Michael is an avid content writer and researcher on various topical subjects, including personal development and wellbeing.
Do you find yourself constantly juggling so many activities and responsibilities that you feel trapped, desperate that there isn't enough time in a day to take care of everything that needs to be done? If this describes your situation, then you need to take a few steps back from all the hustle and bustle and begin to carefully examine the fundamentals.
Many today feel confronted and overwhelmed by distractions and competing deadlines on a daily basis such that they are unable to complete the tasks they had planned to before the day is over. Needless to say, becoming skilled in time management is critical to progress in every level including personal development.
It's not always that we do not already know the importance of scheduling our time properly and organizing our day such that we are accountable. The challenge is that events that take place in the course of a typical day are often unpredictable, especially when you have additional responsibilities aside from your career.
Whatever obstacles you have faced and however your situation may be currently, below are some tips that you can begin applying today that will help you optimize the use of your time as a parent and become more productive.
Remember the way that you're going to become effective in time management is by combining your knowledge with experience. The more you practice, the more your time management skills will grow.
No matter how you look at it, each of us has the same 24 hours in every day. This is irrespective of our race, rank, intelligence, or bank account balance. It is the same 24 hours for everyone.
Much may be said concerning successful people, but one thing they have in common is that they are deliberately careful with how they spend their time. We all have the same 24 hours, so it stands to reason that the critical difference lies in how wisely we use our time.
In this article, we will cover some of the ways in which you can become much more productive by effectively managing your time.
14 Vital Skills and Strategies for Time Management
- Rise to the Occasion.
- Assess the situation.
- Maintain a schedule.
- Take notes.
- Prioritize your tasks.
- Set limits.
- Identify and eliminate time wasters.
- Control your thoughts.
- Stick to the plan.
- Find your most convenient setting.
- Consolidate similar tasks.
- Become organized.
- Delegate responsibilities.
- Simplify your life.
We all have the same 24 hours. The critical difference lies in how we use them.
1. Rise to the Occasion
Before you can implement anything, you need to start with yourself. Your body, mind, soul and spirit need to be in the right state before the day begins. This will make the process of time management easier. It is difficult to achieve effectiveness and productivity if you are unprepared or your personal life is out of balance.
During sleep, your mind and body are in a state of immobility and this can be up to 8 hours, depending on how much time you are in bed. It is reasonable to conclude that one is not exactly in an optimal state immediately they wake up after being immobile for so long. There has to be a proper transition phase from sleep to full wakefulness and alertness in all our intellectual and physiological faculties.
Lethargy in the course of the day may actually have nothing to do with the schedules we are trying to keep and the deadlines we are trying to meet. It may have everything to do with the completion of this intermediate phase between sleep and wakefulness.
We live in an age of convenience and so a lot of people look for a quick-fix solution to their grogginess. It is why we turn to stimulants like tea and coffee, though these may not always be the best option. The problem with any form of addiction is not just the side effects, but the fact that one has to keep consuming increasing amounts in order to get to the same level. At whichever time of the day the effect begins to wear off, there is a hurry to the kitchen to set the cycle in motion again!
There is another way. The mind and body can be trained to be fully fresh and alert internally, without depending on external stimulation. I believe this to be the healthy alternative. Drinking coffee may chemically induce the brain, but what of the complex network of systems in your body that have been lying dormant for 7-8 hours? In my personal experience, one thing I have found very useful in jumpstarting the brain and reactivating the body after waking up, is physical exercise followed by a shower. Prayer and meditation at this time also makes a difference.
If we are going to be effective time managers, we have to begin by managing ourselves first. If you tend to lack energy and feel weighed down or lethargic during the course of the day, this will negatively affect how you use your time since it will typically take you much longer to complete tasks. It is possible for your entire physiology to be stimulated (not just your brain) in such a way that you have sufficient clarity to process what needs to be done.
You need to be fully fresh, energetic and alert to make the most of your day. So adopt a healthy and revitalizing way of starting each day. This is how you wipe the slate clean and prepare your internal systems to engage properly with the day's demands. Not only that, the routine will set the trend and enable you to remain strong and active throughout the day. Don't hesitate to give it a go!
