Time. It’s without question our most valuable resource. Yet, so many of us take it for granted. Even worse, a majority of us waste time on unproductive and senseless activities — whether at home or work. For some, they may be happy draining this precious resource. But, for the rest of us, we strive for more in life, the only way to get the most out of time is to effectively manage it. There are many ways to do this — but find out how to manage time.
If you’re new to time management, this may sound daunting and nearly impossible. For work we were asked to read a few books on time management and these have been helpful to me. But, if you use the following tips, you’ll be able to easily squeeze the most out of every minute you have.
Don’t Believe in Time Management Myths
Before we go much further, we should first clear the air here and bust some common time management myths. Most notably, the misconception that you can actually manage time. The truth is that you don’t possess the power to add more time to your day, week, month, or year. We all have the same exact amount of time. With that in mind, when we talk about time management it’s really about how you are managing yourself and how you’re spending your time.
Another common myth is that you have to wake up earlier. It sounds good on paper. But, not if you’re a night owl. A better option would be to create a schedule that’s built around your biological prime time. These are based around your specific bio-rhythms and energy levels. So, for example, if you have the most energy and concentration mid-morning, then that’s when you would want to focus on your most important activities for the day.
And, another myth that needs busting is that having a well-structured day means that you’re managing your time properly. In reality, even though you’re organized and have a full calendar, doesn’t mean that you’re spending your time on the right things. Remember, managing your time is all about filling your days, weeks, and months with activities that are helping you achieve your goals.
Find Out Where You’re Wasting Time
It’s hard to manage time when you don’t know where it’s being spent. That’s why you should track your time for a couple of weeks to see where exactly you are wasting time. For example, you may notice that you spend more than two hours per day cleaning out your inbox or scrolling through social media. That time could have definitely been spent elsewhere. The same idea could be applied to situations like your commute to work or waiting for an appointment. As opposed to doing nothing or getting sucked into social media, use that time to respond to emails or read.
To get started, jot down everything you do in a day and record it in a notebook — you should do this for around three weeks to get the most accurate picture as possible. You can also use apps like RescueTime or Timely to track your online and smartphone activity.
Once you know where you’re wasting time, you can change your habits so that you’re using that time more wisely.
Figure Out Long It Really Takes
Besides wasting time, one of the main reasons why people struggle with time management is because they under-or-overestimate how long it takes to get something done. For example, you may think that it will only take an hour to complete a task like scheduling your employees for the next week or cleaning your kitchen. However, it takes closer to two hours. Now your entire schedule is thrown off for the rest of the day.
Just like finding out where you’re wasting time, keep a time log or use time tracking apps to see how long it takes you to complete a specific task. Knowing this will help you be more realistic on what you can or can not accomplish in a day.
Set Realistic Goals and Develop a Plan
Always remember that managing time is changing your behavior and habits so that you’re spending it more wisely. Again, you don’t have the ability to actually change time. You can accomplish this by setting more realistic goals, such as turning off your phone while involved in deep work or reducing the time spent watching TV.
After you’ve created your time management goals, create a plan on how you’ll actually achieve them. Start small so that you don’t overwhelm yourself and gradually work towards larger goals. Make sure that you keep track of your progress so that you know whether or not you’re making progress.
Separate the Urgent From the Important
No matter how organized and disciplined you are, like has a knack for throwing the unexpected your way. The thing is, not all of these last-minute occurrences are urgent. But, if you treat them as such, then they’ll always take precedence over what’s truly important.
One of the most effective ways to help you distinguish between “urgent” and “important” tasks was a system credited to former U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Known as the Eisenhower Matrix, the system recommends that you place all of your activities into four quadrants based upon urgency and importance:
- The first quadrant contains tasks that are both urgent and important, like literally putting out a fire.
- Quadrant 2 is reserved for important activities that aren’t urgent, such as anything that helps you reach your goals.
- The third quadrant is used for not important, but urgent items like distracting phone calls.
- Quadrant 4 contains anything that is not important and urgent, such as busy work or time-wasting activities.
