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We live in a world where many of us struggle to get everything done in the time that we have.
Lots of people can identify with that colossal feeling of overwhelm that crushes us when we simply have too much going on in our lives and we feel out of control.
Yet, even though we all have the same amount of time, some people manage to get everything done whilst others are rushing around like lunatics! How come?
Well, their secret is simple – good time management.
These people are not born ready-made productivity gurus. They have learned and developed their skills over time so that they now have a set of habits that impact positively on their lives and work for them. You can do this too.
What is Time Management?
‘Time Management’ is the on-going process of reviewing your goals and tasks and planning how to divide your time between them.
When practiced to the best effect, good time management will mean that you achieve more in a shorter period. It will also enable you to handle stress and pressure better as you in feel in control. Time management is not about working harder – instead, it is about working smarter.
The definition of time management is relatively straightforward to understand yet so many of us struggle to get it right in our lives. Are you one of these people?
What Happens Without Good Time Management?
When we lack good time management in our lives we:
- often have a racing heart and an on-going feeling of panic constantly sitting in the background
- lack direction and feel like we ‘don’t know where to start’
- feel quickly overwhelmed
- are often late, and we feel totally disorganized
- find ourselves saying ‘No’ to things when really, we would like to say ‘Yes’
- procrastinate and don’t face up to our fears and, in turn, become even more unproductive
- waste time trying to avoid the tasks that we really need to complete
- feel stressed, anxious, and out of control.
Many people, when they are in this state of mind, will often say that they are ‘too busy’ to get things done or to participate in social engagements. They spend ages telling their loved ones how busy they are, next minute they ditch their friends and don’t join in because they ‘don’t have time’, then they waste two hours on social media! Sound familiar?
Why? Well, it’s because they are trying to avoid climbing the mountain in front of them.
Being busy doesn’t necessarily mean that you are being effective. Ironically, it usually means the exact opposite.
Using Good Time Management Strategies Will Change Your Life Immediately and Forever
The beauty of learning great time management skills is that they are relatively quick to learn and put in place. Sure, your skills will develop and improve over time, but we can all make a big impact immediately and, if we keep these practices up, overwhelm can become a thing of the past.
Practically speaking managing your time gets stuff done. It will remove the feelings we just examined, and it will change your life. Importantly, it will also allow you to feel a sense of achievement when you start to notice a positive change as you become more productive.
Crucially, good time management also allows you to make room in your life for you and the stuff that you want to do. The best time managers set aside this time for themselves so that they can rediscover and get back in touch with themselves. No one should feel lost and alone in their own life.
Where Do We Start?
Well, like any journey, it starts with a single step.
In this case, the first step is admitting to yourself that you have a problem and then, step two, making the decision that you are going to do something about it. Our lives can change in a heartbeat when we act.
Making the decision to improve your time management skills will benefit you at home and at work so making the decision should be easy.
Now, follow these simple time management tips to become more effective and achieve more in your life.
Time Management Strategies
Step 1: Own the problem and be accountable to yourself
Don’t Blame – Own it
When in a state of overwhelm many people look to blame others for their problems because it makes them feel better. However, in order to get our lives back on track in terms of time management, we must wise up to the fact that we are in full control of the problem. We are accountable for our own time. Own it.
Make a commitment to yourself that you are going to make more of the time that you have. Embrace the fact that you are the one in charge of where and how time is used and that you can control this. Suddenly you move from passive mode to being in the driving seat. Your perspective will shift, and you immediately feel that you can take action.
Recognize that you only have a limited amount of time
Your time is precious and finite. Eventually, it will run out and there won’t be anymore. Decide today that you are going to get the most out of what you have.
Remind yourself of this every day.
Getting the right mindset
To achieve this mindset, you will need to discipline yourself by constantly holding yourself to account, but it is important to be realistic about what is physically possible. As you practice good time management habits over time you will grow accustomed to what you can realistically achieve during your day. You will also learn where to find that sweet spot – where you can push yourself just a little more to really maximize your productivity.
Efficiency is the key. The objective here is not to make more time – rather get more from the time that you already have, to establish a feeling of being in control. You no longer have to cling on and hope for the best. You are in control and calm.
