Time Flies When You're Having Cancer: Tips to Cope

Breast cancer and melanoma survivor shares time management tips to fellow survivors.

Time is precious. Cancer survivors know it. As a clutter-clearing and home-organizing writer, I want to share some thoughts with fellow survivors. For me, to prevent becoming overwhelmed, which seems to happen more often and more easily since cancer, I like to have a plan. That boils down to making lists, and yes, I have chemo brain, too.

Time management experts call it "goal setting." They say simply write down life goals, five-year goals, and then one-year goals. One year, five years! That seems awfully presumptuous (optimistic?) for a cancer survivor. Experts follow up by telling you to pull the one-year goals into monthly then weekly, and finally daily to-do lists. I think of my to-do lists as the physical representation of where I want my life to go when I, not cancer, get a turn at steering the boat. For survivors, I still think it is important to set goals because we, of all people, know our time is our life!

I like setting goals because it is positive and not cancer-related. When I set goals and work on them (think bucket list here, too), I really can change my life. I believe this. Another funny thing is that planning or goal setting really doesn't take long. A person could grab a piece of paper and be done in less than 30 minutes.

Here is sort of a standard list of life areas to set goals:

• Family/Relationship

• Professional/Career

• Financial

• Personal/Self Development (my bucket list items go here)

• Community Service

• Spiritual/Religious

• Social/Relaxation

• Health/Exercise

Experts say that to get the important stuff done, prioritize the goal areas. Anyone who ever has had limited energy while on chemotherapy understands this. Put goals in order of priority for you. You could also create other categories for yourself. I have a “travel” category. Regardless of the categories we choose, most of us could spend five to ten minutes thinking about each area of our life and jotting down some life goals. Cancer survivors get to have goals too.

Here is how to make goal setting really work — the tricks of the trade if you will. First, we can break broad life goals down into practical action steps that eventually get incorporated into a daily to-do list. A broad goal such as "I want to spend the rest of my life being more physically fit" might become a one-year goal to "lose 30 pounds." The monthly goal could be "join a health club," and then the weekly goal would be "exercise on Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning." Next, effective goals are specific, measurable and doable. If they aren't specific (lose thirty pounds), how do you decide when you accomplish your goal? If goals aren't measurable (get on the scale), how can you track your progress? And, finally, if they aren't doable (lose thirty pounds in two weeks. Hah!), well, it won't be possible for you to get it done. Don’t set yourself up for failure. Work your plan.

Another technique is to save and periodically review your life goals to track your progress. It won't take long. Try putting this task on your calendar quarterly. Pull out your original plan. Remind yourself of your priorities. See how you are doing. It helps you stay on course. You won't let important things slip away and will be motivated to continue when you see your progress.

When I make time to work on my priority to-do items, I am happier. I feel satisfied because I make progress in life areas that really matter to me. How I spend my day or my week or my life is my choice. So, next time you get bogged down with business or cancer stress, consider goal setting.

Secret Tip: Those who are consistently better at achieving their goals than the rest of us recognize life's interruptions, and make contingency plans for their goals right away. For example, they plan that if they miss exercising once during the week, they will get up early on Saturday to do it. Contingency plan development on the front end separates the professional from the amateur goal setter. (Also, a tip I learned in Weight Watchers is: Recommit. Recommit. Recommit. If you were on a diet and fell off the wagon last night, don’t quit. Simply recommit as many times per month, week or even day as you need to get back on track!)

Classic Resources: For more information, try: “How to Get Control of Your Time and Your Life” by Alan Lakein, a classic time book that many subsequent books are based on. Also consider “The Overwhelmed Person's Guide to Time Management” by Ronni Eisenberg with Kate Kelly, which covers goal setting and helpful techniques to manage time more efficiently.