You’re a brilliant person with lots of aspirations. You have big dreams, but you don’t know how on earth you’re supposed to achieve them. Between work, family time and social engagements, you hardly have a spare second to take care of yourself. If you learn how to balance your time wisely, though, you can achieve everything that you want to.
Why is it Important to Balance Your Time?
You can have it all. You just can’t have it all at once.
Balance is the feeling of wholeness that you get when you’re devoting yourself to things that are important and meaningful. You have to put effort into various categories to achieve and maintain balance. Some areas of life that you should focus on include:
- Personal growth
- Hobbies and interests
- Social life
- Social life
If you place too much importance on one category, you’ll feel out of balance. Likewise, neglecting some areas can throw off the others.
Think about what happens if you don’t get enough sleep, which falls into the self-care category. You don’t have energy at work, you’re irritable with your spouse and you cancel your social plans because you just want to put your feet up and relax in the evenings.
If you work all the time, you might neglect your family. You may be motivated to talk to clients and work on projects until the wee hours of the night, but do you take time out to connect with loved ones, exercise or travel?
Are you so busy being busy that you don’t feel like you have a purpose in life? When you find balance, you’re more likely to realize your purpose. You can think more clearly and act more decisively in every area.
Some of the other benefits of achieving balance include:
- You gain perspective
- You make better decisions
- You can see the big picture
- You take action when necessary
- You’re less stressed
- You feel in control of your life
- You appreciate what you have
Create more balance by managing your time effectively. In this article, we share tips for balancing your time wisely.
What Kind of Time Management Skills Do You Have?
Many people would say that they have a decent grasp of time. Do you believe that your time management skills are up to par? Now, answer this question: Have you ever wished that you had more time in the day? If you have, then you likely could brush up on your time management skills.
You might not realize how much time you’re spending on specific tasks. For example, the average person spends approximately four hours a day on a smartphone. Imagine how much you could accomplish if you devoted that time to something more constructive.
Fortunately, you don’t have to imagine. You can get cold, hard data about how well you manage time by merely keeping track of it. Before you start using new techniques to balance your time wisely, get a baseline of data that tells you exactly how you’re balancing your time currently.
To do this, track your time for one week. Don’t try to change anything. Simply make a note of what you do and when you do it.
Although there are many time tracking apps that can help you with this, one of the simplest ways to monitor your time is by writing it down. Use a planner, a calendar or the notes app on your phone. Just make a note of the start time of every activity that you do.
As you do this, it’s easy to neglect the seemingly insignificant things that you do, like check your phone or take a bathroom break. Try to keep track of as many of these shorter activities as possible. You tend to lose track of time the most when you’re doing something mindless. Every second adds up.
At the end of the week, look back at your notes. Does anything about the way that you spend your time surprise you? If so, you could use some tips on how to balance your time wisely.
Change Your Self-Talk
The next step in establishing more balance in your life is to look at the way that you talk about time. Do you find yourself saying things such as the following?
- I’m swamped with work.
- I can’t attend that event because I’m too busy.
- There is never enough time in a day.
- I could just use an extra hour.
Anything that you focus on becomes magnified. Instead of harping on the activities that you don’t have time for, keep your attention on the things that you do accomplish every day. Just like everyone else, you have 24 hours each day to get things done. And you probably do a lot.
The time tracking notes that you kept from the previous step should help you realize how much you accomplish. Give yourself a chance to celebrate all that you achieve. You’ll begin to create some mental momentum that boosts your confidence. When you realize how much you do, you won’t be as disappointed about the things that didn’t make it onto your schedule for the day.
Remember that you choose how to spend your time. Stop treating time as something uncontrollable. When a friend asks you if you can go out for drinks and you’re busy at work, you might be tempted to say something such as, “I’m stuck at work until I finish this project.” Instead, try saying, “I’d like to stay at work until I finish this project.”