2. Assess the Situation
To begin with, you need to stop and take inventory of how you have been using your time lately. This is a personal self-assessment that will give you a picture of exactly how you use this irreplaceable resource.
You may have noticed that your day seems to slip by rather quickly. Before you know it, the 24 hours are gone, and you have hardly been able to achieve what you set out to do. If so, you need to start logging your daily activities.
Once you identify the activities that occupy your time, you will be able to isolate and focus on those that yield the most returns. Sit down and calculate how much time you spend on each task right from the moment you wake up.
So how do you go about tracking your time? There are useful apps available that you can download to help you track your time each day. For more information, check out this list of the 10 best time tracking apps of 2020.
3. Maintain a Schedule
Prepare a simple template that you can fill in with the tasks that need to be done for each particular day. This to-do list needs to split into categories: personal activities, family activities, business activities, and so on.
It is necessary to break down big projects into smaller, actionable tasks so that they are not so intimidating and are easier to complete.
One major root cause of burnout and despair is allowing the day to simply 'happen'. We go through it passively. This is how we find ourselves later overwhelmed with responsibilities and unable to keep up.
The key is not to wait until it is too late for anything to be done about the situation we are in. If we allow the day to progress through its course without becoming positively proactive, we may find ourselves too swamped to make rational decisions or take practical action.
Wake up at least one hour earlier than usual and use the time to plan properly. In other words, create the protocol before the day begins. Set the standard right at the beginning - the standard of time management that will be carried throughout the day. Clarify in your mind the responsibilities that need to be taken care of and the level of commitment required for each.
Let this become your habit. Avoid brainstorming and trying to figure everything out at the last minute. Always plan ahead instead of waiting for things to happen. Your ability to organize yourself is significant. Have everything organized prior to stepping out of the house, irrespective of whether it is for a shopping trip, to visit someone, or to attend an event.
Time management is something that develops with practice. It's like someone going to the gym for the first time. They may desire to lift the heaviest of weights, but the reality is that their muscles are not there yet right now.
4. Take Notes
As long as you're not doing something delicate like feeding an infant or driving a vehicle having a notebook and a pen by you at all times can be quite resourceful. It is necessary to have a way of gathering your thoughts together and putting them down as notes.
External interruptions and distractions can easily veer you off the path you have set and bring you into a completely different state of mind. Therefore having a notebook and a pen with you at all times will help you ensure you are on track consistently and do not forget key points.
Develop a habit of jotting down ideas that come to mind in the course of the day, whether it is a better way of doing a certain chore, a phone call that you are required to make or a household item that is running out and needs to be included in your next shopping. Avoid situations where you are making multiple trips back and forth because of things that you forgot. This is even more important if you are enrolled in a course or building your own work-from-home business.
If you are a work-from-home parent for example, have your notebook by your side when you power up the computer. Jot down in advance exactly what you intend to accomplish when you go online. The list will help you safeguard against unexpected distractions that may pop up in the form of emails or from acquaintances who have just seen you online and are trying to reach out to you.
5. Prioritize Your Tasks
If you feel you always have more to do than the hours there are in a day, then you need to prioritize. Arranging tasks according to their priority will enable you to devote time to the issues that matter the most in your life.
Here you can perform some experiments until you find the arrangement that works best for you. With document processing software, you can use colour coding to distinguish the categories in their order of priority.
Alternatively, you could simply label them as A, B, and C activities, with A being the top priority tasks, B the moderate priority tasks, and C being the lowest priority tasks.
Analyze the activities that you spend your time on during your working hours. Does each one of these activities really pay off in terms of return on time invested (ROTI)? If it is a business activity that does not directly lead to profitability, you could do some research and find ways of automating the process so that you can focus your attention more on what is actually profitable for you and your family.
When determining how to prioritize the tasks, you need to ask yourself the following questions:
- Which tasks need to be done today?
- Which tasks can be rescheduled?
