There’s never enough time in the day. Whether you work two jobs, go to school part time, take care of a family member, or just wish you had time to go see a movie … everyone could benefit from a few extra hours in the week.
But we can’t change the clock. There will always be 24 hours in a day, 7 days in a week. So how can we “get more time” in our busy schedules?
Time management is not simply planning how many hours you’ll work in a week versus how many you’ll sleep. Time management is about consciously understanding and acknowledging how you are spending your minutes in order to best increase your productivity and efficiency.
Time management first starts with a goal. Why do you need more time in your week? Think of what you could do with an extra hour, extra 10 hours, extra day. What motivates you to manage your schedule and activities beyond just knowing the hours you’ll show up for work or school?
Once you have your motivation for time management, you can follow these four tips to control your schedule, be more efficient and effective, and add more hours on the clock.
Keep your schedule handy.
You should always have easy access to your schedule. Whether you keep your agenda in your phone, in a handheld planner, or in a journal, always have it visible and available. Your schedule should also clearly have your goals displayed, so you can always ensure that every part of your schedule directly aligns with your daily, weekly, yearly, and lifelong goals.
A schedule helps you keep track of future appointments, events, and to-dos. However, you should also use your schedule to keep track of past time. Write down how long it took you to do a single task. Keep track of what you are getting done and the time it takes to do certain activities.
This can help see where you are being most productive and efficient, so you can cut down on that time which isn’t pushing you towards your goals. This past-time management can also help you understand how long to reasonably schedule similar tasks in the future, so you can create a minute-by-minute calendar that is filled with efficient, productive, on-time activities.
A scheduling system like Forge can ensure you always have quick access to your work shifts. The easier it is to access and view your schedule, the better you’ll be able to notice openings in your schedule to pick up more shifts—so you can always be productive and working towards your career goals.
Schedule the important stuff.
You should prioritize your activities in accordance with your goals. What do you need to get done that will push you forward professionally and personally? What do you need to get done to feel less stressed in the other areas of your schedule?
Arrange and schedule your tasks based on four priorities:
- Important and urgent: These should be scheduled and accomplished in the mid-morning after you’ve digested a good breakfast, finished a few small tasks, and you’re feeling most productive and efficient.
- Important but not urgent: These should be scheduled toward the end your day with enough allotted time (especially during times when you won’t fall to distractions).
- Urgent but not important: These should often be scheduled first thing in the morning. Get it out of the way, so you can focus on the more important stuff the rest of the day. It will also make you feel accomplished, so you’ll be more energized to take on the “important and urgent” tasks.
- Not urgent or important: These are fillers. These are best to delegate or dismiss altogether.
Do you need to have conversation with your boss? Schedule it. Do you need to answer emails? Schedule it. Do you need to sit down and think about your career goals? Schedule it. Studies show that if it’s on the calendar with an allotted time, the task is more likely to get accomplished.
Block out distractions.
Scheduling the important stuff in a prioritized order only works if you stick to that schedule. If you allow distractions to creep in, your schedule will continuously get pushed back. An hour allotted for answering emails can suddenly become three hours if you’ve switched over to social media.
Focus your attention on what is most important right now. What will push your development forward?
Even if you have downtime in your schedule, is it more productive to browse the web or to think about your career goals? Is it more important to look at pictures of kittens or to make a good impression on your boss who may be considering you for a promotion?
Distractions are called “distractions” because they distract your attention away from what is more important. If you want time to answer phone calls, be on social media, or play with a dog for whatever reason—schedule it in your planner. It’s of course okay to have fun (it’s actually good for your health). However, sticking to a schedule will ensure that you accomplish the most important tasks, so you have free time for enjoyment without worry.
Plan tomorrow today.
Jim Rohn, entrepreneur and speaker, once said, “Plan tomorrow today.” This became one of his most famous and motivational phrases.
If you take the time to plan a day in advance, you’ll better understand what you want to accomplish tomorrow. You’ll start your tomorrow off productively because you already know what you need to get done and how. In fact, people have a tendency to get lazier when there’s an immediate choice in front of them—should I or shouldn’t I start my morning with a sales call?
If you do your planning in the morning, you might say, “I’ll take the first hour of the day to watch TV and then I’ll be productive…” but then you never get productive. If you plan the day before, you have already scheduled a fruitful task with which to start your day.
Planning your day ahead of time is also good for your sleep. It will concretize your mental “to do list,” so you don’t feel as stressed. You have your schedule planned for a specific time tomorrow, so you know you’ll get all of your tasks done. This can help you get a restful night sleep—which in turn helps your productivity the next day.
P.S. Always start your day with a task that is easy and quick to accomplish (like something “urgent but not important”). This will make you feel proud and accomplished, and you’re more likely to be on a positive track for the rest of the day. If you start your morning with something challenging and arduous, you may get frustrated and lose your motivation to continue working the rest of the day.
For example, when you get into work at your restaurant job in the morning, start by filling the sugar shakers. You’ll have a visual representation of a restaurant-full of beautifully white shakers, and you’ll have already accomplished something for the day. Then you’re ready to keep going with your productivity!
The Bottom Line
Time management is not just about scheduling your daily activities. It’s about prioritizing, planning, and tracking. It’s understanding how you spend your time so you can make your hours more efficient and productive. This, in turn, can make you feel more accomplished, which will continue to push you towards your goals. Time management is at the crux of effective professional and personal development.