Were you the type of person to study a little bit days before the test as a student, or wait until the last minute to cram? If you’re reading this article, the chances are that you’re the latter.
Time management is the bane of everyone’s existence in the age of Netflix, YouTube, and the internet, where wasting time feels much more enjoyable than doing work.
Some people feel no qualms about vegging out in front of Netflix after work as a way to relax. For others, nagging thoughts pull at them, telling them they could use their time more productively to achieve the goals they’ve always wanted to reach. If you’re in the second group, here are some ways to understand time management and to manage your time more efficiently.
What is Time Management?
Besides the thing we could all be better about, time management is how well we structure our day to that they accomplish all they need to do in the most efficient amount of time possible.
Inefficient time management is why 24 hours in the day never seems enough — there’s always an unfinished project or task we wanted to accomplish but couldn’t for whatever reason.
But great time management is how Elon Musk, for example, can put in 80 to 90 hours a week for his businesses and engineering projects. It’s how Beyonce Knowles created one of the best Coachella performances in history. Time management is the key to progress and success.
Everyone struggles with time management. If you’re naturally lazy, you struggle with getting off your butt and doing work. If you’re naturally obsessed with work, you might struggle to make time for loved ones and to take care of your health.
Time management is about finding the balance between what’s best for us, what we need, and what we want. Often, though, what we want takes over.
What Time Management is Not
Time management is not putting a million hours of work into a day and calling yourself productive. To binge working on a project isn’t like binging a TV show. Yes, you might finish it faster than if you spaced out your work across multiple days, but that one long period will tire you out much faster than if you took breaks.
This is why good time management skills are the key to avoiding burnout while still accomplishing your goals. You master the highly sought skill of working smarter, not harder, where you accomplish more in less time.
Again, time management doesn’t come easy, but you can follow these tips to make getting in the habit easier.
What Helps You Time Manage?
Amy Landino has an excellent video about this topic. To paraphrase, “you should stop “shoulding” all over yourself” (repeat that to yourself slowly, and you’ll get the joke).
When you make a to-do list, you’re saying things that you should do when you have the chance. There’s no structure as to when you should do it, just that it should get done at some point, which means putting it off until the last moment — if you ever do it at all.
Instead, Landino praises the gospel of reforming your mindset so that you’re not in the “should” mindset at all. For example, according to Landino, you probably ask yourself, “Why should I wake up early?” or “Why should I put the effort to plan ahead?”
When you ask yourself these questions, you’re already holding yourself back. You’re not in the mindset that you’re someone who values their time and values productivity, so you’ll wake up late and do things at the last minute because that’s most convenient to you.
Instead, someone who asks, “How much time do I have in the morning?” is already closer to a time management mindset because they want to track the allotted time they have, which makes it easier to use that time more efficiently, which leads us to our next point.
Tracking is a big factor for any progression toward success. Entrepreneur Peter Drucker says it best — “If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.”
If you want to shift your habits toward better time management, you have to first and foremost see where your time is going.
The easiest way to do that is to use time-tracking apps like Toggl or Clockify. Toggl is free and has a desktop and smartphone version depending on your workflow. Clockify offers time-tracking services for teams, which can be useful if you’re hoping to create better time management among yourself and your coworkers or project mates.
Time tracking doesn’t come naturally to humans, so start slow and work your way to habitual time tracking. Start just one day a week in which you track your time with Toggl, for example. Label what you spend time doing, whether it’s work or scrolling through Facebook.
When you see where your time goes, you can better diagnose inefficiencies and assess how better to assign your time.
Imagine this: you’ve been doing well in your first week of time management boot camp. You’re telling yourself you need to do the hard work first before you can relax — as opposed to pushing it off to the last minute, which you typically do.
You’ve done so well that day that you decide to give yourself a break. You go on YouTube and watch a few mindless videos. An hour passes by — the time you said you’d close the tab and go back to work. But relaxation feels too good to give up, and you give yourself another fifteen minutes. And another fifteen. And another, until you’ve decided to just finish the work tomorrow.
It takes willpower to stick to your schedule and to refrain from doing the activities sucking up your time, like YouTube and social media. The internet entertainment is pleasurable whereas digging into that business report is not, so, of course, you’re brain will wait wistfully for the time it can convince you to say “to hell with work” and be lazy.
Willpower is its own beast, and we don’t have time to address it fully in this article. But here are a few quick tips to help you boost willpower:
- Think of willpower as a physical muscle. People talk about willpower through a variety of metaphors — that’s it’s like a battery that needs to be recharged, that it’s finite, that it’s controllable.
But the best way to understand willpower is like a muscle since it does indeed work like a muscle and since your body is full of muscles, you intuitively know how to deal with muscle-like things from your own experience.
You have to train your willpower to make it stronger. Just like how you can’t train your biceps by doing five-hour long reps without hurting it, you can’t stress your willpower for long periods without hurting it. You have to slowly expand the strength of your willpower.
- To expand your willpower, designate small things that you must do each day. It can be working on a novel for thirty minutes a day. You can tell yourself you’ll do it at a specific time during the day such as at 11 AM sharp, or anytime before you go to sleep. Just as long as you get it done.
