Do you find yourself wishing you had more hours in the day? Or maybe you struggle to follow through on your good intentions because you feel so pressed for time?
If so, I can relate. I've been there. As in, much of my life.
I think time management is one of the greatest challenges in our daily lives, and also something that provides great joy and freedom - once we get a grip on it. As Harvey Mackay once said:
"Time is free, but it's priceless. You can't own it, but you can use it. You can't keep it, but you can spend it. Once you've lost it, you can never get it back."
At the end of last year, a little voice inside urged me to cut back on activities, to clear my life of clutter (not just physical), and to be more present. Although I'm not one to create New Year's resolutions, I picked a word of the year to guide me through 2020: "Simplify." Little did I know that COVID was right around the corner and would fast-track me on my journey to simplification!
Fast forward, and I'm still as busy as ever. Single mom, full-time job, three children, growing side business. The upkeep of my house and yard are more than I ever bargained for. It's a lot of juggling to do. And honestly, at times it's tough keeping all the balls in the air.
But I've switched to being more intentional with how I spend my time. I'm busy in ways that fill me up instead of draining me. Any activities I undertake have to be meaningful and align with my purpose (and that includes making sure I have time to just chill). Time has become a gift, not a limitation. This is a big transformation. I still have a long way to go, but it's coming along.
Getting a hold of my time has been one of the greatest gifts of 2020. And we sure do need to find the bright spots in 2020, don't we?
I'd like to share five powerful new practices that I've applied recently. These time management secrets, when applied daily, are almost magical in their ability to boost your spirits and to transform your days so that time truly is on your side.
Block your Time
The first secret is to block your time. Use your calendar (phone app, daytimer, etc.) to structure your day in increments as needed - one hour, 30 minutes, 15 minutes, etc. Block out your most important activities first. Then add the other important work that must get done. Think about work assignments, household chores, phone calls, e-mails, workouts, appointments, and even down time. Block your time, then follow your plan - with some flexibility of course.
You really do need to write everything down and refer to your schedule often to make this work. I know, I know, I used to resist the concept of writing everything down too. I convinced myself that I could keep it all in my head. Well, first of all, I can't. Second of all, there is power in the very act of writing it down and seeing it in writing. I prefer doing it by hand, but electronically can work too.
If you're having trouble sticking to your schedule, consider whether your timeframes are realistic. Are you trying to squeeze in too much? Are there barriers you didn't foresee? If so, adjust and deal with these as necessary. I also suggest setting a timer to hold you accountable to the time limits you set for tasks that have no clear end point. When the timer goes off, it's time to switch to your next task, or to adjust your schedule as needed. If you have a home office, you may also want to keep your basic schedule accessible to family members so that they know when you will have free time and when you simply can't be interrupted.
Planned mental health breaks and relaxation are also important in keeping our energy levels high. Don't forget to schedule them in as you block your time. Knowing you have something to look forward to in the near future can be a huge motivator. And you may find that while you're relaxing, your subconscious mind is freeing you up to focus on all the other tasks you'd like to get done too.
If you block your time in realistic, manageable chunks, and then let your schedule guide you throughout your day, I think you'll find that you can get way more done than you ever dreamed possible.
Develop AM and PM Routines
Hands down one of the best practices I've recently implemented is the AM and PM routine. These routines include activities that help me stay centered, productive, and aware. I follow the same routine each morning and evening.
My morning routine takes about 10 minutes and helps me set my intention and prepare myself for the day. My evening routine only takes about five minutes because I tend to lose steam at night. Setting a brief but meaningful evening routine helps me reflect on the day that's ending and prepare for the next day. Morning and evening routines often include activities such as prayer, journaling, stretching, meditating, day in review, devotionals, gratitudes, breathing exercises, next day's schedule, and reading. But they can include anything that is meaningful to you.
These routines have become pretty special to me. I have written them down on colored index cards because I know how important it is to see them in writing. I give myself grace if I have to skip my routine one day, and I look forward to it the next day.
