Have you ever had your day well-planned out and thought to yourself, “This is going to be an awesome day!” Then as things progress, you find yourself with a myriad of unscheduled activities popping up. Maybe the dog got loose and now you need to rescue your pooch. Perhaps your partner has an important presentation and wants to run it by you “real quick”. Or you could be plugging away when a work meeting was just added to your day.
By the end of the day, half of the items on your to-do list remain. It can be frustrating yet it's quite common and happens to all of us. While we can't prevent hiccups from shifting our priorities, strategically utilizing time management principles might be the key to keeping your stress level to a minimum.
Although its roots are in business, time management means much more these days. It’s applicable to both our professional and personal lives. It’s not a difficult concept since it typically doesn't require intense thinking or research to understand—but it does take discipline. Managing our time can help improve our careers and home lives by keeping us engaged and attentive to our goals. It also allows us to pivot when necessary. We've all learned to make adjustments—some temporary and some permanent—as a result of the pandemic's major paradigm shift.
There’s working from home, distance learning for the kids from home, sharing work space with your partner, creating more meals at home… life as we have known it has shifted. Time management techniques that might have worked before may no longer be efficient. We need to have flexibility while juggling our responsibilities but maintain a good work-life balance in the process.
I’ve always been a “list person”—creating a list at the end of each day of what needs to be tackled the following day. I love the sense of accomplishment I get as I cross things off. I keep my lists on my phone—one for groceries, one for work tasks, one for home tasks, with some tasks scoring a place holder on my calendar so I’ve set aside some time in my day to get it done.
Like many other things in life, there is no “one-size-fits-all” technique to managing your time. I tried a number of tools—apps, online resources, calendars with alarms—you name it. Trial and error is the best approach to determining what method fits your lifestyle.
One article, “Time Management Is About More Than Life Hacks” by Erich C. Dierdorff refers to these “three particular skills to separate time management success from failure:
- Awareness: thinking realistically about your time by understanding it is a limited resource.
- Arrangement: designing and organizing your goals, plans, schedules, and tasks to effectively use time.
- Adaptation: monitoring your use of time while performing activities, including adjusting to interruptions or changing priorities."
To get started, first identify how you spend your time. Keep track of activities for two weeks—meetings, laundry, doctor appointments—and how much time you spend on them. It sounds mundane and rather punitive but it’s an important first step. Just as you would with your financial budget, you want to get the most “bang for your proverbial buck."
I did this for the first two weeks of December. I’ve always been a YouTube fan but had no idea how far down that rabbit hole I’d traveled since the pandemic. Don’t get me wrong—I learned how to make sweet & sour chicken, tiramisu, and even crème brûlée (which was surprisingly easy!)—and actually put those learned skills to use. But I also watched videos on fixing kitchen faucets, refurbishing a table and other random topics—and those skills, while valuable, were not put to use. Overscheduling can create a lot of stress so downtime is important. But tracking even these activities can provide insight on time wasters. Do you procrastinate? Do you overthink issues and experience “analysis paralysis”? For me, tracking my time created some “ah ha” moments.
Once you’ve analyzed where your time is spent, just as you would with your financial spending plan, create one for your time. Determine your goals. What is it you want to accomplish today? Tomorrow? This month or year? I’m a visual person and find it helpful to have one calendar for both my personal and professional schedules so I can see everything in one place. Many people prefer to keep those two things separate, so do what works for you. There are calendars, apps, and other software tools that can help.
Then figure out how you’re going to get everything done. Do you have any projects that overlap where you could consolidate meetings? Would it be easier to schedule everyone’s dentist appointment on the same day back-to-back? As you review what you’ve tracked, consider what can be eliminated, what can be done differently, and how you might refocus your energy. What’s really important?
This article, “10 Timeless Time Management Techniques” by Dan McCarthy, shares some well-established tips, including the 80/20 Rule. It’s a way to prioritize your tasks relative to your goals. In other words, strive to focus on 20% of your activities producing 80% of your results to make the most of your precious time. Another good tip he shares is learning how to say no, which is difficult for a lot of us. But if a request conflicts with achieving other goals, discuss how to handle the request by maybe pushing out the deadline. That way you don’t sacrifice your goals and can remain a good team player.
Charles Darwin once said, “A man who dares to waste one hour of time has not discovered the value of life”. While we can earn more money, once time passes, it can never be retrieved—yet we spend more of our attention on our financial budgets.
Priorities will shift, so be sure to allow some wiggle room in your day for those unexpected events that occur. Once you’ve determined which methods work best for you, you’ll be able to reduce stress and catapult yourself into even more success!