When I was a teenager and getting ready for holiday dinner, my mom kept coming into my room and telling me to hurry. With every “hurry” from her, I’d wail, “But I’m trying”.
Apparently, after about 40 minutes of this, she went into the living room, flopped on the couch, turned to my dad and with a resigned sigh said, “You know, I think she really is trying”.
I’ve been late for school, work, and client meetings. I once missed a subway and had to hitchhike to an interview to make it on time (not bright, I know). Even a plane was held up because of me.
People use to marvel at how quickly I walked and how much energy I had. I didn’t. I was just always late.
“Lack of direction, not lack of time, is the problem. We all have 24 hours.”
That began to change when a friend pointed out that, by keeping her waiting, I was showing no respect for her time and priorities.
She was right.
What truly clinched it for me was when I was supposed to take a friend out for her birthday. I was so behind in my work that the thought of spending a few hours away caused me anxiety.
Then it hit me, I was stressed about taking the time to celebrate my friend instead of looking forward to the privilege.
I had lost friends in the past and was painfully aware of how fragile life is.
So I set out to change.
I wasn’t born with time management skills. According to “Time management is more than just life hacks“, an article by Harvard Business Review, it really is a skill.
Thankfully, it’s one I’ve since mastered and have helped others master too.
Despite tools, apps and hacks telling us how to manage time, they’re all predicated on the presumption that you already have the underlying skill set. If, like me, you don’t, then they won’t work.
3 time management skills
- Grasping that time is limited
- Being able to monitor your time while doing activities, and through interruptions and changes
- Knowing how to organize goals, schedules and task effectively
Once you’ve mastered the first two, the last one is relatively easy thanks to calendars, apps and timers, none of which I personally can live without.
Whether you need more time in your professional or personal life (or more likely both), learning how to manage time requires monitoring and commitment.
It also takes time to develop, but given the advantages over the course of your life, the time you commit to upfront is worth it.
Real time management takes time.
A lot of articles provide life hacks that seem easy enough to implement. But they don’t stick. Learning how to manage your time is a big investment in time, energy and discipline at the onset.
For people already feeling overwhelmed, the short-term investment may seem too steep for the long-term benefits. But the advantages are many and worth considering so you that you don’t give up.
What if you could shave off two hours a week from your must-do list over the course of 52 weeks and then imagine that over the course of your life? It’s worth it.
Get more done in less time
The better you are at managing your time, the more skilled you become at not wasting time or taking on more than you need. Ultimately the pressure comes off, as does the stress. You might even have time to do things you enjoy like reading, catching up on the latest music and seeing friends.
Improve the quality of your work
Some people work well under pressure – presumably. I suspect they work well when there’s a deadline. Working under pressure and working toward a deadline are two very different concepts.
If you’re working under stress and trying to manage multiple activities in a short time, there’s a good chance your tasks won’t be getting the proper attention.
Productivity and quality suffer as a result.
When you learn to manage your time, you can implement deadlines that help motivate you without unhealthy stress and without undermining your output.
You’ll be more satisfied
I used to work with a team that would start the mornings with a brief meeting to see where projects were at and what needed to be done to complete them. When a project was deemed done, everyone would stand up and cheer, “We get shit done!”
It was dumb. It was fun. It was also an insight into how we all feel when we accomplish what we set out to do. We feel good.
Imagine getting a handle on your time, consistently getting shit done, taking the pressure off and feeling accomplished on a regular basis?
You’ll rest easy
By alleviating all the pressure and stress associated to poor time management, you’ll relax more and chances are you’ll sleep better.
I listened to a podcast by Lewis Howes who interviewed Dr. Mathew Walker, a neuroscientist who’s dedicated his life to sleep.
It was eye opening. I knew sleep was important, but this is worth a listen.
Those are just a few of the long-term benefits of learning how to manage your time. And by “long-term”, I mean lifelong.
Imagine the time gained, the stress removed and the satisfaction you’ll feel over the course of years.
If you’ve struggled with poor time management skills, then I urge you to take the time upfront and follow through these exercises.
They’re easier said and read than done.
So if you find you’re not able to commit, then get a coach. The few sessions it’ll take will bring you a lifetime of advantages.
Is your daily to-do list keeping you awake?
Sometimes all it takes is a couple of coaching sessions to realize that you’re not the problem, your long and unrealistic to-do list is.
So start there.
If you’re constantly pressed for time; overwhelmed by all the responsibilities you need to complete in a day; and, you never get everything done – then take a critical look at your list and the amount of time you allot to each item.
Sometimes the problem is that there’s really only 24 hours in a day and we all need sleep at some point.
Write the list
Write one once a week. Also do one every morning that checks off your weekly list. By the way, check your calendar every week and every morning to make sure you’re including appointments and plans.
