For some people, time management comes very easily. Starting from the time that they first crawl out of the cradle, they already know how to be early for things, wake up in the morning, and set up a schedule with all of their activities neatly aligned and time-blocked. These people know how to plan very effectively. These people also know how to correctly estimate how much time it realistically takes to do everything.
In case you haven’t figured it out by now, I am not one of these fortunate people who came out of the womb with all of her ducks in a row. Time management skills are not a talent that have ever come easily to me. For the past two years, I have agonized and struggled to become even proficient at this, let alone become a master. That being said, the good news is that if I can learn it, anyone can! Read on for
the tiresome fruits of my labor my tips.
Step #1: Figure out exactly how long it takes you to do everything.
I’m not even kidding. Become attached to your watch, or your phone, or however else you tell time (a sundial? is that even still a thing?) and write down how long it takes you to go to the gym, clean the kitchen, brush your teeth, commute to work, scroll through Facebook, etc. You may need to do this a few times to get a consistent idea of how long each activity actually takes you.
Side note: commuting to work (or commuting anywhere for that matter) does not take the exact amount of time that it tells you it does when you research your route on Google maps. Not only do you have to drive there (the amount of time that you researched), but you also have to walk from your house to your car. Then you have to put all of your stuff into your car. Then once you arrive in the work parking lot, then you have to walk from your car into the office with all of your stuff. Then you have to punch in, get coffee, and be “early” to impress the higher-ups. Translation: a 15-minute commute on Google maps actually takes at least 30 minutes, if not more. And that’s not even accounting for traffic jams, lane closures, road construction, and detours.
Once you know how long it takes you to do everything (realistically), the next step is to organize everything you need to do.
Step #2: Organize everything.
It’s not just about deciding what time of day that you should do certain things on your list. It’s about also thinking realistically about what time you actually gravitate towards doing certain things. If you do not take the time to do this, chances are you will not be very successful in following through on your schedule (unless you have super-human long-term consistency skills, accountability skills, and emotional stability).
For example, you might have the best intentions to wake up at 5 am to work out. But will you? Or will you just end up hitting the snooze button 30+ times because you’re not a morning person and you don’t want to wake up, and then get mad at yourself for not following through on your commitment to yourself (guilty)? Maybe you will be more successful if you put your workout after work instead, because then you would be working in your strength zone (being a night owl). Working with yourself, instead of against yourself, is key.
That being said, this step in particular takes quite a bit of practice if you are not used to thinking realistically about what order you should do different activities. You may need to create different versions of your schedule, try them out, and then revise/tweak them until you find a progression of activities that actually works well for you and your energy needs.
Step #3: Managing your to-do list.
Before I studied time management skills, I always felt completely swamped and overwhelmed by what I coined “annoying phone calls” – aka spending three hours on the phone with some company trying to resolve a conflict or issue and then having it turn into a huge ordeal/crisis each time.
Pro tip: call at a time when not many other people are calling. At first I thought that calling in the morning was best, but in reality almost all other people also call in the morning. Generally people think that they are being smart and so they try to call before they have to go to work, but because everyone else also thinks that they are being smart by calling in before work, it simply does not work. I’ve found that calling in the early afternoon (1 pm) is best. If you call at 1 pm, not only are you calling in after all the lunch break callers are finished, but you also have the benefit that the person you’re speaking with also probably just took their lunch break and is now in a great mood, therefore actually wanting to help you. Problem solved.
In addition to refining the timing of when you call, also make sure to divy the calls and errands up into small chunks each day so that they are not so overwhelming. Invest in a daily planner and write yourself a note to call your credit card company on Monday, the insurance company on Tuesday, the bank on Wednesday, etc. What I find helpful is to spend a little bit of time thinking and planning your errands and phone calls for the week each Sunday and then divying them up into your personal planner.
Step #4: Actually completing the household chores.
For those of you reading this who aspire to some day hiring a personal assistant to take care of all this #$*%, I feel you. I am one of them. If you have a spouse or a roommate who actually enjoys doing these things (just like natural time managers, some people come out of the womb and actually enjoy cleaning. Again, I am not one of them.), then I am somewhat jealous of you but also wish that you would be more selfless and help that person out. If you already have a personal assistant who does it, I hate you.
If you don’t have an obliging spouse or roommate and you do not have a personal assistant, the good news is that once you have steps 1-3 down, step #4 should be a piece of cake. Once you know how long it takes you to clean the bathroom, clean the kitchen, do laundry, clean your room, change your sheets and towels, water your plants, back up your computer, update your iPod, go grocery shopping, cook meals, do your budget, do your tax log, and do your mileage tracker, then you are already in pretty good shape. Knowledge is power.
The next step is, of course, to organize (step #2) and divide and conquer (step #3). When do you feel more inclined to complete these chores? Some people prefer to lump-sum all of them and dedicate their whole Saturday towards doing it. Other people prefer to split it up and do some of it each morning before work. Other people split it up differently and do some chores on the weekdays and some chores on the weekends. Again, no two people are alike and you can totally customize this to your strength zone.
Step #5: Handling a crisis.
Ah, the crisis. This one will be very quick. Is it really a crisis, or are you just procrastinating on the work that you actually need to do???!
Step #6: Prioritization.
Once you generally know how to schedule according to your strength zone, and once you have all the annoying bits in check so that you can truthfully refer to yourself as a Responsible Person, then the next step is to prioritize and fine-tune your schedule so that you are working every day to achieve your life goals.
What if you don’t have any life goals? Well, get some! Become passionate about something and go for it. Develop some #ambition (or in my case, #BlondeAmbition).
Once you have a list of your goals, you will need to spend some time planning the sub-steps (or “deadlines,” if you prefer) in which you will work to complete them. Once you have the sub-steps identified, then you can determine the daily habits that you need to put into place in order to get yourself there. Then you can update your schedule accordingly to include your daily habits. This may require some juggling and shuffling in other areas in order to prioritize your daily habits, but it will all be worth it in the end. Trust.
Help! All of goals seem to collide with each other and there are simply not enough hours in the day for me to complete everything!!! What do I do???!!!
This was me for a very long time, so I feel you. The good news is, I worked my way through it, and so can you. In my next post I will cover this topic in more detail.
Anyway, there you have it! If you follow these 6 Steps consistently and work to improve, then you will become a Master of Time Management in no time.