Updated: Feb 4
Another blog post full of tips for you guys today, which I hope will be useful.
When I first considered becoming a time management coach, the first step was to do an introspection. I first had to understand how I was managing things, and what was it that made my own system a workable one. Once I got that pretty much determined, I did lots of research to understand how others were functioning. Then, I confronted all of that to my first Coachees, back in September 2021.
Fast-forward 100+ hours of coaching sessions with dozens of different people and me having now a broader and better picture of how good time management can be found, in all its variations and forms.
Just like any other skills, with time management you've got first steps, a kind of intermediate knowledge ground and a mastery level. In today's post I am basically presenting you what your first 5 steps with Time Management can look like, if you're feeling lost and all over the place.
Step 1: Understand how you are currently using your time (Audit)
Time for reflection and introspection. Religiously log everything you're doing for 2 to 3 weeks, using either a paper or digital calendar.
In this step it is absolutely crucial for you to be the most honest possible. Here is what you should look for by the time you're done with your time logging:
Your truth: How you are actually using your time: before doing this kind of exercise, we all have this idea that we are using up "all our time" with a certain something when actually, it probably only FEELS like it. That is a completely normal feeling to have, however if you want to improve your time management you must first get past this fog, and see things clearly for what they truly are. Do calculations if it helps you realise certain things (spending time of my phone 3 hours per day amounts to 21 hours per week, which amounts to a part-time job?! / I spend 11 hours of my week in public transports going to and off work, and I don't use this time?). The point here is not to shame yourself but to know the truth of where you time is going.
The unwanted or unnecessary things: What you want to get rid off or optimise, if it is up to you: going grocery shopping 4 times a week, each time taking you more than an hour when you could do it twice a week instead totally 2+ hours instead of 4? Doesn't seem like much and yet this makes all the difference when you're struggling to find quality time to read for example. Doing the exercise will help you optimise your time where it is easy for you to do so, or identify areas where you could strategise a bit more.
Your patterns: What you naturally tend to do: after lunch you tend to feel sleepy and unproductive? when waking up you always feel the most energised and motivated? when you get off work you tend to spend 1 hour straight on your phone? No pattern (natural behaviour) or habit (controlled behaviour), is good or bad in itself. It is all in the intent or use you make of it. The habits you fully control, but even the patterns you can learn to control a bit. The trick is to first acknowledge them. Acknowledge them, embrace them fully, even place them in your schedule. You're always feeling sleepy after lunch? Schedule yourself a daily power nap of 20 to 30 minutes to replenish your energy during the day. No need to force yourself to be productive at a time when your body and mind are telling you they need to rest.
Step 2: Categorise your tasks (Audit)
Understand what is truly required for you to do (NEED) and what is actually up to you to use your time for (WANT). Once done, prioritise.
List down everything and start categorising them. Here are a few more hints to understand what should go where.
It is sustaining you = NEED. Ex. paid work.
It is helping you stay healthy = NEED. Ex. medical appointment.
It can improve your environment = WANT. Ex. declutter house.
It relieves stress = WANT. Ex. dance class (not work).
It is not a requirement in any way = WANT. Ex. self-learning a language.
Anything on the list that is not required of and that you don't specifically want to do? Time to eliminate it.
Once you're done with categorisation, put a prioritisation order on the items in each list. Ex. NEEDs: 1. kids care / 2. work / 3. groceries / 4. home care (meal prep, cleaning, organisation) etc.
Once that is also done, give each item a frequency (daily, weekly, monthly, annually etc.) and a duration (5 hours a day, 2 hours a week etc.).
Now that you have all your tasks categorised and prioritised you need to remember a few things:
Nothing is set in stone: if you categorise some tasks in one category or the other it doesn't mean they can never move categories. In fact it is best to see them as moving objects, which you can re-categorise as need be (flexibility principle). What is your priority NEED one week might not be the following week.
The definition of NEEDs and WANTs varies depending on people and your specific situation: for instance, I might have given you the example of "decluttering your house" as a WANT above, but this might become a NEED for someone suffering from certain forms of OCD. Or you might be someone living off of royalties, so that you don't NEED to work to sustain yourself. Yet, your personal projects might take the place of NEEDs instead in your list.