As you can see, this is a simple way to help you prioritize how you’re spending your time by focusing on what truly matters and eliminating the things that don’t deserve your time. For your important, but not urgent tasks can be delegated or outsourced to someone else. Anything in the fourth quadrant can probably be dropped altogether.
Use the Right Tools
There are a variety of tools that can assist you in managing your time. You don’t want to go overboard and rely on too many of them. But, it’s absolutely necessary for you to use at the minimum an online calendar and organizer. These tools will keep you organized and manage and remind you of what you have planned for the day. They even block out specific times so that you can’t schedule anything else — which prevents any scheduling conflicts.
You may also want to find tools that automate any recurring and tedious tasks in your life. For instance, you could use billing or invoicing software so that you don’t have to manually create bills every week or month. Use how to use your Calendar phone app.
Procrastination isn’t always a bad thing. But, it can become a problem when you’re just sat there doing nothing for the last couple of hours. As a result, it throws the rest of your day out-of-whack. And, even more problematic, it could cause you to miss important deadlines.
In order to overcome procrastination, you first need to understand why you procrastinate. This is different for everyone. But, it involves self-awareness, self-knowledge, and being honest with yourself. After getting to the root of the problem, you can then find the solutions to help you overcome procrastination.
You can also be victorious in the battle of procrastination by:
- Doing the most challenging thing first.
- Practice mindfulness to become more present.
- Stop making a big deal out of nothing.
- Using the five-minute rule.
- Practicing self-compassion.
- Not sweating the small stuff, like being perfect.
- Reframing your thinking from have to choose.
Set Deadlines and Time Limits
This is most effective when you have an idea of how long certain activities take. You’ve already figured that out by tracking your time. Now you can use that info to establish time restraints for everything that you do. In turn, it will help you stay focused on the task at hand.
Also, add deadlines to your calendar and set reminders so that you won’t forget. If there isn’t a hard deadline, it wouldn’t hurt to set one yourself so that you’ll be motivated to actually finish it instead of frequently putting it off.
Eliminate Half Work
“In our age of constant distraction, it’s stupidly easy to split our attention between what we should be doing and what society bombards us with,” writes James Clear. “Usually we’re balancing the needs of messages, emails, and to-do lists at the same time that we are trying to get something accomplished. It’s rare that we are fully engaged in the task at hand.”
Clear calls this division of time and energy “half-work.” And, examples include starting a workout routine only to switch to a new program a couple of days later because you just read about it or sitting down to write only to stop and check your phone for no reason.
“Regardless of where and how you fall into the trap of half-work, the result is always the same: you’re never fully engaged in the task at hand, you rarely commit to a task for extended periods of time, and it takes you twice as long to accomplish half as much,” explains Clear. It’s also the “reason why you’re able to get more done on your last day before vacation (when you really focus) than you do in the 2 weeks previous (when you’re constantly distracted).”
Clear recommends blocking “out significant time to focus on one project” and eliminating everything else. That takes some self-discipline. But, you can help yourself by eliminating out distractions. For instance, when writing, turn off your phone so that you’re not tempted to look at it. Because we all deal with distractions differently, keep a distraction log to help you see what’s pulling your attention away from what you should be focused on.
Also, stop trying to do more than one thing at once. Multitasking doesn’t work. In fact, our brains are wired to only do one thing at a time.
The only way that you’re going to get the most out of your time is if you plan and prepare in advance. For example, every night before hitting the hay, tidy up and organize your personal belongings. This way you aren’t wasting time in the morning washing dishes or frantically searching for your keys.
You should also pick-out your wardrobe, pack your lunch, write out your to-do-list, and review your calendar. This way when you wake-up, everything is ready to go and you won’t face any surprises.
Be Ruthless With Your Time
Finally, protect your time as much as possible. That means turning down any other requests for your time if you already have something else scheduled in your calendar. It’s understandable that this may disappoint some people. But if you let this happen once, it will become a common occurrence. As a consequence, you’ll be putting other people’s priorities ahead of your own.