As you are entirely aware, pandemics, such as COVID-19, can completely turn your world upside down. What’s more, the uncertainty and break in normalcy can wreck all of the strides you made in managing your time. Here are nine ways to manage your time during a pandemic.
Thankfully, you can get back on track. It’s not going to happen overnight. But, with a little trial and error, as well as patience, you can once again master the art of time management. And, here are nine ways to help you get there.
1. Prioritize your health and well-being with mico-practices.
Right now, the most important thing for you to do is to take care of your health and well-being. After all, how can you stay focused and energized when you’re not feeling 100% physically, emotionally, and mentally?
I don’t want to bore you with the same advice you’ve been told a million times. Exercise. Eat healthily. Get plenty of sleep. And, if you need to talk to some, please reach out to someone who trusts or a professional mental health professional.
All of the above are known as “macro-practices.” But, research has found that just as effective are “micro-practices.”
These are practices that only take a few seconds or minutes to do. They can also be anchored to existing activities. And, they’ve been found to promote calmness and relaxation. For instance, when washing your hands, conduct a self-wellness check-in. Another example would be doing breathing exercises when taking a break from work or writing in a gratitude journal during your evening routine.
2. What’s the best way to structure your day?
When a pandemic strikes, it’s going to disrupt our routines. Even if you were already working from home, COVID-19, as an example, you now have to manage your time homeschooling your kids or sharing a workplace with your spouse or roommate.
In short, while you should have a broad plan on how you’re going to spend your days, it also shouldn’t be too rigid that you don’t have any wiggle room. Remember, during uncertain times, things can change daily. And, since this is already a stressful time, you don’t want to add the pressure of following a strict schedule.
So, how can you achieve this? To be honest, that depends on what exactly is going on in your life. For instance, you may have to be a “teacher” for your kids between 9 am and 11 am. Or, maybe your significant other has a virtual meeting at 1 pm that forces you to hang out in the backyard for its duration.
If you’re in these types of situations, then you need to construct your schedule around them. Perhaps block time for uninterrupted work before you have to homeschool your children. If you have an invite at the same time as your better half, consider an alternative time.
Most importantly, try to work during your personal production peaks. During lulls, leave your calendar open. And forgive yourself if your day didn’t go exactly as planned. Despite what it may seem like, tomorrow is a new beginning to get back on track.
3. Designate a workplace.
A calm, clean, and dedicated workspace is essential. No matter how much you plan or motivated you are, it’s impossible to stay focused when you’re sitting on the couch with the TV on and your family chatting in the background. Moreover, how can you remain productive when you have a messy desk that’s stealing your attention from your work?
In a perfect world, you would have your own home office where you could shut the door and work in silence. But, that’s not possible for everyone. At the least, try to find a quiet area in your home and set up shop there. Make sure that you have everything you need to get your work done. And, make sure that you keep it clean and clutter-free.
Don’t be afraid to experiment or get creative. Is there a closet that you could place a desk in? Could you purchase a small folding table and move it around as needed? Would a wall unit work? Is there a shed or garage that could be converted into a home office?
4. Pay attention to fragmented time.
What exactly is fragmented time? Well, H.V. MacArthur describes this as occurs those “small pockets of 15 to 30-minute blocks of time that exist between scheduled meetings.” I call these time buffers. But, whatever terminology you want to use, the concept is the same.
Having gaps in your schedule gives you a chance to breathe and take a break. It can even be used to help you prepare for your next meeting or to-do-list. And, it ensures that if that Zoom call went into overtime, you aren’t to run late into your next appointment.
Despite these benefits, “most of us are very passive with our calendars,” writes MacArthur. “Clockwise saw a 17% increase in the amount of fragmented time per person per week (blocks of time less than 2 hours) and a 1.27-hour (8%) decrease in the amount of focus time per person per week (blocks of time longer than 2 hours).”
The reason? “People tend to schedule us for meetings based on what works for them and the open space they spot in our calendars,” MacArthur states. “But that may leave you very little time to actually get work done and the fragmented time ends up sucked up in busy but unproductive activities.”
The solution? Bome more “intentional about the ratio of fragmented to focused time you allow in your schedule.”
