Time management just might be the number one essential life skill in our busy, modern-day life. But what most people don’t tell you about time management is that it’s way more than just squeezing more work and productivity out of your limited schedule.
In fact, if you truly master this nifty skill, you won’t even feel like your time is “limited” ever again. You will feel like everything is falling into place, you have more than enough time to finish everything you need to in a day, and you still have time to experience spontaneity and unplanned activities.
What you’re about to read in this article is an unusual point of view on time management and its benefits, that can make your life richer and more stress-free. We’ve gathered some simple but effective strategies from our many years of coaching experience to share with you, so that you can live a well-planned, more balanced life at work, at home, and everywhere in between.
So First… What Is Time Management?
Time management is commonly known as the process of organizing, prioritizing, and planning activities. This doesn’t just mean your projects at work, but everything in your personal life as well: from the way you manage your household to your personal development and creative hobbies.
As coaches, we know that if one area of our lives is out of balance, it will affect all the rest. If we don’t optimize our sleep, we won’t be productive at work. If we struggle with mental fatigue or distraction, we won’t be able to create anything original, nor give mindful attention to our loved ones.
So if you really break down what time management is, you’ll realize that, for the most part, we’re not managing our time, we’re managing our energy. Time is simply a social construct that helps us “organize” our energy and adjust to other people. Managing our energy well is the way we can really maximize the value of our time and spend it on the things that matter.
Why Is Time Management Important?
The most obvious reason why time management is important, is to be more productive, aka get more done in a shorter amount of time. If we finish our priority list faster, we’ll have more time for rest and fun.
But time management has plenty of added benefits too.
- It creates more balance in our lives
- It significantly reduces our stress levels
- It creates more time for spontaneity
- It makes us more focused
- It urges us to take better care of ourselves
- It makes us do a better job at whatever we do
- It helps us overcome procrastination
- It gives us a sense of achievement and confidence
- It helps us discover what’s really important in our lives
- It increases our energy
When you get good at time management, you find that you’re more present with your loved ones, get more joy out of what you do, and experience more flow while working.
Managing your time can be challenging though, especially when you run your own business. The best part of being an entrepreneur is that no one tells you what to do — but that’s the hardest part of it too. When you feel passionate about your business, suddenly everything becomes a priority. When you enjoy what you do, you might even find yourself getting worse at prioritizing what’s important vs what makes you excited at that moment.
So let’s do a quick reality-check on this.
Quick Self-Test: Do You Have Poor Time Management?
Here are five signs that you struggle with time management. Read these statements, and think about whether you experience them at work or in your personal life.
- You often underestimate the time certain tasks take.
- You are (sometimes) late for meetings.
- Time is causing you stress in your life.
- When you work on a task, you find yourself being interrupted several times.
- You feel that you don’t have enough time in a day to get everything done.
If at least one of these statements is true for you, you have some room to improve in managing your time. So let’s explore what might be stopping you from optimizing your time the best way possible.
Top 3 Causes Of Poor Time Management
Lack Of Focus
If no matter how well you plan, you struggle to finish things on time, you might be dealing with distraction in your environment — or in your own mind.
Is your work environment ideal for the kind of tasks you do? Some people need complete silence and minimal stimulation to get their best work done, others perform better with music, the hustle-bustle of a coworking space or a cafe, and a creative environment that inspires them.
If that’s all a-okay, you might need to improve your mental performance. Are you getting enough sleep, exercise, and nutritious food? Is your mental health in check? Frequent breaks and meditation can also make a huge difference in your ability to focus. It helps clear your “brain junk” and reset your mental operating system every once in a while.
If you’re experiencing fatigue and brain fog on an everyday basis, you might be facing an issue with your health. Check with your medical advisor, and consider your wellbeing first — health should always be the number one priority on your list!
The Illusion of Progress
In our modern world of constant notifications and a never-ending stream of information, dopamine addiction has become the norm. Every time we get a text or finish one more video from the next online course, our brain neurons get fired up wanting more.
We prioritize quick and easy tasks, just to get our next dose of dopamine rush and think that we’re making progress. But oftentimes we just keep distracting ourselves from what really needs our attention.
Lack of Planning
Losing momentum could also come from insufficient planning and not being aware of your priorities. Do you know what you should focus on today, next week, and the weeks after? Do you have systems in place to optimize your life?
If not, read on and see how you can turn your bottomless pile of to-dos into balance, momentum, and clarity.
The Best Time Management Strategies
Now, let’s get to the real stuff. The following five steps will Marie Kondo your schedule so meticulously that once we’re done, you’ll wonder how you could ever live without this system. You might not be able to toss out all duties that “don’t spark joy anymore,” but you’ll definitely feel more sorted by the end. So let’s get started.
Rule #1 — Everything Is a Project
We tend to think that only work projects and family weddings need to be planned out in advance. But guess what, everything that takes up space and time in your life, from a few weeks to several years, is a project.
List down everything that you put energy into in your life. From seasonal gift shopping and renovation projects to medical procedures and creative hobbies. You might be surprised how long that list will go on. If you’re more of a visual person, you can also draw this out as a mind-map to see where these projects connect. Draw bigger bubbles for the ones that take up more space in your life to see them in contrast.
