We All Have the Same 24 Hours
Have you ever felt as though you are not making the most of the time you have? I think we’ve all had that experience. For some, it happens now and then, when we’re especially busy, and for others, it’s a daily occurrence.
No matter which camp you are in, we can all use more and better ways to utilize our time. Using your time to your best advantage helps you get more done faster, which leaves you with some unplanned hours to enjoy any way you want.
Sounds pretty good, right?
Let’s take a look at some mistakes you might be making when it comes to time management, and ways that you can improve.
Planning Your Time
According to Benjamin Franklin, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail”.
Now I don’t think I would go that far, but using a calendar or planner of some kind is an absolute must for most of us. There is just too much that we have to do and remember to leave it to chance.
Whether you choose digital or paper, make sure that the planner you use works for you. A digital planner, such as your phone, allows you to set alarms and reminders, while the act of writing something down in a paper planner can ensure that you remember it.
Once you have the right planner, make sure to always have it with you, no exceptions.
And make absolutely certain that you use only one planner and calendar. There are some people who use different planners for different areas of their lives. Big mistake. That kitchen calendar that you keep all of the family’s activities on isn’t going to do you any good when you’re not at home and have to schedule something.
If It’s Important…
You should always make time for the important things, right?
You should. But that’s not the way everyone handles their time.
Let’s take a look at how things end up on your calendar.
Some are put there by other people:
- You’re invited to a wedding or other event
- You have a work schedule
- You have an appointment
Some happen at the same time every year and still trip us up:
- Mother’s Day and Father’s Day and any other holiday
But a lot of the things that end up on our calendar start out as a to-do list.
And the typical to-do list is written as we think of things, with no other order than that. They may not actually even end up scheduled on your calendar; you just consult the list and decide what to do next.
But are you prioritizing them? Doing the important ones first? Or are you just putting out fires?
I’ve got a free 5 Day Mini-Course on Time Management that can help you with that. You can sign up at the bottom of this page.
Scheduling Your To-Do List the Right Way
Once you learn to prioritize your to-do list so that you’re tackling the most important ones first, you need to add them to your planner. Scheduling your to-dos makes them more important to you psychologically and you’re more likely to get them done. Treating them like an appointment that you wouldn’t break will make you uber productive.
And here’s the way you boost that productivity even higher: time blocking.
Time blocking just means that if you have a number of things to do that are similar in nature – such as making phone calls or answering emails – you put them into one block of time and do them all at once. This gets your brain into the right mode, and by not switching tasks every few minutes, you’ll have better focus and concentration, giving you a better chance at producing better work.
You can do the same thing with any kind of task. Let’s say you’re making spaghetti with meat sauce one day for dinner, and tacos later in the week. You could easily season the meat with salt and pepper, add garlic and onions, and maybe some oregano (often used in Mexican recipes for its warmth). Add sauce for the spaghetti, and maybe some cumin for the tacos. Cook once, eat twice, plus you’ve made one mess instead of two.
Get Ready First
Partnering up nicely with things like blocking time and doing similar things at once is the idea of what the French call “mise en place”. You won’t see it in any time management book, but you might find it in a cookbook. It basically means having all of your ingredients prepped and ready before you begin cooking. Just like they do on those cooking shows on TV.
In this case, it means if you have to make a phone call about a bill, have the phone number and your account number ready ahead of time. And depending on why you’re calling, maybe information on when the last bill was paid and when, your credit card, or other pertinent information. I always make a note in my planner when I made the call (date and time), who I talked to, if I got transferred to other people, and what was said.
It could also mean you have your wardrobe for the week laid out ahead of time, make sure to charge your phone each evening, and plan a day when you gas up the car. Ideally, you have an errand day planned for each week and going to the gas station is part of it.
When to Block Your Time
There are a few steps involved in taking a series of to-dos from somewhere on the list to time blocked on your calendar. Once you have them prioritized and grouped together as similar tasks, then you need to determine how much time they will take and find a place in your schedule for them.
Now here’s the tricky part: finding the right part of the day to schedule them.
Everyone has peak times of the day when they are at their best. Maybe you already know when yours happen. If not, make a point to notice this as you go through your day for the next week. Here is a great article to read to help with that. If you’re a morning person, it’s likely one of your peak times is first thing in the morning. If you’re not, maybe early afternoon or even late morning is better.