We are a result of the little things we do every day. There are very few overnight victories. Establishing routines like these will help center you, make you more accountable to yourself, inspire you, and help you feel much more in control of your time.
Plug Energy Leaks
When there's a task we really don't want to do, we often set it aside for "later" (aka procrastination). As we continue to procrastinate, thoughts of the task fly by and cause us stress, whether it's on the conscious or subconscious level. We then seek ways to escape this feeling of dread. Maybe we scroll Instagram, eat a bowl of ice cream, or even take a nap! The point is that we put the task off and try to distract ourselves with something else.
As the deadline tightens, the task becomes more urgent and we start to feel the stress of it. Many of us unknowingly rely on this stress to motivate us to get the job done - it's as if we need to feel the heat before we are moved to action. In the meantime, we spend a lot of time in dread, and we often end up having to sacrifice personal and family time to get the job done. The whole process is draining.
These tasks that hang over our heads are known as energy leaks. An energy leak is "any incomplete task, to-do, idea, or memory that drains your energy – even a little bit – when you think of it, or when you see it." This is the unfinished business in our lives - the baskets full of laundry, the unwritten note, the difficult conversation, the project due on Friday. These leaks can have a massive effect on our energy levels and productivity.
Look around - you are likely to be surrounded by energy leaks. The more you can plug them, the better your mindset will be as you set about to get your stuff accomplished. Be sure to use your time-blocking system to plan time to address your energy leaks.
Learn to Say No
I'm a big believer in politely and respectfully saying "no." When we find ourselves saying "yes" all the time (or more than we'd like), we need to stop and ask ourselves some questions:
- Is the thing I'm saying "yes" to really important to me or to others close to me?
- Am I saying yes out of guilt?
- Is this activity or commitment life-giving (in a fulfilling way) to me?
- Are others depending on me to the point that it would be unfair to say "no?"
- Am I doing this for the right reasons?
We need to remember that when we say "yes" to one thing, we are saying "no" to another. Learn to be comfortable with saying "no" - but do so respectfully. There's nothing worse than someone who replies with an ungracious "decline."
As long as you are being thoughtful, respectful, and kind, you can't worry about how anyone else feels about your "no." You have to protect your own time and sanity. Others are free to do the same.
"Resource Up" as Needed
Remember - time is our most precious commodity. Yet we often try to do it all ourselves, and we lose precious time in the process. It's clear from the choices we make that many of us elevate financial freedom or pride above time freedom. One thing I've become convinced of lately is the importance of finding ways to "resource up" - i.e., to find others who can take care of tasks that leak my energy so that I can focus on the tasks I really need to focus on - both at work and at home.
Maybe it's hiring a housecleaner, ordering some meals from a healthy meal service, arranging for curbside grocery pick-up, or delegating a lingering task to someone else who is perfectly capable of completing the task. We must get out of the mindset that we can do it all - i.e., take care of the house, yard, family, and job while keeping up with our friendships, fitness, volunteer commitments, faith-based or community activities, personal growth, and hobbies, to name a few. When we find a resource that can help take an important but time-consuming task off our list, or that can help support us in some way, we gain time freedom. And we are much more likely to be productive, too.
I recently hired a housecleaner and it was one of the best decisions I made in 2020. I didn't invest in just a clean house. I invested in a clear mind and in more time with my family, more time for my side business, and more time to relax. And I am able to do all these things without the energy leak that nags at me saying I should be cleaning toilets instead. (Oh, and it feels good knowing I'm providing income for this businesswoman, too.)
Take Control of Your Day
As personal development guru Jim Rohn once said, "Either you run the day or the day runs you." Solid time management practices may be the missing piece that takes your life to the next level. I challenge you to use the tips in this blog and to watch your time - and productivity - multiply.
Alison Jones is a Life Coach for Merritt Clubs. For more information or to schedule a 1-on-1 session with Alison, please contact our Director of Nutrition & Wellness Lindsay Silbert at firstname.lastname@example.org.