If you’re struggling with time management, at home or for work, this post is for you, courtesy of organizer Julie Morgenstern, author of Time Management from the Inside Out. She starts her book by asking readers to decide why they want to manage time better before she gives advice on how to manage time better. What is it you want more time for? Spending it with family? Friends? On self-care? To work on a passion project? Morgenstern say that keeping your motivation in mind will help you through the rough spots.
She also lists the reasons it might be so hard to get on top of tasks. She starts with timing. “One of the most common causes for not getting to important activities is that you haven’t set aside a specific time in which to do them. If you think you’ll pay bills or write a thank-you note when you are in the mood, think again. When you catch yourself thinking, “I’ll have fun, or pamper myself in my spare time,” stop! There is no such thing as spare time!”
If something is important, whether it’s paying bills, submitting your expense report, or going to the gym, you’ll have to schedule it. That goes for date night, self-care, and bedtime stories, too. Make a commitment on your calendar and stick to it.
It will be much easier if you schedule the task when it makes the most sense. Morgenstern writes, “If you’ve set aside time to do something but find yourself still not getting to it, it’s possible that you’ve set aside the wrong time. We all have unique energy and concentration cycles: Some of us are morning people; others are more energetic at night.” I’ve always been a morning person, so most of my best work gets done between 7:00 AM and noon. I never have the energy to work out later in the day, so since I’ve been working from home, I do my morning walk at first light. Then I’m energized and ready to get down to work.
I pay bills and do online banking one day a week, in the morning. I put everything in a basket on my desk as it arrives, and I don’t have to think about it until it’s time. My husband knows where to put his receipts so I can handle them all at once at my weekly scheduled time. I pay everything the week it comes in, since trying to juggle due dates was exhausting for me. Some bills get paid early, but it’s worth it to know I don’t have to try to remember them or handle them more than once. My online banking system makes it possible to schedule in advance or make recurring payments, which also takes pressure off my memory.
Following your natural energy cycles means you’ll have the ability to focus on what needs to get done. But if you’re not completing tasks, it may be that you’re miscalculating how long the work will take. Morgenstern says, “Most people are very unrealistic about what they can accomplish in a day. If the time required to complete your to-dos exceeds the time you have available, you simply won’t get to it all and will end up feeling frustrated and demoralized.”
Once you identify the steps it takes to do a task, you can start to estimate time more accurately. Good time managers calculate how long things take and build the time they need into their schedules. Most people who struggle with time management use wishful thinking as their guide for how long it will take to do a task. But hope is not a strategy.
Once you get real about time, you can make a conscious choice to avoid getting caught in a time trap of your own making.