Peak times for most people tend to happen between 10:00 am and about half an hour before lunch and then again about an hour after lunch until around the infamous 3:00 o’clock slump. This is assuming a lunchtime around noon.
Eat the Frog
We’ve all heard that expression, right? The idea behind it is to do the most important task first thing – to get it over with. This puts a more positive spin on your day and relieves you of the mental stress associated with it.
However, as we just learned when it comes to peak times, your best time may not be first thing in the morning. Use your judgment on this one. If your most important task of the day is writing a detailed report or putting together a critical presentation, then wait for your peak time.
If the most pressing task of the day is holding (yet another) meeting or giving someone a performance review, then do it first and get it done.
Are You Playing Guessing Games?
Do you often end up rushing to get something done? Something you thought would take an hour that took five? Did you block out two hours for phone calls and got them done in one? Or maybe you allowed yourself 30 minutes to get your errands done with plenty of time to get back and pick up the kids, only to discover that 30 minutes barely got one thing crossed off your list.
You need to know how long things take, especially the ones that you do often. Even things like driving to work or the grocery store. You need to know that traffic is usually worse on Monday mornings and Friday afternoons. And that rush hour starts earlier on Fridays and holiday weekends.
Start timing the things you do on a regular basis. In fact, start a log in your planner and do it for a week or two, depending on how often you do this particular thing. A week should be plenty of time to track something you do every day, and maybe to notice patterns. Something you do once a week may need a month of tracking to get a good idea of how long it takes.
Knowing how much time things take is key to making the most of your time. Unless you do, all of your work on scheduling your time can turn into a disaster.
Know When to Stop
See those little hour marks on the daily view of your calendar? They’re there for a reason. Part of it (most of it) is so that you can write your appointments in at the right time, and start making estimations on how much time you will need.
But at some point, those little hour marks end. So should you. If you learn from this blog and put the ideas to use, you shouldn’t have to work crazy hours. You should be getting it done and getting home!
There’s a time to work and a time to quit work and go home. Or if you work from home, close the laptop and go find your family.
I know that there are certain jobs – doctors and lawyers come to mind – that work insane hours in order to get ahead. I doubt that any of them are reading this.
To lead a truly fulfilling and full life, you need to make time for family, play, and rest, just as you do for work. Balance is a big concept these days, especially among women. We are the ones that talk about “having it all” when we are the ones that seem to have to “do it all”. I won’t go down that road, because that’s a different subject, but suffice to say, you work a number of hours per day, and yes, there is still work to be done. But tomorrow is another day, and you need to learn when to stop work and head home.
Because you can’t possibly do your best work when you’re putting in ridiculous hours.
The Self-Care Cliche
I call it a cliche because so many women ignore it, or they associate self-care with spa visits and pedicures. Self-care could start out with something simple, like getting enough sleep. Eating real food, and maybe exercising now and then.
You need to value yourself enough to take good care of yourself. Not for your family (even though they would appreciate it), not for work (who won’t appreciate it even though it will make you a better employee), but for you.
Whether you are a stay at home mom or a corporate executive, how can you expect your body and mind to function at all – much less at their best – when breakfast consists of either black coffee or an overly sugared latte? You have effectively been fasting for the last 12 hours or so, and this is what you use for fuel?
A brisk 15-minute walk will wake you up just as well – better – than a cup of caffeinated water. And when you follow it with a real breakfast – low-fat yogurt with fresh fruit and a sprinkle of granola, maybe – then you and your brain are ready for the day.
Oh, and let’s talk about sleep. Let me guess. You have trouble sleeping.
How about start taking some of these tips, go past reading them and actually implement them, and try meditation. Guided meditation. Over and over again until you get the hang of it. You never learned to do anything and do it well on the first try. Meditation is no different.
Get to Work!
Start making the most of the time you have! And remember – the time you have at work is limited. You don’t get to stay there all day and night trying to get stuff done. If that’s the case, find a blog about resumes and start looking for a new job.
So make a plan. Look for a post on that soon.
Take what you’ve learned here, take notes, and then start figuring out how to put some of them in place. Write it down and make a plan. Set goals, set dates to go with them.
And remember my favorite concept: Kaizen. Small changes. As small as you need to make them stick. And then add another one. Tie it to the first one, or to a good habit you already have in place.
And while you’re at it, consider making some notes in your planner, about where you’re at right now, and what life is like. Are you making the most of the time you have? If not, now you have some tools to change that.
And don’t forget to sign up for my 5 Day Mini-Course on Time Management.