Time is a resource that seems to be hard to come by, I rarely hear anyone say I have too much time on my hands. There are only 24 hours in a day, with one third of them spent sleeping and the other third or more working, that doesn’t leave much of the day to get things you want or need to do done. Our to do list can be a useful tool to get organised but sometimes even that can overwhelm us and quickly resemble a never ending list of unachievable tasks.
For most of us with our family and work commitments, hobbies chores and everything else it can seem impossible to balance those tasks on top of day-to-day activities and remain productive. Here are 13 time management tips that have helped me to get and stay organised and accomplish a lot in a limited time.
1. Write your to do list down.
Whether your to do list is on your phone, calendar or a notebook, the important thing is to get it written down in some form. If it is all in your head you are really putting a lot of unnecessary pressure to remember what you have to do. Writing it down can tell you what it is that needs doing at a glance and help you to prioritise. Using apps such as Colour Note, Wunderlist and Google Keep can be very quick, easy tools to jot down your important tasks as you think of them. There is nothing more satisfying and motivating than ticking off a completed task. Having them in digital form on your phone means that you’ll always have access to them and can adjust your list as you go.
2. Set realistic goals.
If you look down at your to do list and see to do list items such as paint house or write a book you’re probably never going to get around to doing either of those goals. They are too vague and don’t really set out any actionable steps to get you started. Creating more manageable, bite sized tasks that can be achieved in small blocks of time can help make your to do list or project seem less daunting. Writing on your to do list to brainstorm what your book could be about or start the first chapter outline will give you some more effective and definable steps to get you started on your goal. Once you start setting more realistic, actionable tasks, you’ll avoid staring at your blank page or putting off your dream indefinitely. Everyday you can slowly work towards your ambitions.
3. Work to a timer.
If you don’t set time limits on things they can end up taking much longer than you’d initially hoped. If you give yourself a whole day to work on a project rather than a small block of time you will probably end up spending a lot of that day procrastinating. By setting time limits we can help to ensure we are focused and avoid distraction and help us to mentally commit to starting a task. Going up against the clock can be a motivating tool to make us want to do our best work, knowing that in an hour or whatever time you have set that you won’t have anymore time. It could be getting in a 10 minute workout and seeing how many exercises you can fit in that time or folding as much washing as you can in twenty minutes.
4. Utilise small pockets of time.
Most people feel that they have no free time and struggle to do what they planned during the day, leaving the to do list to forever grow. Sometimes it helps to step back and reconsider our time and how we use it. Could you utilise one of your lunch breaks to tackle some of those calls you have been meaning to make? At the end of the night can you do a quick fifteen minute tidy up so the next day you wake up to a clean home and aren’t greeted first thing in the morning with endless stuff everywhere it shouldn’t be? Could you turn the TV off twenty minutes earlier to squeeze in a chapter of your book you haven’t touched in weeks? It’s amazing what you can do in small pockets of time when you add them up over a week.
5. Make the most of commuting time.
The commute to work in my car used to frustrate me. I realised that I was throwing away ninety or more minutes a day, five days a week listening to advertising and radio segments that weren’t really adding any value to my life other than an occasional laugh or news topic. I decided to find a way to utilise my commute time so the drive to work was less of a chore and I could learn or do something enjoyable. Realising I could do anything other than reading, I bought a a set of Pimsleur German CDs and started listening to them on the way to work. Each lesson goes for twenty minutes so was the perfect length for the commute. Being in a band, and always struggling for time to practice my vocals, I started fitting my vocal practice into my commute. Other options are listening to audiobooks or podcasts of shows that interest you. If moving closer to work is not feasible, and you are locked into a long daily commute, take advantage of that time when you can.
6. Do things you’re passionate about so being productive comes easier.
When we are procrastinating it’s good to assess what we are doing with our time and if it is something we are really passionate about. You might be studying a course you aren’t really that excited about anymore, but as you’re already halfway through you’re reluctant to quit or start again. We can make life so much harder than it needs to be by doing things we don’t want to because we are just on autopilot or are fearful of change. If you really aren’t enjoying something that is consuming your time make a change to something that you will love. Soon enough you could be looking forward to your classes rather than dreading them. If work isn’t something that you look forward to, find out what you need to do to get into your dream job or to get a promotion and make a start. If you hate running but really enjoy aerobics, don’t force yourself to go running each day, substitute that exercise for one you are more passionate about. Look for areas in life where you can make changes to make each day more enjoyable and you will will be more likely to get things done and progress towards your goals.