You’d be surprised at how your perception of time changes when you put yourself in the driver’s seat. You manage your time. Don’t let it control you.
Plan Your Perfect Day
You can take the previous piece of advice to the next level by doing some vision work. We often get stuck in the mindset of, “I can’t take on any extra work because my schedule just doesn’t allow for it.” There are plenty of things that we would love to do, but we don’t even give ourselves a chance to do them. We assume that we can’t because we’re so used to our regular patterns.
What if you took the time to plan out your perfect day? Don’t let your limiting self-talk hold you back from imagining what could be possible for you. Create a schedule for a perfect day and see what you can do to work up to that.
Try to be realistic when doing this. If you know that you have to go to work at 9 a.m., you might not want to schedule in errands, a long walk on the beach and a margarita with friends from 9 to noon. However, you might want to dream just a little bit.
Ask yourself what you really want. Challenge yourself by stretching out of your comfort zone. Once you see your perfect day in writing, you may realize that it’s actually more feasible than you thought.
Writing out your optimal day will also give you a glimpse into what balance means for you. Ideally, how much time would you like to devote to work, exercise, socializing, family life, leisure time, hobbies and other activities? Let this understanding drive your actual schedule. Perhaps you could plan to go out with your friends more often or work on that book that you’ve always wanted to write.
Now’s the time to designate those tasks as priorities.
Value Your Time
You know that your time is valuable. As you use it up, you don’t get it back. Don’t let other people treat it like an expendable commodity.
Some signs that you don’t value your time include:
- You put other people’s needs ahead of yours
- You don’t set boundaries
- You don’t have a plan for the week
- You try to squeeze everything into your schedule
- You have trouble being punctual
- You find it hard to say no to people
- You look back at your days and don’t know where your time went
- You can’t account for the 8 hours that you spend at your desk
When you don’t value your time, others won’t either.
Plan Out Your Day
If you want more time in your day, you have to do some planning. Yes, you will devote some minutes—hours, sometimes—to planning. When you’re extremely busy and have an overflowing to-do list, this can seem like a waste. But devoting a solid chunk of time to planning prevents you from flailing around later. When you know how you’re going to spend your days, you can move swiftly from activity to activity, understanding your priorities and taking advantage of your breaks.
Without a plan, the activities that you do might not pan out to much. For example, sitting on the exercise bike while watching your favorite show on the Food Network might not be as effective as pumping out an intense 20-minute HIIT routine. But that’s what many of us do when we head to the gym without an agenda.
Busy work certainly takes up time. It can even trick you into thinking you’re productive. But if you don’t have anything to show for it at the end of the day, did you really manage your time wisely?
Here are some planning tips for balancing out your day.
Create a Fixed Schedule
If you’re like most people, your days are fairly open. Sure, you may go to work from 9-5 and head to the gym afterward, but you don’t necessarily know what you’re going to be up against. You might be slammed with a new project or shuttled from meeting to meeting all day. You could show up at the gym without a workout plan and flit aimlessly from machine to machine.
Remember that you choose how to spend your days. Creating a fixed schedule lets you take the reins, set boundaries and say no to people who don’t value your time.
One way to do this is to do certain tasks on specific days. For example, you might plan your week as follows:
- Mondays: Reply to emails, reflect on your goals and brainstorm
- Tuesdays: Hold meetings, set appointments and run errands
- Wednesdays: Write blog posts and leave extra time for last-minute meetings
- Thursday: Open day to finish up projects
- Friday: Reply to emails, plan for next week
Committing to a fixed schedule can change your time management in a number of ways. One of the biggest game-changers is that you’ll only be able to say “yes” to meetings on certain days. If someone approaches you on Monday with a request to spend some one-on-one time with you, you won’t be tempted to squeeze them into any block of free time. Your open space will remain open, and you’ll find yourself juggling your priorities less frequently.
Keeping a fixed schedule lets you say know. It’s all written out for you—you don’t have to make decisions as things come up.