This exercise alone will bring awareness to where all that time “magically disappears” from your schedule.
Rule #2 — Energy Is a Limited Resource
It didn’t seem such a big undertaking when you applied for those cooking classes, and now you suddenly find yourself canceling on your friends for the third time in a row because you’re busy again. It’s time to prioritize all your small and big projects on your list and see which ones you can cross off from the bottom. Don’t worry, you’ll still be able to make all your dreams happen, just not all at once.
Think about what it would cost you to NOT do those projects right now, and you might find that they aren’t really as crucial as you thought them to be. Of course, don’t cross off everything from your list that brings you joy! Instead, divide them into two categories: the ones that give you energy and the ones that drain you. Try to eliminate, delegate, or outsource the ones that drain your energy, and you’ll definitely find more momentum for what really matters.
Rule #3 — If It’s Not Actionable, It’s Not a Task
We tend to underestimate how much we can do in a year and overestimate how much we can do in a month. Break down all projects on your list into smaller steps or stages, and then break the first one of these stages into hyper-specific tasks.
“Do Christmas shopping” is not an actionable task — it would just make you wander around in a mall for a whole day struggling to find what you need. Instead, you can break this subtask into smaller steps such as listing gift ideas for family members, creating a budget plan, and researching the best shops and ecommerce sites where you can get these items.
If you’re an avid planner, you can do this exercise all the way until you know exactly what to do on each of your projects today, next week, or next month. If that’s too much for you and you cringe at the sound of following an action plan, you can just make sure that you always know the overall outcome of your projects and the next actionable step that brings you closer to them.
The point is that you should never have to wonder what to do next and procrastinate on important activities because they seem too overwhelming.
Rule #4 — If It Happens Again, It Needs a System
We all have our own systems in place for the tasks we do regularly, from the way we food-prep for the week to our exercise routine. Take another look at your project list, and you’ll find that many of the things you do are recurring activities and therefore can be optimized.
How much time could you save in a month if you found a gym closer to your home? How much could you cut from your time spent on clearing your inbox daily if you got rid of those unnecessary newsletters?
Take a close look at the activities you do on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis, and look for ways you can make them more efficient. Consider investing in better tools and equipment that save you time, and explore ways you can share the load with other people.
Rule #5 — If It’s Not Scheduled, It Won’t Happen
Now you know exactly what to do next on each of your projects, so how come things still don’t move as fast as you want them to? Perhaps, it’s because you’re overcommitting on a daily basis.
Start marking literally everything you do in a day in your calendar. Block out time for your commute, your lunchtime, and the time spent on the phone. If things didn’t go as planned, edit your calendar in retrospect to mirror reality. If you do this only for a week, you’ll get a clear picture of where all your time goes, and how long it really does take to manage everything.
If you have a long list of errands, block out a whole morning for them in your calendar next time. Schedule important and urgent tasks first as a “meeting with yourself” and be on time, as if it was a real meeting. Try to multitask as little as possible, and you’ll see tremendous progress on your work and life projects soon.
10 Time Management Hacks You Can Start Using Right Now
1. Airplane Mode Mornings
Jumping onto other people’s priorities first thing in the morning is the biggest time-waster. Keep your phone on silent instead, and don’t open your inbox until the most important task of the day is done.
2. Productivity Planners
You can find great journals called productivity planners that help you organize your daily and weekly tasks and reflect on your weekly progress. It’s one of the best investments you can make.
3. Shorter Meetings
If you have meetings or client sessions one after the other, you won’t get any time to take a break in between, and you’ll likely be late when one of them runs over. Instead, schedule 25 and 50-minute meetings with others so they also know you need to wrap up 5-10 minutes ahead of the hour.
4. Clear Boundaries
If you’re a coach or a consultant, establish clear boundaries on arriving at meetings on time, and have a 24-hour cancellation policy in place. This way if the client is late, you still finish on time and get paid.
5. Color blocking
Mark different types of meetings and activities in your calendar with different colors. For example, mark scheduled appointments in yellow and time-flexible activities in blue. Use green for your work schedule and purple for your personal life. You get the idea.
6. Preparation Time
Preparation is the most underestimated time management hack. Your mornings will be way less rushed if you prep your food and clothes in advance. Also, researching for a project and preparing for a meeting should be blocked out in your calendar in the same way as everything else.
7. Deep Work
Schedule deep work for tasks that take more time and energy. Turn your notifications off, play the music that helps you focus, prepare your favorite brew, and perhaps, set a Pomodoro timer. Don’t let yourself be interrupted until you finish your task.
8. The 2-Min Rule
How to deal with unexpected tasks popping up and distracting you? If something takes less than two minutes to execute, just do it. If it takes longer, write it down on your to-do list immediately, and get back to it later.
9. Time To Celebrate!
We tend to just do and do and forget to take time to celebrate our progress. Schedule half an hour each week to list your biggest achievements and learnings from the week, and it will definitely give you a boost for the week to come!