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Like many people, I have big goals when it comes to time management. I WANT to be one of those people who reads 100 books a year and publishes three novels a year AND runs an active blog…who checks her social media notifications and promptly closes the tab 5 minutes later…but I’m not at that point yet. Like I said in my mission statement, I don’t pretend to have all the answers. I’m very much a work-in-progress.
However, recently I’ve discovered some resources that have significantly helped me to make better use of my days. This has also impacted my overall sense of well-being. When you schedule your time effectively, you’ll no longer be watching your days slip by, wondering where all the hours went.
Instead, you’ll be living your life with a renewed sense of purpose. At the end of each day, you’ll have at least one accomplishment to be proud of.
To plan or not to plan?
Over the years, I’ve gone back and forth on using planners. Here are the downsides:
1. Disrupts the spontaneity of life. I’d often feel like a robot checking off little boxes.
2. You get bogged down in the minutiae of planning. Then you think, “Wait, I could have spent all that time actually doing the things on the list and been finished in half the time!”
3. Overwhelm. Now, I adore the Reminders app. I love how you can create different categories for tasks using color-coding, the ease with which you can create new tasks, and the way when you complete an item, you click a button and it disappears, giving you an instant rush of accomplishment.
But the problem is that you can quickly get ahead of yourself. The last time I checked, I had 13 lists, some over 2 years old, all at various stages of incompleteness. In her article Stop Thinking and Start Doing, Julie Hage suggests that dividing your list into categories such as “health, home, family, etc.” is a “recipe for overwhelm, indecision, and failure.”
My solution was to ditch scheduling altogether.
“I don’t need a planner,” I told myself. “I know what I’m supposed to be doing anyway. I’ve never forgotten appointments or deadlines.”
And it’s true that I’m good about remembering deadlines. But what I’m NOT good about is completing things that don’t have deadlines.
Things like my blog posts and my fiction. Yes, it helps being a member of Facebook groups with regularly-scheduled days where members can share their blog posts. Or entering fiction contests. These can at least get you on a regular schedule.
But still, I don’t have an editor or hordes of devoted fans breathing down my neck, asking me when my latest piece is going to be finished. Hence, I wouldn’t always prioritize my writing.
I would get to the end of the week with no finished articles and without making significant progress on my fiction.
That’s when I realized that scheduling your time is an act of empowerment…of taking control of your life
Time is tricky. When left to its own devices, it has a way of slipping through your fingers.
The simple act of scheduling a task, though, is taking the power back. It’s elevating that task from the nebulous, “maybe if time permits” category, to something definite and concrete.
If you’re self-employed or freelancing, you understand the importance of managing your time wisely. And if you’re working full-time while pursuing passion projects on the side…well, time is even MORE precious!
The best planners for managing your long-term projects and scheduling daily tasks
So far, I’ve found the daily, weekly, and monthly planners offered by Productive Flourishing to be the most effective while also eliminating shortcomings I’ve found with other planners. They’re also completely free!
What I like about the monthly planner is that it gives you room to map out the big picture yet it’s also simple and flexible. After all, trying to plan out every detail of your month in advance can be overwhelming and a waste of time, since plans will inevitably change.
This planner is good for two main purposes:
- Big projects with deadlines far in the future. Yes, the ones we tend to procrastinate on. By dividing these projects into weekly chunks, we alleviate stress both in the present (from the looming deadline) and the future (when we suddenly realize the deadline is two days away and we’ve barely started).
- Big projects with NO deadline (other than the one you create for yourself!). For instance, I want to build a new website strictly devoted to natural health. I know from experience that website creation is a big undertaking, so I have divided it into brainstorming topics, finding a domain, etc. Otherwise, I would probably keep putting the project off from sheer overwhelm.
The weekly planner allows you to hone in on the projects listed on the monthly planner, tightening your focus.
You might want to designate certain days of the week for specific activities. For instance, Monday could be “SEO day.” Although my weekly schedule changes, I typically write my blog post rough drafts on Wednesday, edit the draft on Thursday, and write my fiction newsletter on Saturdays.
I especially like that there are columns both for “planned time” and “actual time,” since these two tend to differ (drastically, in my case)!
The daily planner is pretty self-explanatory, but this has been my experience with it:
- I love that you can only list 5 projects. This curbs my impulse to be overly ambitious and list 20 things. Sometimes I would cheat by listing two projects on one line, but I quickly realized that was counterproductive.
- The “supporting tasks” is only necessary for complex projects with multiple parts. Writing a blog post, for instance, is not just writing but also keyword research, editing, finding photos, etc.
- I also found that rating the “energy levels” usually isn’t necessary, but when scheduling, I do alternate high energy activities (like writing) with low energy ones (like Pinterest). As Shawn of PBS Market points out in this article on work from home tips, it’s also essential to take breaks. With no set schedule, it’s easy to keep working late into the night when we’re absorbed in a task, which leads to burnout.
- I never finish activities within the time blocks I set up. I haven’t decided whether a better solution is to allow myself more time when scheduling (realistically, double the time blocks) or to set a timer and move on to the next activity when the time is up. Maybe this will force me to be more efficient. I guess it depends on the activity. Which brings me to my next point…
A note on timer usage
We’ve all experienced how time slips into a blackhole when we check our email or Facebook. To combat this, I’ve started setting timers for 10 or 15 minutes whenever I engage in these activities.
But we all know social media is a time waster. What about “wholesome” activities?
Like most people, I’m not in love with chores. But once I get started, I become engrossed and time flies. My mom still teases me about how it takes me forever to wash dishes.
Luckily, Shailaja V. has the perfect solution: Put on your favorite song (preferably one that’s about 10 minutes) and move on to your next task when the song is over. I love how this both saves time and alleviates the boredom that normally accompanies chores!
What else happens when you schedule your time effectively?
Of course, good time management allows you to more quickly accomplish your goals. But it also helps you to:
1. Become a more well-rounded person.
Are your shelves filled with books you’ve been “meaning to” read for years now? Schedule those, too!
I’ve made a point to include both fiction and personal development books in my schedule. This can also apply to movies you’ve been meaning to see, hobbies you’ve wanted to pick up for years, places you long to visit, etc.
2. Become a more considerate person.
Just as committing to our goals can be difficult when there is no external pressure (i.e. an angry boss), we often fail to follow through on our commitments to others for the same reason.
With good intentions, we might promise a friend to review her book or give feedback on a short film. But in the absence of a strict deadline–especially if the friend politely says, “Any time is fine”–these promises often fade to dust.
Scheduling these commitments, however, ensures we follow through. It earns us more respect from others and in turn gives us more confidence in ourselves. After all, if we can keep our promises to others, we can also keep the ones we make to ourselves!
As you know, though, effective time management extends beyond keeping a schedule
Writer and speaker Brian Tracy has been my biggest influence when it comes to conquering procrastination, better prioritizing tasks, and eliminating the biggest time wasters. His free ebook alone has helped me make huge strides in my productivity! Check out his resources on time management here.
Tell me below: What is one time management technique that has worked particularly well for you? Or which of my tips resonated most with you?