7. Do the hardest, most important stuff first.
I recently read the book Eat the Frog by Brian Tracy and loved his advice on tackling the hardest, most important tasks first thing in your day. Often with a fresh mind we are better able to focus and make more progress. The last thing you want to do is get to the afternoon and still not have tackled the biggest to do list item and have the weight on your shoulders all day. If the hardest project is also the most important and you have left it to 3pm for a 5pm deadline, you are putting yourself under unnecessary stress and making that task even more difficult to achieve when you are trying to rush through it. Once the most difficult task is complete, the smaller tasks will seem like a breeze and be easier to knock down with your current momentum.
8. Learn to say no.
If you have too many commitments and are feeling overwhelmed, it is okay to say no to anything more on your plate. There are no prizes for being the busiest person, in fact the opposite is true. You could find yourself over time neglecting more important things such as your health, your relationships or sleep. If your friend springs on you that they need help moving on the weekend and your schedule is already overflowing with commitments, don’t try and cram another thing in at the expense of your immediate to do list, even if that list consists of a couple of hours to unwind. Be honest with yourself about what you can fit into your schedule. If something comes up that is just going to add too much stress to your already packed diary, apologize and say no. We are all in charge of our own lives and we are the only ones who can know what we have the physical and mental energy for.
9. Take regular breaks.
If you’re really stuck and have hit a productivity brick wall, stop what you’re doing and take a break. Clearing the mind can do wonders for productivity and help kick-start the creativity flow. If you’re lost for ideas or an answer sometimes after a small break, or even a good night’s sleep the answer pops out at you. Taking a small break could save you sitting there stressing for hours unnecessarily.
10. Plan ahead.
I used to be a bit of a last minute person and seemed to be constantly stressed because I’d left it to the day to write in a birthday card or wrap a gift or to iron my dress. I have learnt over time that planning ahead makes life so much easier. Of course this something you can improve on overtime and we can’t always be perfect, but there are ways to get ourselves more organised to reduce the stress associated with life. If you need a gift for an upcoming event, don’t wait until the day before to look for something. Plan ahead. Buying the gift a couple of weeks out or even months out if that gives you piece of mind, it will save you a massive headache running around the shops on a day where you really don’t have the time. It might even help you find the perfect gift as you’ll have the time to research a gift or order something the person will love.
11. Get off your phone.
There’s nothing more distracting than a text notification going off or flashing in the corner of your eye. Once I see or hear it is hard to resist. Before I know it, I am just having a quick look and the will power is lost and more often than not I’ve lost my momentum and focus. I can’t count the number of times I unlocked my phone to do something only to hit the Facebook or Instagram app out of habit and realise minutes later that I’d completely forgotten to look at what I’d set out to do. We all probably spend a little too much time on social media and that’s fine in moderation. However, if you’re spending hours a day on social media sites without a specific goal, you might be able to reallocate some of that time to doing something more productive. When you have a deadline or something that requires you to focus, put your phone away, turn it on airplane mode or silent if you need to help reduce any potential distractions.
If your schedule is overloaded and you just can’t seem to get on top of things it might be time to consider delegating. If you are snowed under with housework ask your kids and partner to help out. Even if they all chipped in for 15 minutes a day or every now and then it could free up some much needed time in your schedule. Alternatively, consider getting outside help in. If you just don’t have time to clean, consider hiring a cleaner to come in once a week or fortnight. Would you prefer to get out with the family this weekend instead of spending the morning mowing the lawns? Consider hiring a local gardener to do them. When time is limited and you can’t get to the grocery store do an online shop and get it delivered. Some weeks are busier than others and there is no shame in asking for help.
13. Consider deleting things off your to do list.
If you seem to be carrying to do list tasks forward repeatedly ask yourself if that item is really all that important. Maybe in the grand scheme of things it’s just not as pressing to your life at this immediate time. Perhaps you really just don’t have the time to even think about it right now. You could always come back to it at a later time when you are less busy and more able to dedicate your time to that task.
How do you stay organised and productive? Comment with any tips you have found that work for you below.