As you practice these habits over time you will find that your decision-making is reduced because you know what you have got to do, and you are organized in advance. In turn, this will reduce your stress and feeling of overwhelm as you calmly navigate your way through the day instead of swatting issues away like you are under attack.
Decide to Improve the Quality of your Life
Taking the time to adopt good time management habits will improve your quality of life and make you happier, healthier, and, in turn, more productive.
Don’t beat yourself up. We all have bad habits that we need to conquer. Don’t be scared – everyone one of them can be beaten with the right mindset and by taking action.
In being deliberate with your time and by taking action your life will become less overwhelming.
Step 2: It’s all about having a Plan
Decide on the method that suits you
The absolute start for getting a plan in place is to have a calendar and schedule. This is so much more than just something that hangs on the wall with your loved one’s birthdays. This will be something that you will always need to have about you. It will be the touchstone of your personal organization and you will need to feel comfortable and confident navigating through it.
Depending on your personal circumstances and preferences you will need to decide if you are the type that prefers a physical tool, such as a diary or journal, or if you prefer a more technical approach with, for example, an app on your phone. The choice is yours, some people have a combination of both.
You must ensure that whichever method you choose satisfies each of the following:
- You know how to use it comfortably and with confidence and you can access it quickly
- It can be added to and updated speedily
- It is efficient – you don’t have to duplicate tasks and do things twice
- You have a back-up plan should you lose it, or it crashes (this is difficult with a paper diary)
- It enables you to see quickly what you need to do
- You can quickly backfill it with everything that you need to remember as a matter of routine: birthdays, clubs, events your work times, etc. (with an app or electronic diary this is a task that will only need to be done once)
Once you have selected your chosen method, set aside a good chunk of time and fill your schedule with everything that you need in there: birthdays, clubs, meetings, appointments, etc.
You may need to set aside half a day or even a whole day to do this, but it will be worth it. Work through the piles of paper that you have been dreading dealing with. Work late and get your desk tidied. It is a one-off job. Make the time and own it. Be in control. You will feel a huge sense of achievement once you have done this.
You do not have to be a slave to your calendar!
Without a doubt, having a plan will put you in a good place. You won’t forget birthdays, or meetings, or the form that needs to be completed and returned.
Your colleagues will notice and appreciate how much calmer and in control you are. You will be empowered as you go from existing in a dark tunnel to knowing what’s coming up and when.
However, do not allow yourself to be controlled by your calendar. It is a tool that will help you, but it is only a tool. Don’t become imprisoned by it.
At times life will throw you a curveball and you will immediately have to deviate from your planned schedule. This is OK! As you get more organized and in control, you will be able to say ‘Yes’ to spontaneous events and offers and this will mean overriding your schedule. Good! Do it! You can quickly catch up another time. Never forget that life is for living. Remember what we said about time being precious.
Step 3: Approaching Tasks
Effective time management is dependent on having a to-do list. This is simply a list of jobs that you need to get done. It should be in the ‘living’ form and you should be able to update it constantly.
Make sure that there is a definite ‘act’ to marking something as completed. This may mean swiping on the app, crossing out with paper and a pen, or ticking a box.
Either way, this is important for your sense of achievement and must be seen as an important marker of success.
Once your to-do list is up and running you should start to allocate your tasks to your calendar so that they can be completed. Once tasks are completed mark them off the list and give yourself a pat on the back.
The Key to effective time management
Time management really starts to transform your life when you tackle those jobs that you constantly put off. We all have them, those big things that need to get done but we are too scared to start.
The way to tackle the scary stuff is to have a holistic view. I call these ‘Boulder Tasks’. At first, they seem impossible to move and they sit there in the way. However, once you get a bit of traction it’s amazing how fast they start to move and roll down the hill. Before you know it, they will have disappeared over the horizon or smashed into a thousand tiny pieces.
The stuff you dread is never as bad as you think it’s going to be. Additionally, there is also a massive sense of achievement to be had once these tasks have been completed.
