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How to take back your time

(MoneyWatch) It's 11 p.m. You are staring at the television. You left work at 6 p.m. and have done absolutely nothing since. What happened?

Time coach Elizabeth Saunders, author of "The 3 Secrets to Effective Time Investment," has identified several potential problems that account for the scenario above -- and solutions.

Problem 1: Lack of clarity on what you wanted to do.

Solution: "Never arrive home without a clear sense of the top two or three items you want to accomplish," Saunders says. No, you don't have to plan every minute. But if you know you'd like to go for a run, read for 30 minutes and have a glass of wine with your spouse, those three relaxing and rejuvenating activities stand a much better chance of happening.

Problem 2: You planned to clean the entire kitchen, de-clutter the attic and write a novel. After you figured out that this was not physically possible, you got overwhelmed and did nothing instead.

Solution: "Estimate out how long it will take to do each task and how much time you have each evening," Saunders says. "If there's a mismatch between hours to spend and the number of tasks to do, cut them down to a more reasonable level." Maybe you can organize your spice drawer in an evening, but you probably won't do that and clean out the whole basement too.

Problem 3: You need a break after work, but the "break" turns into an evening.

Solution: "Set a timer or put a limit on the number of shows you can watch. When your time is up, turn the TV off and move on," says Saunders. It may help to have something else you really want to do -- a magazine or book that's sitting there waiting for you, a plan you made with your kid to work on a project together.

How do you take back your evenings?

Photo courtesy of Flickr user maka
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