If you live in America, you’re probably swimming in debt. That’s not an overstatement either. According to one set of data, 80.9% of Baby Boomers, 79.9% of Gen Xers, and 81.5% of Millennials are in debt.
But, that’s not the only debt crisis we’re facing. There’s also the crushing time management debt that a lot of us find ourselves in.
I know what you’re thinking. If you don’t properly manage your time — how can that be just as bad as being in financial debt? Well, here are some of the most common symptoms related to poor time management:
- Poor punctuality
- Constantly rushing
- Decreased quality of work
- Frequently missing deadlines
- Inability to set and achieve goals
- Easily distracted
- Overcommitting yourself
- Unhealthy habits
If you’ve experienced any of those, then I don’t need to tell how determinantal they can be. For example, if you’re known for arriving late to a meeting or handing in assignments after the due date, that’s not going to help you succeed. If not corrected, you may even be putting your career in jeopardy. I mean, who would want to be associated with such an unreliable individual?
At home, inadequate time management can damage your relationships and health. Let’s say that you always feel behind on your work. As a consequence, you put in longer hours. That means less quality time with your friends or family.
As for your health, a lack of time management can lead to anxiety and stress. That can impair your concentration, as well as lead to serious alignments like cardiovascular disease. What’s more, because you believe that you lack time, you may sacrifice things like physical activity, sleep, or eating healthy.
So, yes. Time management debt is a problem for all other debt you may find yourself involved in. Time management debt is terrible all around. Thankfully, there are realistic and straightforward ways to finally dig yourself out of debt this year.
Pay yourself first.
“We all know that planning to save whatever money is left at the end of the month is a good way never to save anything at all,” notes Emily Guy Birken over at Wise Bread. “That’s why paying yourself first is one of the most important rules of good budgeting.” After all, when “your financial plans are funded — before you let today’s wants drain your savings — paying yourself first allows you to be a step ahead of future problems.”
“If you struggle with time management, you can also get ahead of future problems by paying yourself first,” adds Emily. “The trick is to take about 15 minutes each morning to review your calendar and make plans before you jump into your work for the day.”
Don’t think you have 15 extra minutes to spare in the morning? Consider waking up a little earlier. Or, cutting out a time-consuming activity like watching the news.
Sure. It’s a minor inconvenience. But, as Emily perfectly explains, “skipping your 15 minutes of planning is like forgoing your savings at the beginning of the month. It leaves you unprepared for things that you could’ve easily seen coming.” Even better, it prevents you from getting caught-off-guard “by plans, meetings, deadlines, or other scheduling needs that you might otherwise overlook.”
But I think you should also plan your week in advance. For example, instead of just lounging around on a Sunday, use that time to prepare for the upcoming week. Doing things like prepping your meals or outfits may even gain you that 15 minutes every to review your calendar.
Additionally, this lets you sketch out your ideal week and avoid scheduling conflicts. And, this enables you to add your priorities to your calendar before something less important takes it place.
Track your spending.
Here’s another great tip from Emily, “It’s difficult to know where your spending leaks are if you don’t know where your money goes.” The same thing is true when it comes to time management.
You can’t rectify your time management problems until you know how you’re actually spending your time. That’s why, before going much further, you need to track your time. And, one of the easiest ways to do this is by keeping a time log.
- Chose a tracking period. Ideally, this should be for around a month for a more accurate picture.
- Arm yourself with the right tools. An old fashioned notebook will work just fine. I’d also pair this with tools like Toggl, RescueTime, or Clokify.
- Record all of your daily activities. Do this in real-time. Also, don’t forget to document start and stop times. And, take note of the total duration time for each activity.
- Be as specific as you can and how you feel after each activity.
- Analyze your time log. Ask if you’re spending time on the right things. Also, question what’s wasting your time and what you need to do to improve.
With this information, you can eliminate time-wasters. And, more importantly, create a budget so that your calendar only contains essential items.
Create a budget.
“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?” I mean, it may be a challenge, but “you can always make more money.” 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.
If you’re new to creating a time budget, this may seem overwhelming. But, in reality, it’s pretty simple. It’s knowing what to spend your time on and adding these items to your calendar. To help you get started, here are some pointers from Kayla:
- Find and use a calendar app.
