As the end of each year approaches, we tend to think back over the past 12 months and wonder, Where did the time go? Many of my clients have difficulty answering this question. It seems as if they never had enough time during the past year to get things accomplished. But even though they frequently ask me to teach them time management, I always have to answer no.

And why is that? Well, quite simply, no one can actually manage time itselfeveryone gets the same amount each day, and it passes no matter what one does. What you can manage, however, are the time-allocation strategies you use to accomplish what you need and want to do.

With that in mind, here are some basic rules of activity management:

Be realistic. The fact is, anything you do will take some time, so be realistic in estimating how long each activity will take. Underestimating is what leaves us feeling frustrated that we never finish all we set out to do.

Be aware of how you spend your time. For one entire week, keep a log of what you do each hour. At the end of the week, review the log for time-wasters and to see how long each activity really takes.

Have a Plan B. Life happens. Chances are that no matter how well you plan something, outside factors will disrupt it. Be prepared to rearrange your activities, and don't blame yourself for not completing all that you'd planned to do.

Do what you dislike first. If you put off a dreaded task, it will only weigh on your mind and ultimately prevent you from enjoying the other activities you're doing.

Prioritize. Assign each activity a rating on two dimensions: urgency and importance. Pay close attention to how many things you rate as highly urgent but of low importance. A high-urgency activity is one that will result in someone's death if not done immediately. A ringing phone doesn't qualify as urgentit's merely an annoyance.

Multitask. There are certain things that you can do simultaneouslysuch as listening to books on tape while driving or talking to friends on a portable phone while doing choresthat will make everyday tasks more enjoyable. Try to incorporate these types of activities into your daily schedule.

Learn how to say no. People who can't say no often have trouble finishing all they need to do. As difficult as it may be, remind yourself that it's better to feel uncomfortable about turning down someone's request than to feel guilty about not completing your important tasks.

Don't plan for every minute. Leave five to 10 minutes an hour for catching up, addressing unplanned interruptions, or dealing with activities that take longer than anticipated.

Put yourself first. The first activities you should plan for each day are those that are strictly for yourself, be it sitting in your favorite chair and daydreaming or taking a long bath. Remember that unless you treat yourself well, you won't be able to fully dedicate your time to others.

No matter what your activities in the coming year, time will inevitably pass. Make sure to remember that the quality of the time you spend will depend on how you have managed your activities and the number of positive experiences you've created in the process.