree with you? Why not?

Are you patient or stressed?

Have you ever thought of having a “day of patience?” What does patience have to do with time though? Well, according to one definition of patience, it is “a good-natured tolerance of delay.” Delay is when time accrues that we were not expecting such as when a plane is delayed or a birth is delayed. Delays can be a major source of stress, unless of course you are a “patient” person. The penalties for lacking patience can be severe.

We have all seen how instances of “road rage” can turn into sudden tragedies that can ruin lives. A lack of patience can be the source of severe stress and/or depression. Studies show that over ten percent of unemployed people suffer from depression. How much depression occurs because we want things right now and these things we want may take a great deal of time to accrue? If you are looking for a job, it might seem like forever with the countless phone calls, letters and interviews. Patience counsels us that it is just a matter of time, but we are not trained to wait for things to happen. We all want things today. We may recite the aphorism that “Rome was not built in a day” but we still try to build it in a day.

It is ironic that people who live in a chronically stressed-out condition are more likely to take up smoking and overeating, and are far less likely to exercise. Indirectly both of these are major contributors to a wide range of diseases and illnesses. It still remains to be shown how or to what extent stress may contribute to heart disease but it has been shown that stress contributes to factors that lower our resistance to good health and increases our risk of illness. For a good deal of information on stress and how to cope with it, go to the following website:

How we think about the delays in our life can contribute to our health and longevity by lowering our stress and easing the burden on our hearts. How do you react to delays? Do you regard them as “opportunities” or as “time wasters?” Do you jump the gun at red lights and always run the yellow lights? Can you hardly keep from honking at the slow driver in front of you? Do the long lines and people taking more time at the registers cause you to do a slow burn? Carefully note the delays in your day today and watch how you react to them. Give yourself a star each time you are patient and an X whenever you are impatient. See how many of each you have at the end of the day.

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