Time management: do the things you actually want to do

Except if we end up inventing time travel, we need to accept the fact that there are only 24 hours in a day. In order to achieve our goals, we need to be smart about how we allocate our time to different tasks and activities. In the 1970s, using the ABC method of time management was all the rage. Action items that were deemed the most important ended up in the first bucket, then medium priority items in the second bucket, and so on. But our lives and the work landscape have both changed a lot, so we end up with a never-ending list of items in the first bucket.

What is urgent is often different from what is truly important. Short-term and long-term goals do not always align. What’s expected from you and what you actually want to do are not always the same. So how do you manage your time efficiently so you can achieve what matters to you while attending to your responsibilities?

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How to take control of your schedule

I asked readers what they wanted me to write about, and what came up most often is how I manage my time. How do I write one article a day, while managing a business, and being a part-time masters student? Do I still have time to hangout with my friends and family? Can I share any tips around time management?

This article is an attempt at explaining the way I manage my time as well as some actionable tips you can use to make your schedule more efficient and aligned with your long-term goals. To make it more practical, here is a screenshot of my actual calendar which I just took right now as I’m writing this:

As this mixes client projects, personal stuff, and literally everything I want to do in a given week, not all of it will make sense to you, but there are a few overarching rules I have when using my calendar:

  • Everything goes in there. This means—beside work meetings—quick calls with friends that live in another country, time to think, dinner parties, networking events, gym time, study time, reading time, and even taking breaks.
  • I make time for the things that matter, and not the other way around. I always take a few minutes at the beginning of the week to ensure I have time for the few key goals I’m working towards. At the moment, these are this blog, the mindframing course I’m creating, my neuroscience masters, and taking care of my health. So I block time for these things, make sure to move them if there are any overlapping meetings that were added by clients, and feel good about knowing that I’ll have time for the things that matter.
  • I say “no” or “let’s do this in a few weeks” a lot. If something is not important and not related to my current goals, I either say no or ask if it’s alright to chat about it in a few weeks. More often than not, people don’t follow up, and that’s an hour I save for things I want to work on.

I’m also pretty flexible with how much I actually do for each scheduled task. If I ended up working longer with a client and don’t have time to go to the gym anymore, I’ll still try and fit a quick 15-minute run around the block instead. If I don’t have time to write a whole article because I’m spending the day at a conference, I’ll try and write a couple of paragraphs on my phone on my way there. This only works because I block time for the things that matter.

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5 time management techniques

Time management is not just about managing your calendar. It’s also about managing your energy levels, your relationships, and much more. Here are a few tips you can use to make your scheduling more efficient.

  1. Get enough sleep. We tend to sacrifice rest in order to get more done. Well, that just doesn’t work. Research shows that being sleep deprived negatively affects your performance. It’s harder to focus and harder to switch between tasks when you’re tired.
  2. Plan ahead. While planning may not impact how well you perform, studies found that it does impact your ability to actually execute. By taking the time to plan and commit to doing certain things, you are more likely to do them.
  3. Avoid multitasking. Constantly switching between tasks has a terrible effect on attention. Pick one thing and stay focused instead. Remove distractions by putting your phone in another room and turning off notifications on your laptop.
  4. Create mindful routines. Think about the times of the day where you feel more productive. Are you more of an early bird or a night owl? Schedule your time accordingly, with the most important tasks happening when you’re at your highest performance levels. (this is one I’m struggling with, as I’m more of a night owl but also love hanging out with friends after work)
  5. Take breaks. It’s easy to fill your calendar with lots of things to do, without taking the time to let your brain recharge. Spend some time alone, go take a walk, meditate—whatever rocks your boat, as long as it involves getting away from your laptop and your phone. And put these breaks in your calendar!

There are lots of more tool-oriented tips such as using the Pomodoro technique, but I found that they don’t really matter if you don’t get these fundamentals right. Being rested, planning ahead, avoiding multitasking, knowing yourself, and taking breaks—these are all essential aspects of time management if you want to achieve your long-term goals.

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