How well do you think you manage your time?
I bet you feel like you could do better. I feel that way almost every day.
If I spend time working on my blog, then I feel like I’m neglecting the house.
And if I do housework, then how am I going to fit blogging in? (Just so you know – I consider this blog my job. I don’t make any money from it – yet – but I work on it a lot. It’s a labor of love, I guess.)
Now you must be wondering what I’m doing writing a blog about how to manage time if I can’t get control of my own.
The answer is that while I have a lot of knowledge, education, and experience surrounding time management, I’m also human. And a perfectionist. I pretty much never feel like I’ve done enough.
The other reason is that lately, I’ve been slacking. Not following my own advice.
This weird world we’ve been living in seemed to make plans irrelevant. What is there to put in your planner?
“Today I stayed home.” Just have a stamp made and stamp it on every page for the last 4,000 months of 2020.
So I stopped planning my time.
What’s the Right Way to Do It?
In order to manage time the right way, you have to make plans.
You’ve got to be very careful if you don’t know where you are going because you might not get there.yogi berra, NY Yankees catcher
In other words, if you don’t make plans about how to spend your time, how will you know what to do with your day?
Spoiler: you probably won’t.
Not only that, you could easily forget something important – maybe an appointment or a bill that’s due.
And did you notice that I mentioned a planner?
It’s way easier to manage time with a planner. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. You could use the calendar in your phone, on your wall, or even a spiral notebook. Just don’t rely on Post-Its and random pieces of paper. Or count on remembering it.
But before you start filling in the squares on your calendar, there’s something you need to do first: make a list.
I Already Have a To-Do List
Awesome! A to-do list is a great start to manage time.
But let’s take a closer look at that list.
- Is it in any kind of order or did you just write things as you thought of them?
- Did you prioritize the important things? And how did you decide they were important?
- Are there things with dates attached to them? Did you write the dates down too?
- Is each item on your list a single task, or is it a project? Do you know the difference?
OK. Let’s go over that stuff.
Most of us write a to-do list of things as we think of them, and then we do them the same way. We start at the top and go down, crossing off each one we do.
But what if the first thing on your list is to clean out the car, the third thing is to finish something that’s due next week, and the fifth thing – which you didn’t get to – was to pay a bill that’s due tomorrow?
Do you see how that’s not the best way to manage time?
Cleaning the car can wait and you have time left to finish whatever is due next week, but what about that bill that’s due tomorrow? Hopefully you’ll either see it in time or at least on the due date and can pay it before late charges kick in.
A Better To-Do List
A list like the one I mentioned above is what I call a brain dump. You just write everything down as you think of it. It’s good to get it out of your head and onto paper. That leaves your brain free for more important things.
But a brain dump is not a to-do list. It’s just the beginning.
There are a few more things that you need to do before you have a workable plan (and a way to manage time that makes more sense).
First, go through and see if anything on your list has a date attached to it.
For things like appointments, bills, or events, add them to your calendar now and cross them off your list.
But, before you skip to the next thing – take a minute.
- Does the event require a card or gift?
- Does the appointment need something to be done first, like lab work for a doctor’s appointment?
If so, add a reminder about a week before in your calendar.
And for bills, I color code them in green and add the amount in my calendar.
Item Two: Projects
After you’ve done all of the things with dates, go back and look for things that are really projects instead of tasks.
A project is anything that is made up of multiple steps.
And it’s kind of up to you to decide what qualifies and what doesn’t.
Making dinner requires multiple steps. But if I’ve already planned the meal and purchased the food, preparing it only counts as one step in my book. Even if that means making lasagne from scratch, baking it, and making a salad and breadsticks.
Right now I have a bunch of projects on my list because I’m hoping we’re going to be moving soon. Cleaning out closets is definitely a project with multiple steps.
The reason you want to identify these as projects is because they take more of your time and may not be able to be done in a day.
In order to manage time well, you need to be able to see that.
A to-do list that says clean out the car and the closets and make lasagne for dinner, plus run to the store because you forgot the noodles is a disaster waiting to happen.
Even if you manage to get all of that done, you’ll be asleep before dinner gets done!
Item Three: Break It Down
So once you’ve identified projects, start a second list or just add it somewhere on your current brain dump. As long as it makes sense to you.
Then you’re going to break that project down into simple steps. Each step is a task that can go on your to-do list, and then get added to your planner, one thing at a time.
In the case of my closets, it might look like this:
- Assemble supplies: garbage bags, marker, box for donations, laundry basket for things that don’t belong but I want to keep. Put them by the closet to be worked on.
- Clear out any obvious trash. Dispose of as soon as possible.
- Pull everything out, if possible. Otherwise, go through and decide what doesn’t belong. For instance, it goes somewhere else or its being donated. Worn out sheets or towels, for instance, can go in the cleaning supplies as rags or be donated to the animal shelter. Exercise equipment in your clothes closet might be relocated to the basement.
- Go through what’s left. You may want to reevaluate it or organize it.
Each of the steps above could be viewed as a single task. The third one is actually a little more. You could do it in stages if you need to, rather than one day.
Each would be a single to-do on your daily list and might be on different days or weeks.
Item Four: Prioritizing
Now that you’ve identified your big projects with multiple steps and broken them down into single, manageable ones, you can focus on prioritizing.
I know! This is beginning to sound hard and like too much time, but it really isn’t, especially once you get the hang of it. And it really will help you manage time much better.
A lot of what we do is repetitive, so once we figure those out, they may not need to be on your list at all. (My friend once laughed at me for having “clean the bathroom” on my to-do list, but at the time, if I didn’t put it on there, I’d forget. It’s automatic now.)
So really, there are probably just a few things on your list that need to be prioritized.
The chart above is called an Eisenhower Matrix. It’s used to help make decisions about how to manage time.
- Important and urgent gets done first.
- Important but not urgent gets done second.
- Not important but urgent gets done third.
- Not important and not urgent can be delegated or deleted.
This is just a guideline that might help you. If it doesn’t, no big deal. Do what helps you to figure out which things are most important. Just don’t take too much time worrying about it.
Item Five: Schedule It!
Now that you have an organized list – no matter how messy it might look – you can start to fill in your calendar or planner.
Ideally, you want three important things (#1s) to get done that day. And yes, like the rest of the women in the world, I understand that things like laundry, cleaning, and cooking are given. That’s three right there, but they may not always be the most important three. They are maybe a 2 or 3 on your chart.
If you want or need to cut it down to one, feel free. Just don’t feel free to add more.
Here’s how it works in real life.
One to three things on your list are important and you would feel good about getting them done today. Or they have to get done today. Hopefully that’s just one of them.
If, after those are done, you have time and energy left, you can go on to something else on your list. Those would be the number twos.
If you need to, take a quick estimate of how long each thing might take, add a little time, and see what’s reasonable for a day. And you’ll get the hang of it soon and won’t need to do this.
Continue on with your list and fill out your week.
Congratulations! You have just learned how to manage time like a pro!
Be sure and leave a comment below to let me know what you think!