- Which tasks can be delegated?
- Which tasks are central to my personal goals?
- Which tasks can be eliminated?
The average person has approximately 70,000 thoughts per day. If you are going to get things done in your life, you will need to address the battlefield in the mind.
6. Set Limits
Realize that you do not have to consent to everything or everyone's requests. Learn to say no. If your to-do list is way too long, it is likely that there are things that you are devoting your time to that are dispensable.
Become firm in your resolve and establish clear boundaries in your life. Before you agree or consent to something, ask yourself the following questions:
- Do I truly have the capacity and time to deal with this?
- Is it going to be profitable?
- Is it in line with my priorities, mission, and goals?
- What would be the cost of not doing this task?
Having a timer around the house or workplace can help you in your efforts to organize yourself. Use a timer to monitor and limit the period that you need to perform your daily activities like going through your emails, cooking a meal, running errands like shopping, or cleaning the house. This will also help you plan exactly how much time is required for each task in advance so that you are in control of what needs to be done and when.
Setting a limit is not only required for the periods spent on tasks. You need to set a limit on yourself. Avoid overwhelming yourself with activities that are beyond your ability to manage. Indeed, you do need to seize control of your day, but you don't have to completely overload yourself in the process.
Remember that having a balanced life is key to managing time effectively. Get enough rest when the time comes for you to sleep. If there is something that needs to be done and there are people trying to place too many responsibilities on you, open up and communicate with them concerning the limits you have set and why effectiveness is important for you.
Time management is something that develops with practice. It's like someone going to the gym for the first time. They may desire to lift the heaviest weights, but the reality is that their muscles are not there yet.
Exercise is something they will need to do on a regular basis in order to develop the capacity to lift the heaviest weights or perform more advanced aerobics. None of these will be possible during the first week at the gym. Strength and competence only come about through patience, discipline and consistency in practice.
The same applies to developing time management skills. This is not something that will materialize in your life all at once simply because you have made the decision to start on this road. You will need to be consistent and your actions repetitive. Your mind will then develop the capacity required and your body the strength and commitment to maintain that discipline.
7. Identify and Eliminate Time Wasters
Time wasters are activities that are not on your priority list and add little to no value. These usually come in the form of interruptions like unimportant calls, emails, gossipy visitors and so on.
Many people who complain of not having enough hours in a day to accomplish what needs to be done are also unconscious of how much time they are losing on the TV, social media, etc. Instead of mindlessly going through the hours of the day, be conscious of your time wasters.
Identify and deal with them in advance instead of allowing them to simply pop up and interrupt your schedule. Use your past experiences to help you anticipate any potential time-wasters and record them in your notebook.
Once you are armed with advance awareness of what is likely to happen, you are able to plan ahead and put in place what is required to block them. In other words, you have a prepared strategy, instead of allowing them to randomly steal away your day.
If you have blocked off a certain period of time, activate voice messaging on your phone even if you are at home so that whoever calls can leave a message instead of you always reaching for the phone whenever it rings.
If it is a friend or neighbor who would like to gossip about the latest, or take you to an event, explain to them that you're presently busy. If they really care about you as true friends they'll be able to understand whenever you need to block off some time to focus on your tasks.
Once you have set your mind on a particular task it is important to work on it thoroughly until you complete it. Stay with it from the beginning to the end, without giving in to interruptions. Become systematic in your approach to work. Complete one activity before moving onto the next. Practicing this will also help improve your mindset and other qualities you need in your role.
Everywhere you turn today, there are time suckers. Distractions abound. Stop and consider for a moment the unexpected things that occur in your everyday life that are unplanned and consume your time.
It could be anything ranging from emails and text messages on your phone to unplanned social encounters. You can resist this trend by ensuring that you turn off your email when working. If a family member or friend gives you a social call, politely ask them if you could return the call at a later time.
Interruptions can be disruptive when you are working on time management, especially when those interruptions are neither urgent nor important. Here is where you need to practice the discipline of sticking to a task from start to finish. If something else comes up that needs to be taken care of, note it down in your list, and continue working on the project or task at hand.
