To make the most of the time we have, we need a plan and we need to stick to it. Like budgeting, which is telling your dollars where you will spend them, time management is telling your minutes, hours, and days what you intend to do with them.
Here is a simple time budgeting technique that requires only sticky-notes and a piece of paper:
1) Divide the page into seven days and divide the days into half-hour blocks starting with the hour you wake up and ending with the hour you go to bed.
2) Take a pad of small sticky-notes and write down every single to-do and how long it will probably take, one to-do per sticky.
3) Stick the to-dos that must be done at a specific time and/or on a specific day onto the corresponding block of time on the paper.
4) Sort the remaining to-dos by urgency and priority.
5) If items are unimportant or won’t take much time, set them aside. These can be fit in wherever time permits. Examples are checking email or vacuuming.
6) Stick the other tasks on the best block of time available on the page. Keep in mind your energy level at different times of day and allocate your to-dos accordingly. If you need to be mentally sharp for something, put it in the time block when you are most alert. Give yourself a rule about how often you are allowed to move the to-do—More than once or twice, you may need to decide if it is actually worth doing.
7) Fill in the gaps with small items from number 5 above.
8) If you have to-do sticky-notes left over and no blocks of time left, you have over-spent your time budget. You can’t do more than you have hours available, so something has to go. Following are some ideas to lighten your load and re-prioritize so that your time is spent in ways that are meaningful to you!
How can you free up time when you find you don’t have any blocks left? Here are some approaches that have worked for real people we know!
1) Evaluate your priorities, passions, underlying resistance, and negative self-talk.
o We all have things on our to do list about which we routinely say, “I don’t have time!” Try saying instead, “This is not a priority.” How does that affect your thoughts and feelings about the task? You might find that it is, in fact, a priority, which can often help you overcome inertia and make it happen. To stay motivated, figure out how getting this thing done connects to your bigger goals, values, and aspirations. If it turns out that it really is NOT a priority, you can consider whether some of the following solutions might take care of it.
2) Delete things that are low-return, low-interest, or unnecessary. This includes physical and mental clutter.
o Cancel subscriptions to magazines you no longer read, let go of the hobby that no longer excites you, delete the time-sucking game apps that steal your evenings, end the relationship that drains the life out of you.
3) Delegate the tasks that need to be done, but don’t necessarily need to be done by you.
o Hire a virtual assistant, maid or laundry service, or dog walker, for example.
o Put the kids in charge of the dishes, ask your spouse to balance the check book, accept your friend’s offer to help, or trade babysitting with your neighbors.
4) Automate wherever you can.
o Set up automatic bill pay, put automatic reminders on your smart phone and computer, try a Roomba, record favorite shows so you can watch them commercial-free in less time, try the on-line order-and-pick-up grocery service.
5) Prepare, by doing as much as can be done in advance.
o This is one of the most effective ways to feel on top of things and there are so many ways to do it—double recipes and freeze half for later, set out clothing the night before, stock backpacks or purses with necessities before going to sleep, put the keys and shoes by the front door, make lunches ahead of time.
6) Establish a routine.
o Remember how calm Mr. Rogers always was? That man knew the value of a routine. I bet he never lost his sweater or slippers! We can learn a lot from him! Set your keys and wallet in the same place every day when you come home. Do a load of laundry a day. Spend 15 minutes each morning or evening gathering up items and returning them to their homes. Load and start the dishwasher every evening, unload it every morning. Stop for gas every Wednesday on your way home from the gym.
As with any change, it takes time to get comfortable. If you are used to running around in a panic, being constantly overscheduled, and always late, you will need to be persistent to achieve lasting change. But it is possible.
One of the most powerful habit-changing tools is the pause. There is a split second between thought and action. Habits can change in that moment. Introduce a pause between thought and action and ask, “Am I doing what I intended to do right now?”
Another success-building tool is the external cue. Use auditory alerts like alarms or visual reminders like sticky-notes or a decorative bowl by the door to receive your keys. It also helps to remove distractions so that your cues stand out. This includes decluttering and turning off the TV, ring tone, or notifications on your smart phone.
Once you’ve selected your strategies, test them out. Select one new habit, practice it regularly, and observe what happens. Put an X on the calendar for each day that you successfully use it and see how many days in a row you can make a chain! If the new habit really isn’t working, ask the six key questions (Time Management: Part 1) and revise as needed. And remember this Chinese proverb: A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.