What is one thing that we all wish we had more of? Which can never be bought or sold? Which can never come back once it is gone? The answer of course is time.
We have countless riddles about time, countless books (both fiction and non-fiction) about time, a cultural obsession with time travel, even on the political campaign we have ideas of going back or going forward. We all need a little bit more time, but we never seem to have enough.
There are a few ways to manage your time better, and some of these are easy and some of them are hard. But all of them take one thing: discipline. That is the hardest part of time management. It is not difficult, it is actually rather simple, but it takes discipline, which is one thing we also never seem to have enough of.
1) Create a “Master Calendar”
You would think this idea would be self-explanatory, but it isn’t. I know that having a master calendar, at least for the next seven days, in addition to a long term overall master calendar, makes it very easy for me to know and keep track of what I am doing, what I need to get done, and how well I am doing on making progress. My master calendar for the week is done every Saturday night and goes Sunday-Saturday. It goes from 8am-midnight in one hour blocks and is filled completely, including my fun time and free time. This can seem complicated if you are just beginning to do it, so you may want to start simply and only include the MOST important tasks on it first.
2) Create a Master “Priority” List
With the master calendar, it is just as important to prioritize your time as to just do tasks. This can be difficult when you have a lot on your plate. The simplest system I have found (and still the most effective) is the two category method. I rate every task on two scales: how important it is, and how time sensitive it is. So I wind up with four total levels: Important, Time Sensitive; Important, Not-Time Sensitive; Not Important, Time Sensitive; Not Important, Not Time Sensitive. I put them in that order for a reason, because that is the order in which I complete them. I used to make the mistake of putting the not Important, Time Sensitive things before the Important, Not-Time Sensitive ones, but I kept running out of time in the long run for the Important, Not-Time Sensitive ones.
3) Start Strong, Finish Easy
I make it a point to do the hardest, most frustrating work first (of the Important, Time Sensitive). I do this because when I am at my best, most rested, and motivated, I am doing the hardest work. Then as I get tired from a long day, I get to do the easiest or most pleasurable work at the end. This doesn’t work for everyone, but it is a great way to be more effective on the harder tasks.
4) Chunking (Break Up Your Day)
I have found that if I work the same task for more than a couple of hours, I get burned out and become frustrated with that task. I try and split my day up into discrete chunks of time, usually 2-3 hour blocks, so that I am focused on different things. I might break up my day like this:
8am-10am: Responding to Emails
10am-12pm: Work Writing
12pm-1pm: Finances and Admin
3pm-6pm: See Clients
8pm-10pm: Fun Time
I do this because if I were to spend all of one day doing my writing for the week, I would go crazy, same if I were to do only homework for an entire day.
5) Check Your Master Calendar Daily (or More)
Your master calendar is useless if you just throw stuff on there and never look at it again. I am constantly checking stuff off throughout the day, and also am checking it at the end of every night to see if there was anything missed, or if I got extra stuff done. I like to spend 5-10 minutes a day on my calendar updating and editing it.
6) Be Disciplined but Flexible
Ok, so you have a calendar, you are checking it, you are chunking your time, you are holding yourself accountable, then something comes up that throws a wrench in your carefully constructed plans. The most important thing is to not panic; simply update and change your schedule. For example, if I had an entire week planned out, and all of a sudden I got sick and had to take a few hours out of the morning to go to the doctor, does that mean I just push everything back, or does it mean I reevaluate the rest of my week and change what I need to change to catch up on what I am doing? If you chose door number two, congratulations, you win.
7) Don’t Check Things off Until They are Actually Complete
You would think this was a given, but I spent probably two years with to-do list that was growing and getting checked off, but I wasn’t always ACTUALLY getting everything done. I would check something off because I KNEW I was going to do it later. Suffice to say that doesn’t always work. It almost never works for me, because if I check something off, I almost always forget about it, and so if something comes up, I don’t go back and do the thing I meant to do. This is most common for me with going to the gym or meal prepping.
If this list seems difficult to do, that's because it is sometimes, but it is also totally doable. When I went back to school in 2011, my first semester I had trouble taking a normal load of classes, with nothing else on my plate. Now I am working 60+ hours a week as a full time student and it doesn’t seem like it is that difficult. I didn’t get there overnight; it took four years of practice, four years of screw-ups, four years of asking for help (and ignoring it until it was painful), to get to the point where managing my time is starting to become second nature. I still make mistakes, but I am better now than I was four years ago, and I will hopefully be better tomorrow than I am today.
Sometimes there are underlying issues that make it more difficult to put ideas like this into place. For example, if you are struggling with depression, anxiety, or PTSD, managing your time and doing these things can feel out of reach at times. In these cases it may be advisable to call a professional and see if you need more help than just a blog post on the internet.
Here at Coherence Associates Inc., we help individuals maximize their potential, and sometimes that is simply helping them get a few more tools under their belt to become the best version of themselves they can be. If you feel you need a little bit more help than you are getting, give us a call at (760) 942-8663 and speak with one of our clinicians for a free screening.
If you have other experiences, ideas, comments, or questions, I would love to hear them, comment below, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Jeremy Larsen
Business Development and Practice Manager
Coherence Associates Inc.