8. Control Your Thoughts
Not all distractions are external, however. Many of them are internal and have to do with our thought life. It can sometimes feel like your own mind is conspiring against you and sabotaging your efforts.
You may be trying hard to devote your attention to a task, but then thoughts concerning something that happened in the past, or some awful news you have recently received, or an emotional exchange you had with someone, creep in and derail you from your goal.
The average person has approximately 70,000 thoughts per day. If you are going to get things done in your life, you will need to manage your mind. Whenever you find yourself dwelling on a distractive train of thought instead of focusing on your project, immediately stop and ask yourself:
Is this thought relevant? Is this thought useful?
Practice doing this and you will notice that it will be easy to eliminate distracting thoughts and refocus your attention on what really counts in the present time.
Arranging tasks according to their priority will enable you to devote time to the issues that matter the most in your life.
9. Stick to the Plan
This is so important that it needs a section of its own. Once you have created your time management strategy, you need to stay true to it no matter what happens.
Realize that plenty of people who are not interested in managing their time will have emergencies that they will expect you to deal with. In other words, things go wrong in their lives due to their mismanagement of time, then they turn around and want you to fix the problem.
Learn to differentiate between what a true emergency is and what is simply going to set you back. Assign yourself deadlines for the projects that you have in your list and organize yourself to meet those deadlines. When distractions occur, have a filtering system in place to avoid wasting time.
One important principle of being organized is to make sure that you always have a routine and you stick to it. This may be easier said than done, but it is very possible for you. Actually, once you have an established routine as a daily practice, it will be easier for everyone else around the home or workplace to organize themselves around it. The more consistent you are, the more those around you will recognize where your values lie and how important time management really is for their own lives as well.
10. Find Your Most Convenient Setting
When going through the activities that you have planned for the day, perform the tasks that require the highest level of thinking at the time when you are freshest.
Are you most productive in the morning, or are you a night owl? Schedule your plan such that you will be able to deal with the most demanding tasks when you are most productive.
Ensure the space you designate for your work that is clear of all clutter and distractions. As far as possible, the setting should have an inspiring feel that motivates you to create results with your time.
11. Consolidate Similar Tasks
Review the list that you have created. If there are activities which are similar in nature, or belong in the same sub-category, group these together and do them in one sequence.
This will actually save you more time shifting in between various tasks in the sub-categories, and you will be able to process your activities faster.
When you combine tasks in this way, your brain will find it easier to navigate through them. Over time, you will start conditioning yourself to work systematically, as opposed to the common scatterbrained approach to life that is so prevalent in our modern age.
This is also known as 'adopting the assembly line' mentality. As you plan for the day's activities, look for the tasks that are similar and can be accomplished in the same time interval. As much as possible, try to find ways in which you will be able to combine activities together so that they can be done together.
If you are on the computer and answering an email, use the opportunity to answer all the emails in that single interval instead of leaving some for later. Clump your responsibilities together in such a way that you are able to process them at the same time.
If you are studying a course or catching up on a report, use free text-to-speech apps to read out entire notes and resource materials to you while you work around the house and when you drive. You could actually record and save all your documents in audio format beforehand using freeware, such that all you need to carry around with you is a digital audio player. This could also be done with your smartphone.
12. Be Organized
When everything is in its right place, you save time and make room to concentrate on the task at hand. Personal organization varies from one person to another, because we are not all the same when it comes to how we approach situations.
This is why employees in a company may feel trapped and stifled to counterproductive levels when management implements a blanket organizational process that is too specific and does not allow them to establish their own rhythm.
So how can we become organized in our personal lives?
A lot of time in our day is spent in various forms of communication. One way to be organized is to arrange your phone lists or contacts into groups and label them according to how you use them, for example: family, relatives, friends, coworkers, and so on.
Group your emails into categories and create folders for each. If you regularly receive a lot of emails from certain sources, it would be best to set up an inbox rule that automatically transfers all such messages into the relevant folders. Instead of using multiple calendars or planners to track work appointments, other events, and meetings, schedule them all in one.