This might be a good time to “habit stack”. This means adding a new habit to an established one. If you tend to sit down at your desk and check emails in the morning, then do your to-do list at this time too.
Place the items in order of priority
Start with what’s urgent, followed by what’s important, and then what’s not detrimental.
There’s a difference between what’s urgent and what’s important. You’ll need to truly put thought into how these priorities are listed.
Have back up plans for the urgent and priority items in case there are setbacks.
Complications happen and when they do, they can have an impact on the entire day and, of course, on our level of stress.
Being prepared is a huge factor in taking control of your time.
If your day is spent at a computer, make sure to add time for short breaks and stay away from social media distractions unless they add value to what you’re trying to accomplish.
Estimate the time each item will take
Give the items a high estimate plus add some time as a cushion.
I suggest this because over the years I’ve noticed clients tend to underestimate how long an item will take and then, by end of day, they feel squeezed and stressed.
Additionally, this prepares you for setbacks.
Colleagues, partners and children can take on some of the items. They may not do them like you do or even as good as you, but does every item need to be perfect? Probably not.
Focus on your strengths. Delegate your weaknesses.
Cut big goals into smaller steps
Ask yourself does each goal really have to be done all at once?
For instance, if you want to clean out all your closets or file all your documents, split up the goal into segments over a few days.
You can also cut them into shorter time slots.
If some items feel too big and you risk procrastinating, then do them in short spurts of 15 or 30 minutes, do something else, and come back to them.
Monitor how you’re coming along and adjust accordingly.
Over the coming weeks, monitor how you’re coming along. You might need to adjust the time allotted for your activities so that you begin to set realistic amounts.
Eventually, this routine may be enlightening and helpful enough to get you through your tasks and even have some time to yourself.
If it doesn’t, then you may need to develop deeper time management skills.
Spend time studying time
When’s your best time?
Over the next next week or two, notice when you’re at peak performance. Don’t limit yourself to morning, afternoon and night. Think of the entire weeks as a series of slots.
You might find that you perform best in the morning on most days, but not on Mondays.
You might also find that afternoons are ideal for some activities, but mornings are work better for others.
Pick your best times.
If I have to write blogs, I do them in the morning when I’m cozy and pensive. Once I’ve been awake a few hours, I’m ready to coach clients for a few hours.
Only then can I get up and out to do exercise.
Because I work for myself, I have the luxury of planning my day according to what suits me best.
You may not have all the flexibility I do, but chances are that you have enough variety in your “to-dos” to arrange your time more optimally.
Once you’ve tracked your ideal times for specific activities, make sure to prioritize your to-do list accordingly or, rather, to prioritize your priorities accordingly.
By that I mean – stay on top of the items that have to be completed; continue to delegate; and continue to allot a realistic amount of time to each task.
Once you have:
1. A list of realistic daily priorities
2. A good idea of the optimal time to perform each of the tasks
3. A fairly accurate idea of long each one takes
Then set deadlines.
Deadlines take the pressure off
If you follow the advice thus far your deadlines are likely to be fairly realistic. In other words, they’ll be manageable.
Knowing you’ve allotted a realistic amount of time takes pressure off.
It provides a goal and structure so that you do, in fact, accomplish what you set out to do.
Setting a deadline also helps you monitor your accomplishments, as well as the challenges. You’ll start noticing patterns that can help you structure your time even more effectively.
Deadlines help with motivation too. Get into the habit of recording them in your calendar so that you stay on top of them.
If you notice that some activities are taking too long or that you’re failing to meet the deadlines you’ve set, don’t beat yourself up. You’re still learning.
Instead re-evaluate them. Are they worth the time you’re taking on them? Can you delegate? Are they really that important overall?
Weigh the cost of in terms of time, motivation and importance of completing or even attempting the activity versus the benefit of carrying through with it.
As I mentioned earlier, this is easier said and read than done.
It’s truly a good practice to do with the guidance and objectivity of a professional coach…yes like me (you had to know that was coming!)
About calendar notations
When you write plans, deadlines and appointments in your calendar, add a bit of detail so that you don’t have to spend time looking things up.
For instance, include the email address of whomever you need to email a project to or include the physical address of an appointment you need to go to.
Also add a reminder a few days before so that nothing pops up suddenly.
So many of us wish we had more time to do the things we love. But, we rarely take the time to master the skills required to manage our time. It’s a vicious circle.
When you truly make the commitment and take the series of small steps to improve your time management, it can make a huge difference across every aspect of your life.
There are no quick fixes. However, these by step-by-step actions will have a positive impact. To help you put the steps in place and take action, be sure to contact me.
In the meantime, share this post and help others.
One way of making decisions easier and creating more meaningful priorities, is by identifying your core values. This article will help you do that and will provide a full explanation of the benefits:
Lastly, join me on Facebook.
It’s a good group and I’d welcome your contribution.