How to get the scary tasks done
- Start by writing a to-do list of all the scary jobs (Boulder Tasks) that you really dread doing.
- Next, rank them in terms of priority. Decide which are urgent and which can wait.
- Then set a completion date for each one. This may mean you need to revise the priority order.
- Allocate time to each job to get it completed. Be realistic.
- Next, add these tasks to your calendar and block out an appropriate amount of time. It may be easier to break down a huge task into several steps and spread them across more than one day.
By approaching the scary Boulder Tasks in this way, you do not allow yourself to give in to procrastination. Stick to your schedule and then tick them off the list.
Batch your tasks
This is when you group similar tasks into blocks of time to complete all at once. Good examples of tasks to be completed this way include social media, emails, opening the mail, filing, etc.
These tasks must be completed in designated blocks of time. There must be no distractions. Add blocks of time to your calendar for these tasks.
Be realistic. Don’t set yourself up to fail. Be clear about how long tasks and meetings will take.
At the end of the day, it’s better for the team/family and it’s better for you to be realistic so that you can get things done. This way you won’t let people down and you won’t feel like a failure when you can’t make the unrealistic deadline that you have set yourself.
As time goes on and time management habits become more embedded you will learn how to challenge yourself about how much time to give each task.
Be systematic when approaching your tasks
It is important that when you move through your to-do list that you are systematic. Do not allow yourself to be ‘busy’ by constantly hopping from one task to another.
Get #1 completed then, and only then, move on to #2. Make sure that you stick to the specific time allocated to each task.
As you have already split your Boulder Tasks into smaller jobs across the week it is crucial that you maintain momentum by staying on task. This will combat overwhelm whilst getting the job done in an efficient way.
Mix and match your tasks
For the sake of your sanity, it is important to mix and match your tasks. Each day should consist of some Boulder Tasks, smaller tasks, and batch tasks.
Many of us dread tackling the small and tedious tasks that we must complete simply to live, such as paying the bills, checking out the bank account, etc. Again, these small and tedious personal/business administration tasks are often put off as being too time-consuming but in reality, they are usually pretty quick to complete. These are another example of a group of tasks that can be batched together for completion in a dedicated time slot.
Do not allow distractions
When we are working it is inevitable that we will be disturbed either by people or by new tasks crossing our desks. When this happens you need to make a decision: is this something that can be quickly completed, or should it wait?
As a rule, unless the task can be completed in less than one minute it needs to be put off until later so that your workflow is not disturbed. A quick email to check a fact for a report you are writing can take 45 seconds to compose and send. Ordering something off the internet can take much longer.
For those tasks that will take longer simply scribble a note and look at it later during a period of administration time.
Additionally, be strict with yourself and put distractions such as mobile phones away. Do not allow yourself to be disturbed by the latest ‘ping’. You can always check on it later.
Do not be tempted to multitask when working
Focus on one thing at a time when working.
There is a time and a place to multi-task. Listening to a podcast on a lengthy commute or whilst you are painting a wall or clearing the kitchen is perfectly sensible. Hopping into email every 10 minutes is a waste of time. It causes distractions so that you simply cannot get back on track and your schedule will slip. Be strict with yourself.
Step 4: Hold a Weekly Planning and Review Meeting
The Weekly Meeting
Once you are up and running with your schedule it is good practice to hold a weekly meeting with yourself where you run through the week ahead. A Friday afternoon is a good time for this, or early one morning on the weekend when the kids are still in bed.
If it helps, do this with a partner, your PA, or a loved one. You will find that you will help them too.
What to do during the meeting
- Review what you have achieved during the week. Reward yourself for your hard work.
- Review any tasks that took longer than expected and review your schedule as a result.
- Review your to-do list. Add anything new that has crossed your desk or that you have been invited to if you haven’t already.
- Compose a newly revised to-do list ready for the week ahead.
- Look at your to-do list and add assign time to the Boulder Tasks in your schedule first, then fit everything else in.
- Think about all the things that are happening during the upcoming week. Check that everything is scheduled and that you know where you must be and when.
- If you are planning for more than one person consider the logistics for how you will manage these different commitments.