As stated before, declutter your workspaces to ensure nothing impairs your concentration. Make a habit of preparing everything you need for the day the previous evening before retiring.
When you manage your time properly, you will accomplish more with less effort. Never allow time to simply slip by. Rather, take charge and control.
Become selective in how you spend your time. Devote your focus to the activities that are in tune with your vision and goals.
It will not be easy at first, but the more you get into the habit of monitoring, measuring, and managing your time, the more you will begin to see successful results in your life. The rewards will be worth the efforts.
Decluttering and organization in both workplace and home is not just important for order or hygienic reasons. It saves you time. Those precious moments of a typical day lost due to misplaced items that have to be searched for and no one seems to trace are irrecoverable.
13. Delegate Responsibilities
Setting your priorities straight is critical when it comes to time management. After you have set up your priorities and categorized them in order of importance or significance, you need to look for ways of dealing with the tasks that are not topmost on your list. One such way is delegating.
Ask yourself if there are tasks that you could delegate to your others. There is a partnership in a workplace as well as in a family and network of friends, so avoid having to shoulder the entire burden on your own. Focus instead on methods you could use to distribute responsibilities such that you are not overwhelmed.
This requires empathetic communication. Plan and organize with those in your support network on how best to share responsibilities. Take into account their unique strengths and talents and put these into constructive use. Determine what is best suited for each assistant based on his or her competencies. Not everyone can perform every role perfectly, so you need to be sensitive and have a conversation before deciding what is best suited for who.
You could also consider hiring a virtual assistant to help you with your online business. Outsourcing your responsibilities as much as possible as a work-from-home parent will enable you to become better at time management. Even your children can be included in your business as a way of training them to take responsibility and learn how to become resourceful and how to generate income.
The more you get into the habit of monitoring, measuring, and managing your time, the more you will begin to see successful results in your life. The rewards will be worth the efforts.
14. Simplify Your Life
One of the biggest obstacles to proper time management is the fact that people lead such complex lives. They insist on living like this despite the fact that it is neither required of them nor is it necessary. They endeavor as much as possible to keep up with everybody else, especially those whom they deem successful. The inevitable end result is a complicated life.
There is no proper or effective time management without simplicity. Simplicity is key to time management. The more complex your life the harder it will be to manage your time. That is just the fact of the matter and the brutal reality. There is not enough of you to cover all the bases if you are engaged in a complex lifestyle. The problem is that your attention is scattered in so many directions there is simply not enough time to take care of stuff before the day is over.
Again, the solution is to simplify your life. Simplification will mean and require different things for different people. For some it will mean going through the house, identifying and getting rid of all the items that are unnecessary, including clothes, electronics, furniture, toys, utensils. These can either be sold off or donated. You'd be surprised at how much reducing what you own can improve your ability to manage and save time.
Life is too short to be vain or extravagant. Comparing ourselves with others is one way to fuel vanity and a complex lifestyle that we do not need and one that is a wasteful drain on our time. Envying others for what they have and trying to emulate them is actually irrational because we are not even sure of the true source of their wealth. Underneath the surface, they could be nose-deep in credit card debt, engaged in illegitimate business deals, or worse. Learn to approach every situation with a simple mindset.
Michael Duncan (author) from Germany on December 12, 2019:
Thanks for the nice feedback (no excuse required - pun is humorous!). True, the transition into a new year is not without new challenges, a lot of which bear upon our ability to manage ourselves effectively while confronted with competing deadlines. But as you state, with practice and determination, we pull through. Thanks again for dropping by and I wish you the best as we transition into 2020!
Liz Westwood from UK on December 11, 2019:
This is a very timely article (please excuse the pun). This is the time of year when lists stretch endlessly and more than ever there don't seem to be enough hours in the day. You give some great tips. Some of them I already practise, but others I shall be adopting.
Paul Majoni on November 06, 2019:
Very educative,and I hope this will surely help on how to plan for my busy schedule!!!!.