Following a daily plan helps you know what’s coming next. When you do this, you’ll also experience less stress, be able to focus better and ultimately be more productive.
Book Your Own Time
You probably set appointments when they involve other people. For example, you wouldn’t show up at the doctor’s office without setting a date and time. Why don’t you do the same for yourself?
Your boss at work might hold you accountable for finishing projects, but most people don’t realize how much goes into the creative process. You need time to write messages to colleagues, brainstorm, ask for feedback and rework your original ideas. Instead of trying to fit these activities in between your other arrangements, prioritize them by scheduling them in your planner as you would a doctor’s appointment.
This doesn’t only apply to office tasks. You might need to do this for every transition that you have. For example, if you’re always late dropping your kids off at school, schedule in some time to make sure that everyone has their things together the night before. When you have to study, reserve 15 minutes to get your books together, make yourself a cup of tea and find a quiet space.
Paying attention to the moments that fall between the major events will help you spend every minute meaningfully. If you schedule back-to-back tasks without allowing for this interim time, you’re likely to reach the end of the day wondering why everything got pushed off schedule after you carved out some time for lunch.
Make a Realistic To-Do List
Planning out your schedule for the day is one way to balance your time wisely. In addition to blocking out chunks of time, you might also want to create a to-do list of the specific tasks that you need to accomplish.
Most experts suggest that you don’t make your to-do list too long. If it’s overwhelming, you may not use it. Consider writing three to five items that you need to accomplish each day.
If you prefer to keep a longer to-do list, break down the tasks by the time that’s required to complete them. For example, 5-minute tasks should have their own category. These to-dos can be accomplished during breaks or in passing.
You should also prioritize the items on your to-do list. Author Steven Covey recommends using the Urgent-Important matrix to decide which task is the most important.
Urgent tasks make us react. They lead us to stop what we’re doing and put out the fire. Important tasks aren’t necessarily pressing. They’re activities that guide us toward our overall objectives and usually require organization and planning.
To use the Urgent-Important matrix, break down tasks by urgency and importance as follows:
- Urgent and important – These items are crises. They’re pressing problems or meetings that need to be taken care of yesterday. These items are stressful. If you have too many of these tasks on your to-do list, you’ll burn out. Spend less time on these tasks by planning better so that you can move them to the important and non-urgent category.
- Important and non-urgent – These are the tasks that you want to spend the most time on. They’re your big goals. The items in this category are extremely meaningful. Plus, you can take your time to develop them.
- Urgent and non-important – Think of these tasks as interruptions. You have to get to them, but they’re not particularly meaningful or fulfilling. You can avoid interruptions by setting a fixed schedule and sticking with it. But there will always be some tasks on this list, such as finishing the laundry before you pack for vacation.
- Non-urgent and non-important – These tasks are distractions. If any of these end up on your to-do list, you can cross them off. Make a note of how often you do things that aren’t urgent or important. If you’re doing these tasks frequently, you’re likely wasting a great deal of time.
Keep an Ongoing To-Do List
In addition to the working to-do list that you refer to every day, you might consider keeping an ongoing to-do list for ideas that pop into your mind. Online resources or apps, like Pinterest or Trello, can help you organize your thoughts.
You can make to-do lists for categories such as:
- Personal projects
- Work projects
- Books I want to read
- Places I want to travel
- How-to videos for a hobby
Writing these ideas down as they come into your head will prevent them from taking up valuable real estate in your mind. You’ll also be able to refer to them when you have free time instead of moping around wondering what you should do next.
Turn Off Distractions
Distractions are some of the biggest balance killers. You can plan your day all you want, but if you keep getting pulled in other directions, you might never feel like you’ve harnessed time management.
Some of the most common distractions in the workplace are:
- Noise – Wear headphones or earplugs; listen to white noise or soothing music while you work.
