What Is Time Management?
You’ve probably heard that time management is about maximizing your schedule so you can get more done in less time. Or maybe it’s about striving for work-life balance. But let’s take it a step further: The true goal of time management is to spend your time doing what’s most important to you.
You see, too many of us live with a gap between what we care about and what we spend our time on. We say our family is top priority, but our work calendar sure doesn’t show it. We say we want to get into shape, but we fail to plan even one run or workout for the week. Time management is about aligning the way we spend our time with what we care about the most.
Why Is Time Management Important?
Time management is important because, if we’re not careful, we all end up going from one type of busyness to another. It’s a never-ending hamster wheel of activity. And the problem is, we end up missing the true joy and meaning and beauty of our lives—ignoring the people and the purposes that make our lives fulfilling. By trying to do too much, we end up not doing much that even matters to us.
But practicing time management will help you:
Enjoy your time and live intentionally
The problem isn’t the amount of time we have—the problem is how we use it. We all have a set amount of time: seven days a week, 24 hours a day. And yet we still can’t figure out how to fit everything in.
We make the same mistake with our calendars. We think we just need more time. But the reality is, time management is about choosing what’s most important and being willing to cut out what’s not. Then, once you’ve made time for what’s important, you need to be present for it. You can have the most perfect schedule in the world, but if you’re always focused on where you’re not, you miss it. When you’re at work, be at work. When you’re going on a walk with your kids, be all there. When you’re on the phone with a friend, lean in and listen. Wherever you are, be there. You’ll not only spend your time on what was important to you, but you’ll actually get to experience and enjoy it.
When you set boundaries around your time, you force yourself to spend your time better. The quality of your work increases when you’re spending your time on purpose. So, scheduling out your time will help you be more efficient in the long run.
Have you ever woken up with all sorts of lists and aspirations and goals, and almost every evening you put your head on the pillow with an even longer list. Chasing a finish line that’s always moving gets pretty exhausting. Being overcommitted, scattered and rushed will create unnecessary stress in your life. Your mental, physical, emotional and spiritual health will all take a toll. And if you’re not careful, it will eventually lead to burnout.
On the flip side, though, managing your time well can lead to higher productivity, more focus and less stress about being overcommitted because you’ve learned how to say no and protect your time.
6 Time-Management Tips to Help Improve Your Life
We all want to live an intentional, efficient and low-stress life. But how do we actually get there? Here are six time-management tips that will help you spend your life doing what’s most important to you.
1. Positive self-talk
As cheesy as it may sound, good time management skills start from within. Psychologists have discovered that the way we perceive ourselves has a profound impact on how we act—if you label yourself as “having poor self-control” or being “bad at time management,” that can function as a self-fulfilling prophecy. In fact, self-perception makes such a big difference that sometimes identity precedes behavior. This applies to many domains in life. Want to read more books? Start calling yourself a reader. Want to boost your physical fitness? Start referring to yourself as an athlete. If you begin to start thinking of yourself as “organized” or “good at managing your time,” chances are, you’ll start to act like someone who has good time management skills.
It can be hard to know how to improve your time management skills if you can’t identify what your problem areas are. If you’re unsure of where to start, we recommend trying an experiment: For a week, log every hour you spend at work, school, or whatever area of life you are trying to manage. You can do this in a dedicated time tracking app, or simply in a spreadsheet or notebook. For each block of time you spend working on a task, make note of what you were doing and any distractions or interruptions that arose. Don’t try to change your behavior or routine just yet—simply observe what happens. At the end of the week, review your log. How did it go? What issues did you notice? Review the other skills on this list and see if there’s anything you can work on improving.
This will make it easier to slip into a deep work state more easily when you’re there. And once you leave that space, your brain will register the shift as permission to relax into your evening or weekend, making it easier to power down and resist the urge to overwork.
Feel like you never make progress on your to-do list? You’re not alone. Writing a to-do list might make you feel organized, but it’s probably less helpful than you think. That’s because a list provides an overview of everything you have to accomplish, but doesn’t force you to make a plan on how you’re going to achieve it. Without a game plan, it’s easy to feel unsure of where to start, or fall into common productivity pitfalls like focusing primarily on your most urgent tasks and neglecting non-urgent but important ones.
Instead of creating a to-do list, sort all your tasks into the four boxes based on their urgency and importance. Focus the majority of your attention on the urgent and important box, but don’t forget to schedule time to complete non-urgent but important tasks—ideally sooner rather than later.
Being able to prioritize your tasks is a great first step, but your projects don’t exist in a vacuum. Learning to prioritize can help you know what to work on, but it doesn’t help you with when. You have lots of things vying for your attention and without that context, it can be difficult to make meaningful progress on important tasks. That’s where your need to put your organization skills into practice.
Many people find it helpful to keep a daily timeboxed schedule to organize their work. Timeboxing is the act of assigning specific blocks of time on your calendar to different tasks. This strategy is effective because it puts your work in context of deadlines and other commitments, forces you to think critically about which tasks to prioritize, and most importantly, helps you set an implementation intention—a plan for how and when you’ll complete your most important tasks.
5. Healthy boundaries
Practice saying no to the things that steal your time or don’t align with your goals. And actually practice saying no—like, “No, I will not watch Netflix because I’m choosing to finish these house chores.” Or “No, I can’t take on this extra project at work because it’s important to be home in time for dinner so I can spend time with my kids.”
Say it out loud and practice in front of your mirror or dog or friend. Really, try it! You don’t have to sign up for every potluck or volunteer opportunity or have a coffee date with a friend every day of the week.
While it may not be the first thing you think of when it comes to good time management skills, mindfulness plays a huge role in managing distraction. People with strong mindfulness skills are able to pay attention to their thoughts, recognize when they’re veering off-task, and gently pull their attention back. Practice meditation or try this simple mindfulness exercise to help you get better at managing distraction.
- Pause and notice your emotions. When you notice yourself feeling distracted, pause and take a moment to consider what preceded this feeling. Often, distraction is a reaction to discomfort. You might be feeling anxious about a deadline, worrying about your skill level, or simply craving a snack.
- Write down the trigger. Make note of the time of day, what you were doing, and how you felt when you noticed the internal trigger that led to feeling distracted.
- Explore your sensations. How did you feel before you got the urge to give into a distraction? Did you notice any physical symptoms, like a tightening in your chest? Make note of these as well.
- Surf the urge. Try sitting with the discomfort using the “ten-minute rule”: Tell yourself you can give in to the distraction (if you still want it) in ten minutes. This allows you to grow accustomed to the discomfort and see if it will pass. Often it will disappear, but if it persists, it may be a sign that you need to pay closer attention to the discomfort. Maybe you feel an anxious pull to do more reading because you haven’t completed enough research before starting a new project. Either way, sitting with the urge for a few minutes provides you with valuable internal intel.