A few weeks ago I stumbled on a simple system that takes time management and kicks its ass. Maybe it was the combination of euphoria and nerves after quitting my day job. Maybe it was the several old diapers I had found randomly left about the house… not in trash cans. I’m not sure.
All I know is that I found myself seriously pissed at the amount of clutter hanging around my house. Every surface had something on it. And, because everything was dirty…everything was dirty. And because everything was dirty my mind was cluttered too, which meant I was wasting time everywhere because I couldn’t wrap my head around how to do things efficiently…or effectively.
When I looked around I realized I could connect every single pile of crap with a specific event…and without permission, the creeping sensation that I had made an excuse for every single pile suddenly washed over me. And then again without warning, the realization that all of these piles of crap were the physical manifestation of the clutter in my head.
Son of a bitch.
But then, I started looking around and realized that if I could equate every single thing to a specific event, all I had to do was figure out why I hadn’t taken care of it in the first place…the same for the crap in my head.
What I found is that time management isn’t that hard, but it is an art. The beauty is that once you learn how to manage your time, it is stupidly easy to continue. In the beginning it takes some time to gain momentum. But after a few weeks of practice, you will wonder how you were getting anything done at all before.
And as an added bonus, managing your time effectively leads to improved relationships, an improved mood, and improved health. Do you know someone who always cancels plans at the last minute because of some emergency? How about someone who is always complaining because she doesn’t have enough time to do anything fun? How many times have you heard someone say they don’t have time to exercise?
The truth is, those people probably don’t have time to do those things. But it’s not because there isn’t enough time. It’s because they mismanage the time they do have. So, if you know someone who could use a little help with time management, make sure you share this post with them when you’re done reading.
I have been trying to eliminate all wasted time from my day. The following list is how I do it. Try it out. It will get easier with time. Eventually you won’t even have to think about it.
1. Take A Break
If your head is full of mental clutter and your house is full of physical clutter it can be difficult to focus on the things you need to focus on. But it’s not your fault. Imagine each piece of clutter as a thought in your head. It’s no wonder you can’t focus. How many thoughts are floating around in there? That’s a lot to think about at once.
So, take a break. Get out of the house. Get away from whatever is that is stressing you out (that means kids and husbands too if necessary). Just take some time to stop thinking about it all.
You may be thinking you can’t take a break because you don’t have any time…that’s why you’re reading this in the first place. But, your break doesn’t have to be a super long time, and you don’t have to go anywhere.
Go in your room by yourself. Go outside. Take a walk. Just find some time to be by yourself. If you can only find 5 minutes, that’s better than nothing. Take those 5 minutes or someone else will.
2. Stop Procrastinating
I have found a simple hack for procrastinating that has saved me at minimum 30 minutes a day… it’s hard to put an exact amount of time on it because it’s hard to know exactly how much time I was wasting before by procrastinating. But, I can tell you that with this simple hack I have very clearly noticed an increased amount of ‘free time’ because I’m not constantly playing catch up.
The hack is a two-step process.
Repeat this phrase over and over in your head.
Do it now.
Seriously, do it now. If it’s one pan that needs to be washed. Do it now. If it’s one load that needs to be folded. Do it now. Whatever ‘it’ is – just do it. Right. Now.
Do it even if you think you don’t have enough time. Do it even if you don’t want to.
It takes longer than 1 minute. In that case, decide whether or not you want to finish that task or set it aside for a later time.
I’ve found that most of my clutter (be it mental or physical) can be addressed and handled in one minute or less.
Seriously. I can’t believe how many things I was putting off that take even less than 1 minute… putting shoes in the closet. Taking care of breakfast dishes. The list goes on and on.
This process is easy. Start with step 1. Then add in step 2. Remember, you have to do both steps. If you skip step 1, you will find that your to-dos regularly take more than 1 minute because you have to account for all of the stuff that is in the way of you completing that task.
3. Schedule Enough Time
I have found that time management is quite often not actually about managing time, but scheduling time. I have a tendency to want to do everything that has ever been on any list I have ever made. All at once.
The problem is that this is impossible. But I have found that taking the time to write out an actual schedule for things helps prevent this problem. Quite often the issue isn’t that you’re too busy – it’s that you’re trying to cram 60 minutes worth of stuff into 45 minutes.
Do you know someone who is always 10 minutes late for school or work? It’s so consistently annoying. 10 minutes. Every day.
Here’s a tip for that person (assuming they want your help). Have them get out a blank sheet of paper and draw a vertical line down the center of it. On the left hand side have them write down everything that has to be done in order to get where they’re going . (So if they’re always late to work in the morning they would write down everything they do from the time they wake up until the time they arrive at work.)
Once they’re certain they have everything listed have them arrange it in chronological order. Then on the right hand side have them write down the time they want to arrive next to the last thing on the left hand list. (So if the last thing they do is arrive at work, then they would write down what time they need to be there).
Then have them work backwards from the end filling in times next to the corresponding tasks. When they are done the list should tell them everything they have to do, and when they have to do it in order to be on time. I recommend adding in a buffer. (I can’t tell you how big because it should be based on the specific activity you’re trying to accomplish and also your propensity to fall behind schedule. Budget accordingly.)
4. Schedule Everything
You know that nagging list of to-dos that never seems to get smaller? Updating your budget, calling your doctor, checking on insurance quotes, chores, errands, etc. To-dos quickly become to-don’ts.
One of the easiest ways to make sure they actually get done is to schedule them on your calendar. It’s easy to make tiny tasks seem big in our heads. So get them out of your head by putting them on a calendar for a specific time and date. Make sure you pick a time when it will actually get done (it makes no sense to schedule time to check on insurance quotes at 3 pm on a Thursday if you pick your kids up from school…at 3 pm.
5. Stack Tasks
Write down everything you have to get done and then group the list based on type of activity. Then order each group based on the most efficient way to get everything done.
For example, let’s say you have to go grocery shopping, get gas for the mower and mow the lawn, buy a gift for a friend, load the dishwasher, wash and fold the laundry, and make dinner. This list can be grouped into a) things that have to be done somewhere else and b) things that have to be done at home. Since you’ll probably need groceries and gas in order to make dinner and mow, it makes sense to go out first. Or does it?
Actually, it makes sense to load the dishwasher and start the first load of laundry right before you leave. By the time you get back the dishwasher and the washing machine will be done running. Bonus: the dishes will be clean so you won’t have to clean up before you make dinner.
Pick one pain point (stack of mail, laundry, dirty counters, bills, etc). Consider what the exact problem is (why are you avoiding that thing?) Implement a system to circumvent why you are avoiding that thing. A system is kindof like a rule, except it applies to actions instead of to people.
For example, if you always leave a stack of mail on the counter you could start applying the 1-minute rule to the mail. Once you bring it in the house, if it takes 1 minute or less, it has to be dealt with right then.
Next you test the system. The next time you bring in the mail, figure out if the 1 minute rule is working. (You’ll know it’s not if you leave the mail in a stack on the counter). If it’s not working, tweak the system. Keep doing this until the mail (or whatever your pain point is) is under control. Then focus on the next pain point.
6. Start Over
Once you have gone through this whole list, you will be tempted to take a break. Luckily, that is precisely what you should do. Go back to the beginning of the list. Start over.
This is how time management is achieved. By slowly and methodically making small changes that build up to big changes. It’s not that hard, but it does take persistence. You can do it. Just follow these six steps. And, if you know someone who could benefit from this article please share it with them by clicking on your favorite icon below.
When you’re done, comment below by telling me about a time when you felt like you could have used a lesson in time management. What happened? How did you respond? Can’t wait to hear what you have to say. I read every comment.