Forcing yourself to do anything you feel resistance toward builds discipline, which builds willpower. Get in the growth mindset that everything you do is for improvement, whether it’s taking the stairs over the elevator or forcing yourself to go for a run every morning. Like your grandpa always says, “It’ll build character.”
Routines are everywhere. What do you do when you wake up? You roll out of bed, go to the bathroom, wash up, and get dressed. You don’t even think about it — you just do it, which is the beauty of heavily entrenched habits.
Habits occur in the basal ganglia of the brain. The basal ganglia are associated with emotions, memories, and, you guessed it, patterns.
You can perform habits done in the basal ganglia without even thinking about it, which is why Charles Duhigg, author of the revolutionary book The Power of Habit, says in an interview with NPR hat the brain works less and less the more habits it has. This frees up the prefrontal cortex, where decisions are made, to exert more mental energy on novel choices.
The point? Get into a routine. Tell yourself you’re going to wake up at 6 AM and work for three hours. It’ll suck at the beginning when you’re deciding to disrupt your habit of sleeping in, but after about three weeks, when the habit solidifies, you won’t be thinking about the new schedule anymore.
The brain lives with a constant “Do Not Disturb” sign attached to itself. It doesn’t want its habits disrupted because it takes mental energy to reinstate a new one. That’s why it’s so hard to wake up early, to make a habit of going for a run and eating healthy.
But when you grit your teeth and force yourself to go through the changes, you can make time management a lot easier through routine, since there will come a point where you’re not even thinking about it anymore.
What’s the Best Way to Manage Your Time?
The best way to manage your time would be to decide on a plan and then make a habit of it. Of course, you’ll have gone through the proper mindset shift, tracked your time to see how it could improve, and built up some willpower so you can charge head-first into these lifestyle changes with vigor.
But you want practical examples of what people have done to manage their time and to be successful. Well, here they are now.
Time blocking, also known as timeboxing, involves carving out every minute of your waking hours for specific tasks. Time blocking has been used by Elon Musk, Bill Gates, and the entrepreneur Amy Landino we mentioned earlier.
Thomas Frank explains the mechanics of time blocking best in this video. There are a variety of ways to time block, such as through notebook, smartphone apps, or physical/online calendars, but for demonstration purposes, we’re going to use Cal Newport as an example.
Cal Newport could be a world expert on time management. Not only is he an associate professor of computer science at Georgetown University, but he’s written six books on a variety of productivity topics, from how to be a better college student to getting into “deep focus” to digital minimalism.
So yeah, he knows a thing or two about time management.
This example is a bit dated, but it shows how simple timeboxing can be. The picture was taken from Newport’s website in which he describes a simple daily schedule.
As you can see, he’s written all the hours of his workday on the left side of his notebook paper. In the spaces between the hours, he wrote the estimated time it would take to go to a doctor’s appointment (at least we think that’s what it is — his handwriting is a bit difficult to read), followed by a commute to work.
After that is his scheduled deep work. Newport describes deep work as the time in which he works distraction-free and can focus on the tasks at hand. We can imagine he won’t be taking calls, answering emails, or doing anything else to disrupt his focus during that time — so it’s great he blocked it off in his schedule, as it shows how highly he values his deep work time.
The list goes on. Of course, you can tailor your own time blocked schedule for your necessary tasks and activities you have to do. But because you structured how you want to do with your time, you do the following:
- You remove the guesswork. By looking at your schedule, you know what you should be doing with your time at that particular hour. When you don’t do it for whatever reason, you know you’re getting off track of your productivity goals.
Structuring your day and telling yourself you should be working at a certain hour and relaxing at another hour, you don’t have the excuse to put off work and wait until the last minute, especially if you schedule into your time blocks a lot of breaks.
- You force yourself to prioritize your goals. A day feels a lot longer when you’re moving through it than when you look at it. Look at Newport’s schedule. He fits a whole day onto a sheet of paper, hour by hour. When you see you actually have nine hours of free time in your day versus what feels like an unlimited amount of hours, you force yourself to fill that time with meaningful activities.
- You can fit in all you want to do. Because you see all the time you have in the day, you know exactly where you can fit in all the work to accomplish your goal. Time blocking allows you to work effectively while scheduling breaks so you don’t burn out, ensuring you’ve maximized your time without feeling burnt out.
Time blocking’s biggest strength is its ability to put a structure in your day. And if you create a weeklong schedule, you can structure different angles to the same project. For example, if you want to outline an ebook for your website, you could work on research for an hour one day, outlining the other day, and so forth til you worked seven days that week.
Examples of Time Management
While time management is about getting stuff done in the least amount of time possible, there are numerous ways to set up your time blocking.
The first and perhaps most common method to organize your time is to prioritize the most important things first. This method will be the most convenient if you aren’t too keen on building new goals or habits, or have a side hustle you want to put effort toward.
The priority time blocking schedule would be most convenient for full-time students or office employees with numerous tasks to juggle at once.
Priority Time Management — Student
7 AM – 8 AM: Wake up, wash up, get dressed, commute to classes.
8 AM – 9:30 AM: Class.
9:30 AM – 10:30 AM: Review notes from class, read for your next class.
