Helping busy women find moments for themselves

"How do I find time for me?" This is the most common plea that Diana Silcox, a professional time-management consultant, hears from the hundreds of women she meets each year. She says women, especially working mothers, yearn for a half hour, a few hours, a whole day sometimes, just to think, read, or putter at a hobby. Too many women, she has observed, feel overwhelmed, by lack of time for their multiple roles as workers, wives, mothers, homemakers, and volunteers.

When Diana Silcox comes to the rescue, her effort is not to stretch the 24 -hour day. Instead, she helps women reorder and command those hours so that essential things do ge done, and there is still time left over "for me." There are basic principles of time management, she says, that can apply in office, home, family, and personal situations. She details these in her new book, "Woman Time," which will be published this month by Wyden Books, New York, at $ 10.95.

Miss Silcox began her career at the age of 19 as a clerk-typist at a credit bureau in Santa Ana, Calif. Within 10 years she had worked for a variety of corporations, using efficiency and time-management skills she acquired along the way. By nature a well-organized person, she felt sufficiently successful at sharing her time-management techniques to open her own office systems business in New York in 1973.

She learned enormously, she says, from Alan Lakein's book, "How to Get Control of Your Time and Your Life," but decided to direct her own book to time-control problems of women only. In 1978 the Gillette Company commissioned her to develop and analyze a pioneer project on women titled "Managing Your Morning." This enabled her to meet and discuss time problems with several hundred women around the country. She benefited, too, from being the daughter of a working mother who knew how to delegate jobs to her children and engage the whole family in supporting the household.

Miss silcox has had to prove most of her time-management principles in her own life and career. During her first year or so in business she worked 18 hours a day, weekends inv cluded, doing it all herself, delegating nothing, and rushing from meeting to meeting for fear she would miss something, or not be visible to potential clients.

"I was developing into a one-dimensional job bore, a work drudge who was cultivating no outside interests and whose social life had deteriorated to zero. That's when I began, with some exasperation with my higly efficient self, to demand more time for me, time to go the ballet, or a Broadway show, time for friends. I needed to balance work and organizational activities with other things that were fun and stimulating."

To get that balance, she followed the advice she now shares with other busy women in her book, lectures, workshops, and seminars. She started by focusing on what absolutely must be done. She began to rethink her priorities and to ask herself. "What is the most important use of my time right now? What will happen if I don't do this chore immediately and to perfection?" This helped her to put first things first and to delete or postponed or delegate many other things.

She discovered she was making the mistake, common to many women, of expecting too much of herself. She was trying to get everything done alone, and without sufficient plan or strategy. She came to understand better the working wife and mother who said to her, "I'm tired of struggling to be superwoman and feeling guilty because I can't do everything and be everything to everyone." And her sympathy grew for the harassed housewife who complained to her, "When it comes to time, life is just one big traffic jam."

For one week she kept a time log of her activities. For every 15-minute interval she listed what she was doing, where, and with whom, and whether it was a planned activity or an interruption. She disliked every minute of this kind of marking time but persevered until problem areas leaped off the page at her. She found she was opening and reading every piece of mail, even junk mail. She was answering every phone call, going to every seminar, cleaning her own house, doing her own laundry, and handling her own typing and filing.

Resetting her priorities included establishing her right to a rich personal life as well as a full professional life. She then hired a cleanning woman and a secretary. She started sendind her laundry out, doing more shopping by phone and mail, and skipping more meetings. As a result, she became more socially available, more relaxed, and better company. The "support systems" she had devised for herself were freeing her from the time treadmill that had been warping her sense of completeness as a person.

Today she helps other women work out the particular support systems that will best release time for them. These might include eating out more often, obtaining more labor-saving appliances, or assigning more household jobs to husband and children.

When she began to teach her methods to other women, she discovered that they were intimidated by the term "time management." They felt it connoted rigid, restricting efficiency with no flexibility or freedom to do spontaneous things. She now speaks in terms of "controlling your time and making it your servant, not your master." She assures women that planning can provide a flexible schedule in which to accomplish all the musts, with extra time left over. The solution, she says, is not in learning how to do it all more efficiently, but in learning how to do less more effectively.

Miss Silcox says that those women who manage to get the most time for themselves are those who value themselves enough to claim it. Women have to teach both husbands and children to respect their "alone" time, but they also have to explain why it is all a good idea. Children are very quick to understand and respect what is "mommy's time," she says.

She finds that women who manage best keep their personal calendars up to date and do not try to remember appointments and other engagements. The best organized keep all their notes and lists in one small notebook that fits into the purse, rather than on dozens of scribbled bits of paper that float about and get misplaced.

She advises women to learn to discourage drop-in visitors who can consume hours of time, to learn to wind up telephone calls quickly and gracefully, and to master the dictation of a succinct, complete message to a telephone answering machine or a secretary. Refusing to speak to an answering device is a big waste of time, she says, no matter, how much you may dislike them.

She urges wives and mothers to discuss fully their time goals, priorities, and plans with all members of their families -- to communicate their hopes and expectations for getting time and tasks under control.

She further suggests that wives and mothers think through all the things they currently feel "obligated" to do and recognize their areas of overcommitment.

Finally, Miss Silcox thinks women should take full advantage of every available labor- saving appliance and use shopping, food, and travel services. They should recognize that time is indeed money, and that the money spent to gain additional time is usually well worth it.

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