Adult life is ridiculously hard.
There seem to be thousands of “to-do’s” hovering in the nearby corners of every room, threatening to join forces and crush your willpower at any moment. Most people understand that time management is the solution to that threat, but that doesn’t make it easy to understand or put into practice.
We’ve come up with a few practical tips for taking a full schedule or task list and navigating it like a pro. Try these five things to turn time management into a habit you don’t even need to think about.
Ever look up and realize you’ve spent hours doing what you don’t actually want to do? (Yeah, every single time I go to work, some of you are saying.)
Or have you thought “I really should do that more” every time you consider a particular activity? You may have what diagnosticians like to call “scheduledon’treflectprioritiesitis.”
Make a list of what truly matters most to you, in every area. Do you care about your family more than TV? Your metaphorical “time card” should reflect that. Even when it comes to entertainment, you might not be doing what you want. If you’d rather be exploring your city or reading really good books or going through a list of the best movies in history rather than watching mindless fail videos, your time should also reflect that.
Create a budget as you would for your finances, and block out your time to reflect your priority list as closely as possible.
You might protest that a large chunk of your time is spent at work out of necessity, even though it may fall somewhere in the middle tier of your priorities. That’s a fair point, and you may not be able to get the time you spend at work to truly reflect its importance.
But in all areas, step back and look at things with fresh eyes: you may have more options than you realize. Maybe you need to discover how to make more money in less time, or maybe your lifestyle doesn’t require as much income as you’d prefer.
There are usually creative ways to match your priorities closely to your time management.
2) Increase Efficiency and Productivity
So much of the trick of freeing up your time is in how you handle it. If you can make every minute (and even every second) truly count, you’ll leave more options open for yourself on the backend of every task.
How do you do that? By increasing your efficiency and productivity in different areas of life. If you’re unhappy with how you’re managing your time, one of two problems are probably present:
1) Your schedule is overpacked.
2) You’re leaking too much productivity.
Every time you get sidetracked by mindless whatevers, you’re heaping more and more pressure on the rest of your time. The more time you waste, the more your productive time has to be really productive.
There are a few tools and techniques that can help you maximize time spent on various tasks.
A productivity technique in which you commit to working without stopping for a certain amount of time (usually 25 minutes), followed by a break (usually five minutes). The cycle repeats, with the fourth break longer than the previous three (usually 15 minutes). You can picture yourself as going down a rapids, gripping your oars and staying locked in for a time until you finally reach an ocean or open bay. You coast for a few minutes, then dip down the other side and start the process over.
There are a million out there. Simply Google “productivity apps” and have yourself a field day.
One of the best ways to avoid feeling intimidated by a task is to break it down into a far more attainable goal, then another, and another, and just keep going. The biggest obstacle to productivity is often getting started.
Check out Stephen Guise’s Mini Habits for a full exploration of this idea.
3) Become Best Friends With Your Calendar
Simple to-do lists can be impossibly daunting. Once the items pass about 20, it’s easy to feel so overwhelmed that you don’t want to do anything at all.
A great solution to that problem is to actually block out specific times on your calendar for specific tasks or activities. There’s a certain “official” nature to tasks on your calendar that otherwise could be replaced by more in-your-face tasks that moment.
4) Expect to Be Thrown Off Course
No matter how sincere your intentions are to use your time well, interruptions will come.
The less you believe your time belongs entirely to you, the more freedom you’ll feel to go with the flow. This world is a relational world, and where relationships happen, so do opposing priorities.
That’s OK. If you expect to sidetracked, you won’t feel frustrated. It will be part of the time you’ve already “budgeted” out for yourself, and you can simply get back to what you were doing when you get the chance.
5) Prepare Before Everything You Do
An Entrepreneur.com article offers fantastic advice: “Take five minutes before every call and task to decide what result you want to attain. This will help you know what success looks like before you start.”
I would add another benefit to the practice of preparation. Mentally preparing for tasks or activities—especially phone calls—increases your effectiveness.
If it’s a work call, those five minutes allow you to remember any appropriate context around your last communication with the person, their preferences, etc. If it’s a personal call or meeting, you can also think about your most recent interaction with the person and even think through their likes and dislikes in order to come prepared to the conversation ready to make their day. You can offer more than the usual chit-chat.
The ultimate goal here is not just to get stuff done in the short term, but to build habits in yourself that help you deal with the ongoing barrage of tasks that life throws at you.
Start small, and appreciate the little victories. Slowly, you’ll get a handle on your schedule—instead of the other way around.
By, Ryan Drawdy
May 15, 2017