5. Find a healthier balance with your screens.
Before the coronavirus, we were already dependent on our gadgets. In fact, it’s been found that we tap, click, and swipe our phones a whopping 2,617 times a day. I can’t imagine what that’s up to now, what with the latest news updates, virtual activities, and staying connected to your work.
Sure. It’s of the utmost importance to remain informed and in-touch. But, it can also be distracting. Even worse, being glued to your screen for too long can be exhausting.
How can you create a healthier relationship with your phone? Well, Catherine Price, author of How To Break Up With Your Phone: The 30-Day Plan To Take Back Your Life, suggests trying “to gently get into the habit of cultivating moment-to-moment awareness.” It gives you a chance to see see how you feel while on your screens.
“I also recommend reducing ‘ease of access,’” adds Price. “If you’ve got that device in your pocket, it’s very easy to access every news app in the universe.” A quick fix would be to “create a charging station for your phone somewhere nearby, but not within arm’s reach.”
“If you’re having issues with compulsively checking before bed, maybe get your phone out of your bedroom and put a book on your bedside table instead,” states Price. “Put some kind of craft project or a puzzle out on your table so that when you do have a down moment, you have some option that’s easy to get to that’s not your phone.”
Price also recommends being more selective with your apps. That means only keeping those that are beneficial and uninstalling those that aren’t. You may also want to remove social media apps fro your Home screen. And, instead of imposing more things on yourself, reduce the amount of Zoom meeting or conference calls you have on your schedule.
6. Put first things first in your calendar.
“Putting first things first means organizing and executing around your most important priorities,” Stephen Covey famously wrote. “It is living and being driven by the principles you value most, not by the agendas and forces surrounding you.”
In other words, identify your priorities and add them to your calendar. If not, something of less importance will take precedence. Best of all, because you should only a handful of priorities, you can maintain a healthy balance of structure and malleability.
7. Don’t put yourself in calendar debt.
“Lots of people spend time coming up with budgets so they can improve their finances,” writes Kayla Sloan in another Calendar article. “Then they spend additional time tracking their finances and comparing everything to their budget. After that, they may tweak one or the other, and sometimes both, as they balance their spending and income.”
“Sticking to a budget and doing financial planning goes a long way toward reaching your money goals,” adds Kayla. However, “have you ever thought about time in a similar way?” After all, “you can always make more money.”
But, as for time? Well, “once spent, you can’t make more“ of it. “That’s why you should budget your time like you budget money,” suggests Kayla.
Creating a budget for the first time may seem overwhelming. In reality, though, it’s not all that complicated. The key is to know exactly how you want to spend your most valuable asset.
To help you get started, here are some recommendations from Kayla:
- Find and use a calendar app.
- Put your most important tasks in a list.
- Create healthy routines like planning ahead and exercise.
- Block out time for tasks like email.
- Determine what can be automated, delegated, and eliminated from your schedule.
- Learn shortcuts, such as keyboard shortcuts.
- Schedule downtime.
- Keep motivated by setting personal and work goals.
And, as Dave Ramsey explains, when you have a time budget, you gain a sense of traction. As a result, you’ll be more efficient and won’t waste your time on activities that leave you feeling drained.
8. Keep your values in sight.
Think of your values as a compass. Even if you’ve hiked in the same forest hundreds of times, it’s easy to turn yourself around and get lost. Thankfully, you have your trusty compass to guide you out of the woods safely.
When you know the value of your work, by alining it with your mission and values, it’s much easier to stay on track — especially during these unprecedented times. Instead of wasting your time on meaningless activities, you’re only focusing on the things that are bringing you closer to your goals.
9. Look after your peeps.
In this day in age, I highly doubt that you’re working entirely by yourself. I mean, even freelancers and solopreneurs may outsource tasks to others.
Regardless of how many people you’re collaborating with, it’s imperative that you check-in on them. We’re living in strange times right now. And, it’s undoubtedly affecting or mental health, which in turn will impact our performance.
Even just saying “hi” to others can make them feel connected and less isolated. More importantly, you can also make sure that they’re aware of their purpose and help them address any possible issues.
For example, if they’re struggling with time management, make sure that they’re only focusing on their top priorities. If not, and they’re wasting time on something else, then that can bottleneck your own productivity.