Before COVID-19 became a household word, time was scarce. The idea of incorporating a new routine or time management technique seemed overwhelming and downright impossible. But now, with the additional time that everyone seems to have as the result of a lockdown, this is a great time to work on some of those habits to improve time management going forward.
Think of it as giving a gift to your future self. Utilize this extra time to change and improve your routine so when life gets busy again, you are able to be more settled and less stressed.
Years ago, I read three books on time management that radically changed my life. They are: “The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin,” “7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” and “Eat that Frog!”
Benjamin Franklin taught about the importance of waking up early: “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.” His obsession with scheduling every part of his day is admirable but even he admitted that too much scheduling can cause dullness (his word, not mine).
Steven Covey’s time management matrix is my go-to when organizing my life. The idea that all items can be categorized into urgent and not urgent and then subcategorized into important and not important was revolutionary (see the chart).
Brian Tracy’s simple concept of prioritizing gave me the courage to tackle the more difficult and distasteful tasks. Now, I “eat that frog” first thing in the morning, which is far more difficult given that I have an actual aversion to (Ok, fear of) frogs.
Here are my 25 tips for time management that have allowed me to have a successful private practice, author hundreds of articles, speak at conferences, teach continuing education, and host a podcast all while staying married for 23 years, raising three kids, and enjoying life.
- Wake up and go to bed at the same time daily. This is number one for a reason. It is the most important habit. Adequate amounts of sleep are essential to performing at high levels, staying focused, reducing anxiety, and making quality decisions.
- No devices ½ hour before bed. Studies have shown that devices just before bed reduce the quality of sleep. This is why many devices now offer nighttime settings. The better choice is to not use them at all just before bed.
- Do important things first. My important morning tasks include: walking, meditating, journaling and occasionally writing. These tasks are satisfying and help to start my day off with a positive attitude and proper perspective. They do not include email, social media, or TV. These are distractions.
- Arrange calendar weekly. My work calendar is sometimes set a month in advance but every week, usually on Sundays, I review the upcoming week. This allows me to add items that need to be addressed or subtract unnecessary things on Monday morning.
- Use a schedule for work and home. I have two calendars, one for work and one for home. The calendars can’t be combined for confidentiality reasons. My work calendar is accessed by my assistant who manages my schedule. The home calendar is accessed by all family members so they can see events. They also have the ability to add their own events.
- Plan out goals. Goals are essential for knowing where you want to be by the end of this year, in the next five years, or within your lifetime. But they don’t get accomplished by accident, they need to be broken down into parts and then added to the schedule.
- Set priorities. Borrowing from Covey, if it is important and urgent then it is a priority and needs to be done immediately. When the item is important and non-urgent then it needs to be scheduled and done soon. All other items are not priorities.
- Coordinate self-care. During the day, I do some simple self-care exercises that help to reset my mood, release some tension, and redirect my thoughts. On a sticky note by my phone are three words: free, grow, inspire. This is a reminder of what I want to do and who I want to be.
- Block off time for emergencies. I have multiple 30-minute blocks of time dedicated to home and work emergencies adding up to three hours. This allows for crisis moments without the panic that it can’t be fit into a day. If the time is not needed for a crisis, it is reallocated to completing an item on my To-Do list.
- Do big things first. This is Tracy’s frog idea. By finishing the most distasteful, biggest, and uncomfortable task first thing in the day, it frees up your thoughts to do the easier and more appealing items. Since big decisions are best made early in the morning instead of late at night, this is added encouragement to finish that frog.
- Begin with time limits. I don’t ever start a task without putting a time limit on it. If it is not finished within the time, another block of time is allocated. Starting a task with an unending time almost guarantees that it won’t get done.
- Adjust schedule daily. Every morning, after my morning routine, I review my schedule and make any last-minute changes. In the evening, just before leaving work, the schedule is reviewed for the next day. By looking at items twice, it is more likely that they will not be forgotten.
- Schedule emails, phone calls, and texting. These items are important to other people but not urgent for you. Therefore, they are scheduled. I check my email no more than four times a day, have four times a day when I can return phone calls, and only respond to text messages when it is convenient for me.
- Automate responses. One of the best time savers was discovering that most of the emails I receive can be managed with a simple template automated response. When more attention is needed, I can modify the automated response or follow-up with an additional email.
- List non-essentials. This is a To-Do list that is not essential but is important. When there is a break in my schedule, I review this list and pick one of the items to be completed.
- Delegate weaknesses. I’m fortunate enough to have an excellent assistant who manages my schedule. While I am obsessive with my time management, adding and subtracting people from my schedule is my weakness, so this is delegated.
- Avoid multi-tasking. This is no such thing as good multi-tasking. It is just a series of distractions and means that one item is not getting the full attention it needs. Strangely enough, when I stop multi-tasking things get finished more thoroughly and quickly.
- Eliminate time wasters. Social media, TV, videos, and gaming are time wasters that will destroy your life if you let them. It is OK to unplug and do these things but they should be scheduled with strict time limits.
- Start with “No.” A long time ago another therapist told me that I needed to start by saying, “No” and then work up to a “Yes.” Admittedly, I thought she was wrong at the time but since I have been doing this, it has kept me from joining unnecessary committees, agreeing to functions that I don’t enjoy, and doing things that help others and not me.
- Take advantage of waiting. Waiting for others can be a time waster but not if it is utilized as found time. I use such moments to place an online order, review and modify my lists, clean up my desk, listen to a video, meditate, or do a deep breathing exercise.
- Focus on completion. This is not about perfection, it is about completing a task and marking it as done. There is a level of accomplishment that comes from finishing something and even small things should be momentarily enjoyed.
- Be creative. Finding small ways to add creativity to ordinary tasks can make them more enjoyable. I love to have things color coordinated and look beautiful. So even the charts I hand out are colorful and pleasing to the eye.
- Better early than late. Built into my schedule is always traffic problems. The main highway where we live has been under construction for the last ten years with no hope of it changing in the future. So, I assume the worst and use the extra time, if available, as my waiting time.
- Find inspiration/motivation. To stay inspired I read, listen to books, watch TED talks, listen to podcasts, and watch video clips daily. This encourages me and is a constant source of new information to draw inspiration from.
- Review successes. This is a weekly, monthly, and annual activity where I take a few minutes to review what worked and celebrate it. My favorite sessions are ones in which we do this together and are able to appreciate all that has been accomplished.
These 25 tips are ones that I use daily, almost religiously. They are the boundaries from which my work and life operate. They have brought me freedom from the past, growth in the present, and inspiration for the future.