- Put your most important tasks in a list.
- Create routines like making meals ahead.
- Block out time for tasks like email.
- Schedule downtime.
- Set personal and work goals to keep you motivated.
Best of all, as Dave Ramsey explains, having a budget for your time gives you a sense of traction. Regardless if it’s at work or home, traction has a daily plan. And, that keeps you not only focused. But, also energized.
Use automation to your advantage.
Yes. Automation has made it easier to get out of debt. One example would be having a percentage of your paycheck automatically transferred to your 401 (K) or saving account. Another would be setting up automatic bill payments so that late fees won’t hit you.
Automation can also be used to assist you in time management. For instance, review past calendars to see which entries are recurring. You can then set them up as repeating events or create notifications for them.
But that’s not all. Use AI and machine learning tools to handle repetitive and tedious tasks. Calendar, as an example, makes smart suggestions on how to schedule meetings. However, there is no shortage of automated tools that can handle everything from responding to emails to posting social media updates.
Consolidate or renegotiate.
While not always a guarantee, one way to get yourself out of debt is through consolidation. Most commonly, this is utilized with student loans. But, another example would be getting a personal loan or low-interest credit card to pay off your existing bills. If that doesn’t work, you can also try to renegotiate the terms, like asking for a lower interest rate.
There are a couple of different ways to apply this concept to your time management debt as well.
- If you use multiple calendars, consolidate everything to create a master calendar.
- Batch similar tasks together to lower the cost of task-switching.
- If you have a scheduling conflict or packed calendar, reschedule some of these entries to when you have availability.
Want to know why so many people have money problems? It’s because they can’t say “no” to instant gratification. A common occurrence would be going to the store and going above your grocery budget. Maybe it’s because you want on an empty stomach or didn’t clip any coupons. Whatever the reason, doing this frequently keeps you behind the eightball.
With time management, this could happen when you’re at work and get a text from a friend. You stop what you’re doing to read the message. Now you’re distracted. But, even worse, the text is asking you to join them for lunch. While you’re tempted to do so, you don’t have the availability right now. If you did succumb to this, it could throw the rest of your schedule out-of-whack for today, tomorrow, and potentially the rest of the week.
Just like with money, if you don’t have it, then don’t spend your time until you do.
Live below your means.
Another common reason that so many folks are in debt is that they don’t live within their means. For instance, instead of packing your lunch, you always go out for your favorite personal care (like a massage), a restaurant, or a food truck. When you cut back on your spending, you’ll save more money (and possibly more time, too.
The same is true with your time. If you overcommit, then your calendar becomes too packed and cluttered. As a result, you don’t have the time to tackle your priorities or enjoy so much-needed downtime.
To counter this, say “yes’ to less. You don’t have to be rude either. Just consult your calendar to see what your schedule is like. If you’re already short on time, then you’ll have to reject the time request.
Prioritize your goals.
Finally, a proven method to climb out of debt is learning how to prioritize. As NerdWallet suggests, this could be paying off debt and retirement savings before college savings.
“You can borrow money for college, but there’s no such thing as a retirement loan. If you don’t begin saving for yourself, you put your ability to support yourself in retirement at risk,” says NerWallet’s credit card expert Sara Rathner. “It’s a tremendous gift to be able to fund your child’s education, but doing so may mean you’ll become a financial burden on your kids when they’re older and are supporting their own children.”
As you might have guessed, calendaring yourself out of debt also involves prioritizing. The first place to start is establishing realistic goals and sticking to them. Personally, the most effective strategy I’ve used is the SMART goal formula (Smart goals = Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-based).
Outside of SMART goals, you can also try:
- Creating a lean and mean to-do-list.
- Only adding your most important tasks to your calendar.
- Following the 80/20 rule, aka the Pareto Principle.
- Setting and respecting deadlines.
- Learning how to deal with distractions and interruptions.
- Working on your most challenging or dreaded tasks when you’re most productive.
But at the end of the day, you have to do you — but you can always get better at how you do things. You can try new ways to achieve your goals, and you can learn and implement diverse strategies. After all, we all have different priorities and ideas of doing things. The most important thing to remember is you can use the advice above and tailor it so that you will finally emerge debt-free this year.