Most of us are looking for ways to improve time management. When it constantly feels like there’s too much to do and too little time it’s impossible to create the intentional life you deserve. It feels like you can barely get the necessities done let alone play with the kids, fit in date night, read a good book, or take a vacation. And to make matters worse, because many of us are struggling to even accomplish daily tasks we find ourselves paying the price health wise or financially when we skimp on sleep or order out because we have so little time to take care of ourselves.
If you wish you could find more time in the day without having to give up your precious time to unwind and / or connect, you’re in the right place. These 5 habits to improve time management will change your life and the way you look at time.
1. Time Tracking
Understanding how long things take enables you to set yourself up for success. And a realistic to-do list is the first step to improve time management. Whether you struggle with overestimating how long things will take and find yourself getting overwhelmed and procrastinating, or you pack your day with 28 hours worth of to-dos and constantly feel like a failure (or a combination of both, like me), time tracking is sure to help.
Track how long your activities take and be sure to include any prep time necessary as well. You can do this by setting alarms to remind you to document what you’ve been working on or setting a timer when you start a new activity. I find that a combination works best to get started so I don’t forget to turn on my timers.
2. Let Go
Here’s the tough love part of this post. When it comes to time usage, there’s always a trade off. It’s important that you know that improving your time management isn’t just a matter of enjoying your life more or becoming more productive. It’s a major factor in your health and life span. So, essentially what I’m saying is you can do more daily but have less years on your life or you can slow down and have more. I know this might sound incredibly dramatic, but it’s true! In the 21st century most of us are sacrificing essential health practices like movement, eating well, connection, and sleep so we can get more done. And it’s literally killing us! That’s why it’s so important to learn to let go.
Now, don’t worry, I don’t mean that we have to let go of everything. And I totally get how challenging (and time consuming) it is to determine what can be cut from the never ending list. So, I created the EPD Method to simplify and streamline the process. You can learn more about EPD in my Take Control of Your Time Course (which is free in Inner Circle).
3. Schedule It
Scheduling improves your time management skills in the same way budgeting improves money management. And because time is a finite resource this habit is essential. Once you’ve tracked your time and determined what really must get done (including time for rest, relaxation, and fun), it’s time to get busy making a schedule or plan for your days and weeks.
I find that it’s easiest to stick to my schedule if it’s written down. BUT… don’t be tempted to fill every moment of the day. Giving yourself time to transition or over estimating how long things take to make room for the unexpected will set you up for success in your scheduling. And even though it may appear that less is getting done as you’re settling into your new time management habits you’ll also notice that you’re more efficient with your time and less stressed. In the long run this will pay off with increased productivity due to the reduction in accidents, forgetfulness, and wastefulness (reduced haste = reduced waste).
4. Stack It
Stacking like tasks with like tasks in your schedule is a huge time and energy saver (and often saves money as well). This will reduce your transition time and help you maintain focus on the category of tasks at hand which will improve time management.
- Rather than running errands every day, choose one time to run them or do them during your commute.
- Prep for meals all at once so you only have one clean up time.
- Do all cleaning at once (or alternately clean the room you’re in while you’re there, ie wipe the bathroom while the kids are in the tub).
Stacking tasks will make a surprising difference in your time management.
5. Prioritize Organization
Organization may take a little time investment up front but it will save you bundles of time down the road. Finding a place to put the things you need to complete tasks makes it easier to do them. So, consider organizing your kitchen, medicine cabinet, and most importantly bills and papers. To get started, set aside 10 – 30 minutes a week to work on an organizational project that will help you streamline other tasks.
For paper organization check out this video where I discuss our home mailbox system for school communication. This system can be used to organize any papers and it’s free and easy to get started!
6. Prevent Urgency
Urgent time demands are one of the most stressful and unwelcome things in an already busy day. But, thankfully they are also typically preventable. Avoiding urgency is essential to improve time management. Do this by staying ahead of essential tasks and scheduling them earlier than necessary. I often find it easiest to schedule all tasks that could become urgent on Mondays and make a point of getting them done by Tuesday at the latest. Not only does this keep me from trying to juggle something last minute but it also ensures that I’m not stressed about it and trying to remember to get it done throughout the week.
Keeping a “ta-da” list will not only help you identify where some of your unaccounted for time is going but it will also help you feel successful in your improved time management. At the end of the day simply add anything to your to-do list that you accomplished that day that wasn’t already listed. For those of us who struggle with time management and often feel unproductive (or even lazy), nothing feels quite as good as crossing things off the list. Over time you are likely to notice that you have less and less things to add to your ta-da list as you get better at accounting for everything. But, don’t stop giving yourself credit for all the things you get done in a day and remember that it’s ok to let go of some of these previously unaccounted for items as well.
And, please keep in mind that these habits that help you improve time management aren’t there solely for the purpose of helping you get more done in less time and with less stress. They are also intended to help you find more time for the things that matter most in your life, the things you love to do, long to do, and want to do. What’s the first thing you’re looking forward to doing when you have more free time?