10:30 AM – 11 AM: Break, walk to the next class. Eat a snack.
11 AM – 12:30 PM: Class.
12:30 PM – 2 PM: Review notes from class, do homework and reading.
2 PM – 3 PM: Relax. Break time!
3 PM – 4 PM: Work on English paper: Do research, create an outline.
After 4 PM, you’d be done for the day. You could take another break, have an early dinner, run errands, or hang out with friends. But notice that there are a built-in hour and a half break time in the six-hour workday.
From reading notes, reading for the next class and working on the English paper for at least an hour every day, this student would already be leaping in front of their classmates, who most likely put off reading and writing essays until the last minute.
But what if you’re not a student but someone hoping to start up your own business while still working your job? Your day will be a little longer, but you’ll do the necessary tasks if you’re goal-based.
Goal-based is still, to some degree, priority-based since you’re prioritizing the goals you want to hit first that day. But whereas priorities are a one-and-done deal, like doing homework or writing a business report for work, goals build off each other and become more complex the more time you want to put into it.
Goal-Based Time Management — Entrepreneurs
For this example, we’re going to assume this entrepreneur is young, in a long-term relationship but with no kids. They have a full-time job they’re using to support themselves while they start up their online business.
For this example, we’re going to structure this person’s whole day, as opposed to the student’s workday in the previous example.
6 AM – 6:30 AM: Wake up, wash up, eat, get dressed.
6:30 AM – 8 AM: Work on the business: research, networking, building websites, email, whatever has to be done.
8 AM – 9 AM: Commute to your full-time job.
9 AM – 5 PM: Work at the job.
5 PM – 9 PM: Break, relax, eat dinner, hang out with friends and partner. Free time!
9 PM – 10 PM: Get ready for bed: Wash up and read. Do any last-minute chores.
10 PM: Go to sleep.
By knocking out the business stuff first thing in the morning, this person has plenty of time to fulfill their workplace obligations at their full-time job and ensures their entrepreneurial endeavors don’t interfere with their personal life. They also have time to relax and unwind.
If any emergency comes up, they could use some of their free time to address it — not their business building time. The business grows little by little every day without disrupting this person’s daily routine. All they have to do is wake up a little earlier and get stuff done.
How to Find the Best Time Management Schedule for You
Your daily schedule could differ from the examples offered in this article, so there’s no one-size-fits-all schedule that we can offer you. Instead, we’ll teach you how to build the most efficient time blocking schedule for your circumstances.
- Prioritize livelihood and free time. If you’re a student, your classes are essentially your livelihood. If you’re an employee, your job is that. The same goes if you’re a freelancer with less structured work hours, someone working gigs, etc.
If you know when you’re going to work to get paid, work around that, as you want to be putting your all into your livelihood versus diverting that energy into side projects. Of course, you should be using your energy sustainably, but don’t jeopardize your sources of income for projects, no matter how rewarding they are, if they don’t pay the bills.
In the beginning, you’ll have to work around your work schedule. But you’ll also have to work around free time as well. Some people can work 12-15 hour workdays and feel fine as long as they get enough sleep, but others have to get a mental break, hang out with friends, and do non-work related activities to avoid burning out.
Therefore, while you schedule your projects around your workday, schedule in long breaks for your brain to decompress. You’ll most likely go crazy otherwise.
- Accept that you can only manage yourself. “Time management” is a bit of a misnomer. You can’t change the number of hours in the day, you can’t change the things that will waste your time, such as your car breaking down as you head to work.
You can only control what you do with the time you’re given. Will you use that ten minutes you wait in line for food or coffee to read from a book, or scroll through social media? Will you use your free time to build a new skill or forge better relationships, or will you fill it by shopping for things you don’t need?
Those decisions are at the core of time management, and so it’s up to you to enforce productive control over your decisions.
- Find the tools that work for you. Maybe you’re a Google Calendar type of person. Perhaps you prefer the simple pleasure of a physical planner, or like the convenience of one on your fine. Maybe a scrap of paper you keep in your pocket is all you need.
Don’t feel obliged to one method because it’s what others used or you paid for it. If it works, you’ll use it effortlessly. If not, it will feel like a chore — and make the arduous task of time management much harder.
Time Management Tips
Don’t Feel Like You Have to Do Everything
Delegation is a lovely skill to develop. You don’t have to do everything on your own — ask a coworker to take on work. Better yet, say no to what you can. When you preload your schedule with tasks that are counterproductive to your priorities or goals, you have less energy to devote to what you actually want to do.
Avoid Distractions When You Work
Put the phone away. Mute all notifications. Work time is for work only, not for checking emails quickly or getting a quick snack. Working as efficiently as possible in the time you’ve devoted to work means you don’t have to prolong that work longer than necessary, which means more free time for you.
Time Management is a Skill
Not many people are born with it. Few work hard to develop it. While it’s difficult to do, it’s very much possible by getting in the right mindset, tracking your time, and creating schedules for yourself. Stick to it. Let yourself fail (you most likely will), but always return to improving your time management.