Time management skills are critical to completing tasks, but I’ve got an important question for you. Between the things you want to do and things you have to do, there just aren’t enough hours in the day to get it all done. Many people call this time management and focus on cramming everything in, but it’s just not possible. Nobody really talks about what do you have to sacrifice?
If you’re like a lot of people, you sacrifice things like sleep, exercise, fun, and leisure. Unfortunately, those aren’t luxuries. They’re needs. Adults need fun and leisure just as much as kids do, and sleep and exercise are basic needs required for our biological systems to run smoothly. You can certainly get by without these for a while, but not without a big toll on your health, wellbeing, and quality of life.
“Great!” you think. “I’m already strapped for time, cramming more than one human being’s worth of stuff into one day, and you’re telling me to add MORE! Exactly how am I supposed to do that?”
I don’t have all the answers, and you may be limited by some very real constraints of your current situation, but the main thing is to get intentional. Time is a non-renewable resource. You only get 24 hours a day, and you have a finite number of days. How do you want to spend this precious commodity? Not how do others want you to spend your time. Not how does your mind want you to spend that time. How do you want to spend your time, based on your priorities and values and taking into account your responsibilities, goals, commitments, and demands?
To help you get intentional and get more life out of your 24 hours, here are a couple strategies to try out:
1. Do a time audit.
Take a few minutes at the end of the day to write down how you spent your time. All of it. Do this for a few days to gather some good data, then look at patterns. Chances are you’ll notice some time drains:
- Do you lose time scrolling on social media, streaming shows, or other mindless activities?
- Are you spending more time on certain activities than you realized? Or doing things more often than you realized?
- Do others hijack your day with requests or demands?
- Are you putting others’ wants or needs ahead of your own
- Are you busy with productive procrastination? These are tasks that need to be done at some point but aren’t necessarily the priorities for that day.
- Do tasks take you longer than anticipated?
- Are you over-committed?
- Are you doing things that don’t really matter to you or that don’t add value to your life?
Once you have a sense of how you’re actually spending your time, you’re in a good position to make some adjustments, which brings us to…
2. Plan your day in advance.
Take 5 minutes the evening before or first thing in the morning to plan your day. Then stick to your schedule, barring unexpected out-of-your-control demands that arise. Be sure to quickly reflect on your schedule at the end of the day. Did you follow it? If not, what got in the way?
Planning your day in advance allows you to consider what’s important to you and to be intentional about how you spend your precious time. Pre-making these decisions protects you against others hijacking your time. Of course, there will be people who need things from you – partners, kids, bosses, etc. – and you may not always be able (or even want) to say no. With some deliberate planning, though, you may find that you’re putting out fewer fires and feeling more in control throughout the day.
Following a daily schedule also protects you from the sneaky things your mind does that take you off course. When you make decisions in the moment about how to spend your time, you’re more likely to fall victim to the numerous biases and shortcuts that all of our minds take. For example, your mind will throw out a million excuses not to do things that take effort or energy (It’s too late to exercise. It’s been a long day, and you deserve a break.). It will prioritize the short-term pay off over the long-term (Scroll on your phone rather than meal prepping. It’s easier.). It will criticize or guilt you into things (You shouldn’t be reading a book. You should be doing XYZ.). And those are just a few of the ways minds try to “help” us out. When you map out your day, you take the decision-making out of the moment, which takes your mind out the equation. Sure, those thoughts may still pipe up, but they’re less likely to sway you.
Following a daily schedule is even more important if you’re at all prone to anxiety or depression, both of which can dictate in-the-moment decisions about what to do and how to spend time, resulting in self-amplifying cycles. Within my psychology practice, I’ve often seen giant reductions in anxiety and depression symptoms simply from creating – and sticking to – a daily schedule!
Setting deadlines gives you more control of your time. Setting time limits can make sure you get to and through all of the important and urgent tasks on your list without neglecting small tasks that lead to wasted time. That said, part of an effective plan to improve your time management is to prioritize tasks and stick to your time slots.
Tips for scheduling your day
- For some people, scheduling based on time works out really well. For example, at 8:00, I will make breakfast, check emails, and get ready for the day. For others, planning out times doesn’t work as well. Good time management is part of knowing yourself and what will work for you. If that’s you, try listing your most important tasks as daily “Must dos” instead. These are the activities that you must do today in order to feel good about how you spent your time. This helps us avoid poor time management by focusing on things that matter less but are easier to cross off our to-do list.
- Include the big four as often as you can. For humans to be healthy and happy, we regularly need activities that are productive, enjoyable, social, and physical. A daily schedule isn’t about being productive non-stop. Try to carve out time for all of those kinds of activities, and it’s ok to double dip. Maybe going for a walk outside is both enjoyable and physical for you.
- It’s also important to make sure that how you spend your time aligns with what’s important to you. That doesn’t mean that every minute should be fun or that we shouldn’t do things we don’t like. It does mean, however, that if how you spend the bulk of your time isn’t In line with your priorities and values, you’re not going to be as happy or satisfied with life as you could be.
3. Incorporate Self-care.
Building effective self-care practices into your day can be well worth the time cost. When you engage in self-care – real self-care, the kind that helps maximize your energy and mindset – you’re showing up at a higher level for the rest of your day. Figure out daily habits that help you get centered and feel strong. Is it exercise? Stretching? Listening to music while you get dressed? Having coffee on the porch? Cleaning the kitchen the night before? Unplugging an hour before bed? Waiting to check email until after you’ve accomplished something meaningful? Reviewing your calendar and goals each morning? Whatever it is, be sure to include it in your schedule for effective time management that works for you.
Designing an effective self-care routine can be a game-changer. Self-care [by Design] can help you level up your self-care.
“The days are long, but the years are short.”
– Gretchen Rubin
P.S. I wore “busy” like a badge of honor for YEARS before finding Life Design, which was revolutionary. Life Design is all about creating a life that really works for you, rather than passively following the status quo. Combining Life Design with Psychology has made my life look and feel much differently than it did back in those too busy days. If you’re interested in diving deeper into this kind of work, check out our brand new Ascend program.