HOW YOU CAN BE MORE EFFECTIVE WITH THE TIME YOU HAVE OUTSIDE OF WORK AND ACCOMPLISH THE THINGS YOU WANT
It’s a new year, the time of year to start fresh. It’s a time to set resolutions and document goals you strive to accomplish throughout the year.
It’s not enough to just state your goals; it needs to be documented. It needs to be a daily reminder. Building structure and process around your goals is a great way to hold yourself accountable and visually see and be encouraged about the progress you are making.
Have you sat down and defined your goals and resolutions? Have you thought about what habits you want to break and which ones you want to establish?
The biggest deterrent is usually lack of time. You may immediately think there is hardly enough time for the things I have to do, let alone the things I want to do.
As you make your way through this article, I will share a process I used to identify the things that were taking up time and how to translate that time for things that were important.
Time management has always been an important topic when it comes to how you prioritize your workday. But what about your time outside of work? What about your free time? What hobbies do you love, but don’t feel you have time for? What projects have you put off due to the pressure of pre-existing responsibilities or lack of time?
Managing your time at work is a common task for most, regardless of your process and approach. In most cases, it is necessary – whether you enjoy it or not – to be successful. But what about your personal time? You may have a spouse, kids, and after-school activities that fill up the majority of your time. What most don’t realize, however, is there is still usable time in every day that is probably being attributed to other things.
It’s about managing yourself with the time you have
In the book The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People, Stephen Covey states, “The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.”
This is really the foundation, as it focuses on identifying your priorities first and then identifying and freeing up time to accomplish them. You will see later how prioritization is important throughout this process.
Time management is simply managing your time effectively so that the right time is allocated to the right prioritized activity.
The term “time management” is universally used to describe how you manage your time, but it’s really self-management.
Time is constant. You aren’t managing actual time. You are managing how you use that time. Everyone gets 24 hours in a day … unless you hold the secret to time travel, and if that’s the case, let’s talk.
All this boils down to creating healthy habits and routines and identifying and eliminating things that you currently spend time on.
Time management is also an emotional process
How you choose to spend your time isn’t just logical; it’s also emotional. Time is a commodity; therefore, you should use this process with intention and purpose. Time management is more than lists, goals and charts. If you are simply doing things to check them off a list, this is only productive to a point, and in time will give a false sense of accomplishment.
The method you are about to see is something I put into practice about two years ago to make time for things that were important to me. After consistently following the plan, habits started to form around the things I was making time for. After the first year, the process itself became a habit and this past year I was able to scale back on how structured I was.
This was not my first attempt at being more productive with my time, but it was the first successful attempt which produced lasting results. I approached this process much like my finances and how I budget my money. If you are familiar with Dave Ramsey’s zero budget approach, the idea is to take your income and allocate every dollar to a specific bill, debt, savings, groceries, etc. The idea is you should be at a $0 balance when you are finished.
The end goal is to ensure you aren’t leaving money unaccounted for that can easily be spent with no recollection of where it went. It’s about being intentional. This is what I did with my free time.
I have included an example of the Google Sheet I used for this process. Feel free to use this as a starting point or adjust it to fit your needs. How often you revisit this is entirely up to you. You may even come up with a better way to track your time that works for you.
This may sound like too much at first, but the important thing is to find a system that works for you and be prepared to adjust as needed until you find the right fit. For myself, everything I wanted to make time for had a specific time slot which removed any possibility of wasting time.
Figure out how much time you have to work with
The first step is to identify how much time you have to work with. This will vary depending on your needs. I can function on six hours of sleep, so this left me with 18 hours.
Next, focus on your workday and commute time. Again, this will vary. Do you work a full-time job? Part-time? Are you a student? Next would be any standard or required commitments you have, blocking out time for dinner, family, homework or extracurricular activities.
Audit your time: Where are you spending it?
Look at your current habits and activity. Where are you spending or wasting time? What vices or habits have you formed that control your time?