- During this meeting get as much admin done as you can. It is a time thief! If you can’t get it all done, batch it and add some time slots for the forthcoming week.
Be a conscious Time Manager
At first, you will find that you need to be deliberate in this. Plan for everything, not just meetings or events – include exercise, family time, etc. This may seem a little over-zealous at first, but it will soon become second nature.
Remember to factor in ‘living time’ not just the ‘existence tasks’. It’s amazing how many people schedule the latter and not the former.
If you must work or do Boulder Tasks over the weekend – make sure that plan your time accordingly to allow yourself to live.
For some people, one weekly meeting is simply not enough to cope with everything that is going on in their lives. That’s fine. In this case, simply hold a short additional daily meeting of 15 minutes or so and review the day ahead and your to do list.
Still continue with your weekly meeting. The point here is to ensure that you maintain that feeling of being in control.
That Sunday Night Feeling
If you do all of this you will be ready to start Monday – on the line, ready to go as soon as the pistol fires. You can enjoy the weekend and avoid Sunday night anxiety.
And remember, give yourself a break.
Did you do your best? Good. Well done.
It is important that we measure ourselves by our own metrics. There really is no need to compare yourself to the woman in cubicle 5 who has already completed a 10k run by 6 am and prepared dinner for her 5 kids. Be your own person.
Step 5: Be Your Own Boss and Communicate Clearly
Learn to say ‘No’
This is a fine art and for many people takes lots of practice. Learning to say ‘No’ is a crucial piece of the effective time management puzzle.
Granted, in our professional lives there are lots of things that we have no choice over but the right to politely turn things down in our personal lives is something that should be freely exercised.
If you really don’t want to do something – then don’t do it. It’s that simple. If you do – great.
Plan and make time for it. Saying ‘yes’ is a great thing as it opens you up to places, people, and new experiences. But there is no rule that says you have to say ‘yes’ to everything. Learn to say no and don’t be afraid to do so.
Identify your best productivity Time
As you exercise better time management skills you will naturally start to notice when you are more productive. Take note of this and identify the times of the day when you achieve more – your ‘productivity windows’.
Use this knowledge wisely and allocate these ‘windows’ to the tasks that you find hardest. These will often be your Boulder Tasks.
These Productivity Windows usually occur two or three times a day. There is no set formula for when these occur, and they are different for individual people.
Have A Daily Routine
There is no doubt about it that having a solid daily routine, especially in the morning, will enable you to be more productive and better manage your time.
A good morning routine will enable you to start the day on the front foot and in control.
You also need to ensure that, as we mentioned earlier, that you do not become a slave to your schedule. It is vital that you eat well, stay hydrated, and exercise. Also, remember to find time to factor in the ‘living time’.
There really is no finer feeling than being calm and in control.
The best time managers take full responsibility for the way that they spend their time and they are fully accountable for their actions. Embrace this and be empowered – even when the going gets tough.
Put yourself out there. It’s a good thing. Be in it for the team at work or the family at home. Step up to the plate. Own it.
Once all the time management strategies outlined in this article are in place you will be able to be an excellent communicator.
By communicating clearly to colleagues and family you will relieve everyone’s stress, and this will make life easier for you all. By ensuring that you are clear on what you and others feel is urgent, and when tasks need to be completed by, you can always remain calm and in control.
The most successful time managers didn’t get there by luck. They have worked incredibly hard to make the most of their time.
I bet when you look around at these people you will also notice that they are usually successful in their chosen path in life. It is true, the harder you work the luckier you get.
When starting out or looking to improve your time management skills it is important that you are kind to yourself and are realistic. Yes, challenge yourself but don’t set yourself up to fail. Start at the beginning and build up over time.
Great Time Management is achievable for anyone. With the right mindset, even the most chronically disorganized person can get their affairs in order.
Remember: The only difference between ordinary and extraordinary is the right mindset. With action, anything is possible.
You can do this.
Now, we’d love to hear from you.
What action are you going to take as a result of reading this article? Let us know your thoughts below. Your observations may inspire someone else who needs help to act.
Further Reading: Interested to find out more?
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