Your WANTs may be as equally important to you as your NEEDs.
Any major disruption in your life (moving, changing job, sickness) will also disrupt this order of things in your life. Time will also do that in any case. So whatever happens, you need to do this exercise again once every year and after any major life disruption.
Step 3: Define clear limits for the things that use up your energy (Plan)
Limit energy vampire items to the maximum to safeguard your energies.
Seeing people, going out for errands, working for longer periods of time, going out often or on the contrary staying in too much, talking to strangers on the phone, having exams... what stresses you or takes up too much of your energy you should limit or if you can eradicate completely.
No hard feelings. Time management is a type of self-care, and if you need to see your friends once every fortnight instead of twice a week to feel more energised, and therefore having more chances to increase your productivity, then it's worth it.
Remember, flexibility is the key. If on the other hand you're going through a hard patch and you need to see your friends more often to lift your spirits up, then by all means do so.
The trick is to control it instead of letting it control you and your time.
A quick supplementary note here: If you can't do anything about your energy vampire items (ex. exams, surgery) at the very least you should 1) recognise and acknowledge them (instead of being in denial) 2) adopt a strategy towards them (how to go through them to the best of your ability) and 3) do everything in your power to make it easier on yourself (sleep properly, eat properly, relieve stress through exercising, prepare yourself to the best of your abilities, stay calm, surround yourself with your best people etc.).
Step 4: Place everything in your schedule (Plan)
In Step 2 you've identified all your NEEDs and WANTs, and attributed each with a prioritisation order, a frequency and a duration. Now it is time for you to place all of them in your schedule, remembering that resting should bear equal weight.
As for the other steps there are loopholes here too. The loopholes here would be to try and overload our schedule with all our NEEDs and WANTs at the same time, forgetting that a whole 1/3 of our time should be dedicated to rest. Which is precisely why in Step 2 we added the layer of prioritising and adding frequency to all tasks. This is crucial to know what goes into your schedule at Step 4, and most importantly WHEN it should.
The basic idea (and also over-simplified to make my point clearer) is that your schedule should resemble something like this:
NEED (1 item)
NEED (1 item)
WANT (1 item)
Always remember to take into account your patterns when doing this exercise, since for instance you won't be able to place any ON slot right after lunch if you're feeling sleepy and are not productive.
Never over-schedule: in fact I advise you to under-schedule. This way you might end up having more time to do some things you did not plan. Very easy to fall into the spiral of productivity, slotting all we need and want to do in one go, forgetting to take care of our energies. From my point of view, this is the best recipe for burnout.
Step 5: Following your new schedule (Action)
You've got all your tasks acknowledged, defined, categorised, prioritised and scheduled, and you've got rid of all unwanted items and limited energy vampire items. Now what?
Now comes the real deal: following the best schedule you will have created for yourself, with focus, determination, perseverance and self-confidence. Whenever something doesn't work anymore, get rid of it or change things up. Whenever something regular stops, redefine your priorities. etc. Stay flexible and keep things balanced!
Sounds as easy as 1, 2, 3 and yet, once you reach Step 5 of this process, you might still face difficulties. Specifically here are 2 types of things you will 100% face:
Unforeseen setbacks: getting sick, having to care for someone else, mental health breakdown, urgency of any kind etc.
Regular disruptions: of any types, but mostly due to others' influence. Instead of fighting all of them, try to accept them and schedule them. For instance, if you know that you're never getting anything done on Friday morning because your partner is around, not working either and wanting to do things such as going to the market? Then embrace it. Schedule it consciously and enjoy your Friday mornings when they come around 😌
That's it for today guys and I hope you enjoyed this blog post!
If despite all the steps above, you are still unable to focus when you need to and are unable to implement your new schedule then this is where general, non-personalised, advice stops, and where services such as the personal 1:1 coaching I offer come into play. Because there is likely no miracle answer or step-by-step guide out there to help you know and understand WHY you have difficulties implementing new habits and get better with your time management.
What if this year you could set out CLEAR intentions & goals, and you actually... achieved them all? 🤩🤯 Need more guidance? I have been privately coaching people since 2021. Take a look at my services and book a 1:1 session with me!