I spent two weeks keeping track of what I did and how much time I spent doing those things. Once I had my list, I identified my time bandits, the things that were monopolizing my time. Most on my list didn’t surprise me. What did surprise me was the amount of time I was spending on them.
Next, make a list of things you want to make time for and prioritize them. This step is important, especially if you tend to have lots of hobbies and interests. This will allow you to narrow the list and focus on the most important items, or the items you want to focus on first.
It’s easy to become anxious when you look at a daunting list of priorities, and then look at the time you have to do them. Assigning priority doesn’t mean eliminating things. It could simply mean you aren’t allocating as much time to lower priority items.
Remember, 15 minutes a day may not seem like it’s worth including, but it adds up and gets you that much closer to achieving your goals.
As you prioritize, keep in mind:
Urgency: How SOON does it matter?
Importance: How MUCH does it matter?
Significance: How LONG does it matter?
If you end up with a large list and feel anxious about trying to allocate time to every single one, start small. Pick your top three. Maybe you have some that have a definitive end date. Maybe it’s a project that – by allowing purposeful time – you could accomplish in one month.
Again, pulling inspiration from Dave Ramsey, by tackling your smallest debts first, you create a snowball effect. As you reach your goals, you can attribute that time toward a new goal. The next month, you may have four priority items to focus on instead of three.
Out with the old, in with the new
As you start this time management process, you will slowly (and most likely without noticing) form positive habits around the things you love, and soon not even think about the time bandits that commandeered your time previously. On top of forming these new habits, you will have a sense of control and accomplishment you have never had before and start to realize how much usable time you truly have.
Here are some final tips to follow as you start this new journey.
Learn to delegate
Are there things you don’t enjoy doing that you would be willing to pay someone else to do to free up more time?
For me, this was mowing the lawn and yard work. Some things I will gladly pay someone to do if it means extra time for what’s important. I felt guilty at first, since I am completely capable of doing this myself, but, in the end, it’s another area of prioritization. It comes down to where you value your time.
Establish routines and stick to them
Life happens. Situations and events come up that can’t be averted. You get sick. Your kids get sick. You have a family emergency. These instantly become priorities over everything else. If you have an established routine, it’s much easier and more likely that you will jump back in successfully when you are able. Having a plan in place, you can review and see where you can add 15 minutes here or there to make up for time lost. Even if you’re unable to recoup some of the lost time, the important thing is to jump back in.
Set time limits for tasks
This was a big one for me. I easily get lost in what I’m doing. Getting lost in a book is easy to do and can quickly lose track of time. Even if you have something silly like allowing yourself 30 minutes to watch YouTube videos, we all know what a rabbit hole that can be. Everyone has a phone which has a timer on it. Set the timer for a designated period when you start something on your list.
Organization is a big part of time management. If you have an hour to read and you can’t remember where you left your book, you may spend 15 minutes looking for it. That is 15 minutes wasted. Staying organized in every area of your life will free up a lot of time for the things you love.
Revisit goals and adjust accordingly
Have you completed a goal? Has something new appeared on the horizon that needs to be moved to the top? Maybe you will focus on certain items on certain days.
I constantly adjust my list. I typically don’t plan out my weekends and treat these as free days. This is always reserved for spending time with my family and offers a nice break from the structured week. On rare occasions when I know I will have some “me” time, I may schedule things that I want to focus on. If they are planned, I am less likely to get distracted with other activities that may fight for my attention.
The idea here is not to tackle the problem with an overly complicated process. Have fun with it. These are examples and suggestions on how I made more time for the things I am most passionate about. Find what works for you, with whatever capacity you have available.
Amid all the structure and process, make sure you take time to pause, reflect, and rest. Downtime (however you define or achieve it) is just as important as being productive. We all have different ways of recharging to prevent burnout. This may be another area that needs its own place in the priority list until it becomes second nature.
Feeling skeptical? Focus on one thing for one month and see where you are and how you feel. You may be surprised!