There are 168 hours in a week.
How are you using that time?
Even if you spend 60 hours per week at work, you’re still left with 108 hours of free time that’s yours to use.
Everyone is given the same 168 hours. So why do some people, like Oprah and Bill Gates, seem to be so productive during that time—while the rest of us feel we barely have enough time in the day to eat dinner with our families?
At Forge, we define this as the “productivity” of time:
How effectively are you able to use your time for something productive?
Let’s go through what’s holding you back from having the ultimate time management—and how you can finally gain control of your schedule.
How do you view time management?
Most people see their lives in two parts: work and home. They spend eight or nine hours at work, an hour commuting, and the rest of the time “at home.” The “at home” time encompasses everything, even tasks that don’t take place at home, like sleeping, working out, or even a side hustle.
In her Ted Talk “How to gain control of your free time,” Laura Vanderkam tells a story about “finding time.” Vanderkam ran a study of busy women to see how they manage their time effectively or ineffectively.
One especially busy woman came home one day to find her water heater had broken and her basement was flooded with water. Dealing with that situation took up seven hours of her week. This is the equivalent of finding an extra hour every day of the week.
If you asked her to “find” seven extra hours at the beginning of the week, she would have said no. But she found those seven hours because she had to.
Handling the flooding was an important, urgent priority.
And because it was a priority, she found time for it.
This insinuates that time will accommodate whatever we put into it.
Time is a choice.
You have the time. You just don’t want to spend your time doing that specific task.
When you say you don’t have time, you’re simply saying it’s not a priority.
We have the power to fill our lives with the things that deserve to be there.
Time management is not managing time but managing priorities and activities.
You can’t change time, but you can change how you choose to use it.
How do you find more time?
“We don’t build the lives we want by saving time. We build the lives we want, and then time saves itself.” – Laura Vanderkam
A lot of people say that the key to time management is shaving off time from everyday activities. You’re taught how to save bits of time here and there, which should ultimately (and supposedly) “add up” to give you more free time.
But that’s the same as if you were saving pennies and nickels. You’ll eventually save a few dollars, but it won’t be not enough to create true wealth.
So how do you create chunks of time that you can use to be genuinely and effectively productive
1. Determine your priorities.
In her Ted Talk, Laura Vanderkam gives a great exercise for how to find your priorities.
Write next year’s annual review today. List the 6-10 professional and personal successes that your 2018 “year-in-review” would include. Think as if you were looking back on your year.
What things did you do that made your year so amazing and triumphant?
This can help determine what your 2018 goals should be.
You should then break up these goals into specific, actionable tasks.
You can also how to prioritize your values here.
2. Plan your strategy.
For example, an item on your end-of-year review could be, “I lost 50 pounds in 2018.”
That’s a big, long-term goal that needs to be broken up into smaller, short-term goals. What do you need to do every week and every day in order to achieve this goal?
How often will you workout? What will your diet look like? How many pounds per month will you lose?
Even these can be broken down further into smaller goals. “Find a personal trainer” could be an immediate goal that helps you achieve the goals of working out five times per week. “Throw away all junk food” might be the first step towards starting your diet.
The more specific you are, the better you can plan these goals in to your current time schedule.
3. Keep a time log.
You have your goals in mind. But you still have the mindset that you don’t have enough time to achieve these goals.
Now, let’s see where you’re actually spending (and wasting) the most time.
For two to four weeks, keep a detailed time log of everything you do. This includes everything from calling clients to social media to playing with the dog to going to the bathroom.
The goal isn’t to spend less time going to the bathroom (unless you find that you currently spend exorbitant amounts of time in the bathroom). Rather, this will allow you to determine just how productive you are with your time overall.
Looking at a time log usually helps individuals realize just how much time their distractions are wasting hours in their week. It can also help you see where your current priorities are compared to where you want them to be.
4. Eliminate the distractions.
Now that you see where you spend the most time, you should begin looking at out ways that you can get rid of those major time wasters.
Small moments have great power.
How often do you instinctively pick up your phone to scroll through social media? How often do you chat with your coworker about the same gossip you talked about yesterday?
Put your phone away while you work. Close your office door. Whatever your main distractions are, find methods that help you avoid the temptation of these distractions.
Learn how to say “no” to distractions so you can say “yes” to your goals.
5. Schedule your distractions.
For most of us, we actually like these little distractions. They keep us going throughout the day.
You don’t need to give up social media altogether to stop wasting time. You just need to schedule it into your day.
When you plan your distractions, they’re no longer distractions. They’re “breaks.”
Planning for these guilty pleasures allows you take a mental break. If unscheduled, you could spend hours on social media without even realizing it. When it’s scheduled, you have a set time period for enjoyment before returning to work. This helps you save time while reenergizing to focus on more productive tasks.
6. Start your schedule with goals.
Once the distractions are gone, you can come back to your priorities and goals from steps 1 and 2.
Put your goal-related activities in your schedule before your other tasks. If you don’t schedule in the tasks that lead up to your goals, they can quickly take a backseat to the day-to-day.
It’s much too easy to say, “But next week is so swamped with work, so I won’t have time to exercise. I can lose an extra two pounds next week.”
And you keep pushing it off and pushing it off…
If you schedule the workout first, you’ll find time for the rest of your work after.
Treat your goals as valued priorities by scheduling them in first.
7. Prioritize your tasks.
Once your goals are in your schedule, you can plan everything else.
Create a list of everything you have to do. Then, categorize them in one of four groups:
- Important and urgent (should be accomplished first)
- Important but not urgent
- Urgent but not important (should be delegated)
- Not urgent and not important (scrap these)
This will help you decide which activities are most important and need to be scheduled in versus those that can be delegated, pushed back, or eliminated altogether.
You may also want to categorize your time based on the task at hand. For example, if you’re a writer, you might have multiple categories of tasks, like researching, writing, editing, and administrative. You can then prioritize importance/urgency within those categories.
Remember that your “tasks” are not just professional. You should include personal tasks as well. You want one schedule for everything in your work and life to ensure a strong work-life balance.
8. Plan ahead.
Scheduling your goals and priorities should happen in advance. Some people will recommend creating a schedule the week before or the night before.
We usually recommend making your schedule at the end of the week, so you make sure that you include all of the leftover tasks that hit your desk Friday afternoon. You’re also more motivated at the end of the week to pursue your goals than you are on a sleepy Monday morning or Sunday evening. However, studies show that creating a to-do list the night before can help you sleep better.
If you work in an hourly schedule, like most of our Forge Team Members, then you might want to plan first thing at the beginning of your week. This is especially important if you self-schedule your own hours. Planning early ensures you look ahead to balance your work and life appropriately.
Find the time that works best for you to sit down and plan.
9. Create your own schedule.
You’ve built a strong schedule and to-do list. But you can’t accomplish this if someone else is scheduling your life for you.
Take control of your schedule with flexwork options.
Talk to your manager to find solutions that will work with your version of time management.
If your organization is not willing to offer flexwork, it might be time to look elsewhere.
If you’re looking to get hired and control your own hours, sign up for FREE as a Forge Team Member!
You’ll have access to local jobs that offer flexible work with an emphasis on work-life balance.
Don’t delay. Don’t put off your time management any longer.
Sign up now to take control of your schedule, your work, and your life.