Time management is vastly underestimated.
When we set our life-changing resolutions for the year or goals for self-improvement, we all write things like eat better, save money, exercise more, have a better work-life balance, etc., expecting those items to be the changes that can really move the needle on our quality of life.
And they can. But time management, that boring one you add to the bottom of the list, can actually make an enormous impact on everything you want to improve in your world. It organizes value, perspective, and priorities in a way that enables you to achieve all of your goals. It brings you peace of mind, confidence and a sense of control you don’t possess otherwise.
Time management used to be something I struggled with immensely. Many times in my life it has been one of my biggest weaknesses. I’m a repeat offender when it comes to taking on more than I can chew, and letting everything suffer in the wake of my disorganization.
So I’ve had several smack-in-the-face moments throughout my life where I realized how important it was to bucket my time and prioritize what was most important to me. Through that, and countless advice from mentors, I have gathered a number of tips, tricks, and tools for managing time in an effective way. It’s a process, and one that requires constant improvement, but it can and will change your life.
I know for a fact that it’s changed mine.
1. Make to-do lists, but keep it only to what you can actually do in that day.
I am the biggest fan of to-do lists. But one of the bad habits I got into was making GIANT lists with everything from very accomplishable tasks like schedule that meeting to enormously involved tasks like cure world hunger right next to each other. OK — so the world hunger things is hyperbole, but you get what I’m saying. If you put everything on your list, including things you know very well you can’t actually do that day, then you end the day feeling unaccomplished and flustered with all of those un-crossed-off items. It defeats the gratifying purpose of a list.
So keep your daily lists to an attainable and management length.
2. Block time off on your calendar in advance for accomplishing certain tasks.
There are two key reasons for doing this. 1: It allows you to properly plan for managing more time-consuming tasks, and 2: If you’re someone who receives a lot of meeting invites, it keeps people from filling up your calendar with meetings you really don’t have time to attend.
You can do this at the beginning of the week when you’re planning your calendar, or set up recurring calendar blocks for regular tasks you know you have to do every week, month, day, etc. Examples may include 1 hour on Monday mornings for planning your week, 3 hours on Thursday afternoons for your weekly report,2 hours on the 15th of every month for budget planning, etc. This will change your life.
3. To take it one step further, color code your calendar.
ORGANIZATION NERD ALERT, AMIRITE?
But seriously this is the best. If you manage a multitude of different teams, clients, workflows, etc., it really helps to color code tasks and meetings to bucket out how much time you are spending on each of those items. When I was working at an agency with 5-6 different clients, this was a lifesaver. It’s easy to get caught up in too much work for one component of your job or one client and then scramble like a crazy person to try to compensate for the others. This also will help you with #4…
4. Say no.
Say no. Say no. Say no. Say no. Say no. Say no. Say no. Say no. Say no. Say no. Say no. Say no. Say no. Say no. Say no.
This can make or break your ability to time manage. During the times in my life that I didn’t manage my time well, I was also overwhelmed with all of the things I said yes to. I took on every challenge, every new project, every new class and every new opportunity in my professional life. I also said yes to just about every fun activity with friends and family, trips and events too in personal life. To be passionate and involved in both your personal and professional life is always good, but there have to be limitations. Because in the end, the only one that suffered was me.
I was sick and unhealthy. I was consuming copious amounts of caffeinated beverages and microwavable meals to be able to balance it all. My relationships often suffered. My mental health was fragile. I let people down at work at times. I was constantly stuck between the push and pull of feeling like I couldn’t do it all, even though I was doing so much, it still didn’t feel like enough.
Because the truth is that if you try to do EVERYTHING then you can never do ANYTHING to the best of your ability. Everything suffers, including you. Time management is not just being able to manage and accomplish a lot, it’s being able to understand and accept your own limitations. It’s maintaining your health and sanity because that actually helps you be more productive in all other areas of your life.
5. Allocate time in your day for even “un-scheduled” personal items like time at the gym, cooking dinner, reading a book, spending time with family, hobbies, etc.
This may seem a little tedious, but if you don’t add these to your list or account for them when you plan out your week/day they’re always the first items to go. But you need them. You need time for your health, hobbies, and relaxation. It makes you not only a happier person but better at what you do in your professional life as well. Work-life balance is no joke. If you don’t have it you will start to resent your career, or the people in your life will, and either option is detrimental to your happiness.
6. If you have a side gig, passion project or freelancer role — treat it like you do your full-time job– with the same level of prioritization and planning.
Passion projects are becoming more and more popular, as are freelance and consultant jobs. Because these aren’t our day jobs, it’s easier to neglect to schedule and prioritize the same way with these tasks. But you have to, or things will become so unruly and out of control that everything in your life will suffer. While it’s both ambitious and impressive to want to have a night job of sorts, you have to make sure you assess and organize this commitment the same way you would a day job. If you don’t, you’ll end up letting down others and yourself trying to juggle too much. So schedule tasks, bucket out time, prioritize within your other night-time activities mentioned in #5 and let your passion project take flight.
7. Utilize time management and productivity apps. They’re really helpful when you find the combination that works for you.
I LOVE mobile apps, extensions, and computer software that help me get organized. As long as you don’t overdo it and spend too much time inputting information into apps, they can really help you with reminders and productivity.
- Any.Do: Great for making lists and categorizing said lists. It also sends great reminders.
- Trello: The ultimate time management tool. Trello is great for communicating with other teams, assigning and organizing tasks and more.
- Evernote: Another excellent tool for productivity and coordination of a multitude of tasks, as well as pristine note-taking.
- Toggl: This is great for time sheets and tracking how much like you’re actually spending on certain tasks.
- Followup: Perfect for reminding you to address emails you don’t have time to respond to right away.
- Workflow: is a highly customizable app that shaves time off of the complicated things you do every day.
8. Reflect upon and understand your values and priorities.
The most important tip for time management is taking the time to understand what does and doesn’t matter to you. Everything can’t matter. It’s impossible. Some things have to matter a little less, both from a personal and a professional standpoint. In business, the ability to prioritize and allocate value is an immeasurably useful quality. In your personal life, it allows you to concentrate your energy towards what actually matters to you and gives you purpose.
Your time is so important. In this world, it really is all that we have, so you want to use it wisely. Once you understand that, and you’ll realize how time management can change your life.