- Smartphones – We get a temporary hit of pleasure every time we check our phones; put yours out of view so that you can focus.
- Interruptions – Set clear boundaries for interactions with others; hang a do-not-disturb sign on your office if necessary.
- Multitasking – Your brain can only work on one thing at a time; if you’re doing more than one task simultaneously, you’re actually in constant distraction mode.
- Hunger – Your brain needs nourishment to function optimally; don’t become so busy that you forget to eat.
- Worry – Constant stress can make your central nervous system stay in a subtle panic mode; implement ways to rejuvenate yourself, such as incorporating natural elements in your workspace or taking meditation breaks.
- Disorganization – Your mind can’t settle down if it’s fixated on the clutter around you; create a standard of minimalism so that you can concentrate on the task at hand.
- Email – Don’t let email notifications derail your concentration; schedule times to take care of emails two or three times a day instead of dropping everything when your inbox pings.
How Can You Spend Your Leisure Time Purposefully?
When you start learning about time management techniques, you probably hear a lot of negativity about wasting time. Does that mean that you should always be plugging away at something from your to-do list? Not necessarily.
Balancing your time wisely isn’t about rearranging your schedule so that you can fit more work and chores into your day. The ideal time management system will leave plenty of space to enjoy yourself. That’s part of the balancing act.
Determine Whether You’re Working Too Much
It’s easy to fall into the trap of working too much. It seems like money drives everything we do. If you don’t perform well at work, how can you bring home a paycheck that will allow you to pursue meaningful leisure activities?
But if you’re an entrepreneur or love your job, working is something that you would choose to do regardless of your life circumstances. Still, spending too much time on your career can negatively impact your health in the following ways:
- You use drugs or alcohol to cope with the stress once you get home
- You don’t sleep well at night and feel chronically exhausted
- You’re depressed
- Your risk of stroke and cardiac problems increases due to ongoing stress
- You experience body aches
- You don’t have healthy interpersonal relationships
If you’re plagued by any of the problems above, you could stand to take a step back and refocus on what’s important. Even if you believe that your career is the utmost priority, ask yourself what else is meaningful to you. Then, develop strategies for bringing your attention to those areas of your life.
Make a List of Things to Do in Your Free Time
To balance your time wisely, you need to develop goals for how to spend your leisure hours. Some activities that the most successful people do during their free time are:
- Take classes
- Pursue hobbies
- Spend time with loved ones
Think about how you can spend free time in each of these categories. Write down a few ways that you can incorporate each one into your routine. This might look like:
- Go for a 30-minute walk on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays; do strength-training routine Tuesdays and Thursdays
- A list of books that you want to read
- Three professional or self-development courses you’d like to save money for
- Local organizations that you would like to work with
- A schedule of networking events in your area, an ongoing list of influencers you can connect with and a schedule for reaching out to them
- A list of things that you’d like to make or skills that you’d like to enhance
- People who are important to connect with, ideas for dates with your spouse and fun things to do with your kids on the weekends
Now that you have your list, cross-reference it with your calendar to determine how you can incorporate these items into your life. If you’ve created a fixed schedule, you can establish specific times to devote to each category. For example, Friday evenings from 5-10 might be devoted to hanging out with family and friends. You might spend Saturday mornings volunteering once a month.
One of the biggest mistakes that people make when they’re trying to balance their time wisely is neglecting to plan their leisure time. But this is just as important for your happiness and well-being as scheduling appointments and job-related tasks.
Sleep should also be a priority. If you don’t get enough rest, you won’t have the energy to do your work or get to the more fun tasks. You can derail the balance in your mind, body, and spirit when you’re overtired. Your emotions become explosive, your ability to concentrate suffers and you don’t feel like yourself.
Focus on taking care of your personal, survival and safety needs if you want to pursue self-actualization. You can’t fulfill your potential if you neglect your basic requirements for living. Nurture your body, soul, relationships, and environment, and watch the rest of your life flourish.