Time Management Steps

Sometimes, everyone feels like they have too much to do and too little time in which to do it. One problem is that people in our society tend to pack a long list of to-dos into their days without understanding how long those tasks will take. Another hindrance to being easefully productive is that people just aren’t organized with their time.

The time management steps that we discuss in this article will help you get clear on what you have to do and when you have to do it. We’ll show you how to take action so that you have enough time for everything that you want to do, including rest.

Time Management Statistics

Before we get into the steps for managing your time efficiently, we want to go over some critical time management facts. Understanding these statistics can help you come up with a plan for how to use your time wisely.

Experience Helps You Retain Information

You may have heard that people retain only 10 percent of what they read, 20 percent of what they hear and 90 percent of what they experience. Research shows that those numbers aren’t accurate. However, experiencing something still helps you remember it.

Therefore, if you’re trying to learn information, letting it wash over you while you’re distracted with something else isn’t the best use of your time. Sure, you may be killing two birds with one stone while listening to a lecture while cooking dinner. But you might be better off focusing on one task at a time so that you perform it better.

When you’re in learning mode, immersing yourself in the subject matter might prevent you from having to go over it, again and again, to make sure that it sunk in. Using as many senses as possible to gain an understanding of the material allows you to cement the information.

Have you ever remembered precisely where you were and what you were doing when you were having a specific conversation with a friend? That’s because you were probably focused and taking in a great deal of sensory input. If you approach all learning with a similar mindset, you’ll remember new information with ease and won’t have to spend as much time studying it.

Visualization and association are techniques that you can use to make better use of the time that you spend learning so that you free up your schedule elsewhere. When you’re learning something, take the time to picture it in your mind’s eye. Create some meaning around it, whether you come up with a narrative or generate another link between the material and something that you’ll remember.

Most People Are Interrupted 50 Times a Day

On average, people in the workplace are interrupted every 8 minutes. If every interruption requires 5 minutes of your time, you’ll spend 3 hours a day dealing with those situations. Interruptions take you away from the task at hand, and the majority of them are of little or no value.

If you want to get your time back, you need to avoid interruptions. When you’re immersed in a task, try silencing your phone and placing a “do not disturb” sign on the door.

Communicate with your colleagues, children, spouse, and friends. Let them know that you have set up some times to concentrate on work or other tasks. Ask that they avoid coming to you during those times unless there is an emergency. Schedule some time to get back in touch with them so that you can check in periodically, making them less likely to bother you when you’re in the middle of something.

Sometimes, it’s easier to manage interruptions that come from other people than the ones that you bring on yourself. Do you aim to work diligently throughout the day, only to find your mind wandering while you’re staring blankly at the computer screen?

A technique that can help you be more productive during your work sessions is to use timed “focus sessions.” Give yourself a progress goal for your task. For example, if you’re drafting an email, estimate the length of time that it will reasonably take you.

Let’s say you decide that you can write and send the email within 15 minutes. Minimize external interruptions and set a timer. Work attentively until the timer goes off. Then, allow yourself to take a quick break to use the bathroom, grab a snack or check your phone before diving into the next task.

People Spend a Lot of Time Looking for Things

You probably know that you’re wasting time texting or scrolling aimlessly through social media. But looking for lost items or information can suck your time, and you don’t even realize that you’re doing it.

The average person spends:

  • Six minutes searching for their keys every day
  • Fifty-five minutes a day looking for items
  • One and a half hours a day distracted by clutter
  • One hundred and fifty hours a year tracking lost data

If you got rid of clutter, you could eliminate 40 percent of your housework. Most people use only 20 percent of their material possessions. You could probably stand to get rid of some things to streamline your sanity and your time.

Becoming more organized can be a huge time saver. If you’re wasting an hour hunting things down every day, you’re discarding 15 days’ worth of time every year. Get your time back by becoming more organized.

If you can’t find the time to spruce up your space, tackle it gradually. Make a list of every area of your home or office that could use some tidying. Consider listing each spot on a separate index card. Then, you can break down the steps for tackling that area into smaller chunks.

For example, let’s say that you want to clean out your closet. Some of the sub-tasks might include:

  • Going through your shoes
  • Removing items from the floor and sorting them
  • Buying new hangers
  • Getting rid of clothes that don’t fit or you don’t wear
  • Putting anything you’re not sure about into a box, labeling it with a date six months in the future, and tossing it without opening it when you get to that date

You can probably handle each of these sub-tasks in 15 minutes or less. Within fewer than seven days, your closet could be spotless. Imagine what could happen for you if you followed this technique to organize your entire house?

Getting your family on board is also helpful. When you’ve written all of the tasks on index cards, you can assign some to your roommates or kids to complete the job in less time.

The Majority of People Want More Free Time

Almost 80 percent of American workers say that they wish they had more time to enjoy life. However, only 20 percent of each workday is spent on essential tasks. Employees waste the other 80 percent of their time doing work that they consider to be insignificant.

This illustrates the importance of time management. As you become more efficient, you’ll also gain some perspective on your priorities. When your time is valuable, you’ll find it easier to say “no” to the things that aren’t worth it and take on only meaningful tasks.

Before we list some of the time management steps that you can use to become more efficient, you need to check in with your mindset. If you want more free time, make sure that you’re taking it.

It’s easy to get trapped by the idea that you always have to be doing something to be a productive member of society. Our culture does not value leisure time as much as it prizes hard work. The wealthiest Americans have the least amount of free time.

Ask yourself why you want to improve your time management skills. Do you want to be more efficient so that you can throw more onto your plate? Most people wouldn’t benefit from working more.

Think about all of the fabulous ways that you could spend the extra time that you’re about to create for yourself. Write down those ideas—they’re important. Whether you hope to get back to your hobbies, connect more with your friends or just get better sleep, you can improve your quality of life with these time-management steps.

Step 1: Watch What You Do With Your Time

You might be thinking, “If I knew where my time went, I wouldn’t be reading this article.” Many people believe that they have a good grasp on how they spend their time. However, they still say things such as:

  • There aren’t enough hours in a day.
  • I have no idea where my time goes.
  • Is it time for dinner already?
  • I feel like it was just the first of the month—now the month is almost over!
  • I am always doing something; why can’t I complete my to-do list?

If you’re not keeping a comprehensive record of how you spend your time, the chances are high that you’re not aware of how you’re wasting it. Hopping on Facebook while you’re sitting on the toilet only seems to take a few moments. Would you be surprised if you realized that you were spending 25 minutes at a time catching up on social media in the bathroom?

Maybe you feel like you’re always rushing out the door in the morning. Do you know exactly how long it takes you to wake up, stretch, take a shower, fix your coffee, grab a bite to eat and head out the door? If you’re like most Americans, you’re not aware that it takes you six minutes to locate your keys. Therefore, you’re probably not giving yourself enough time.

You probably want to jump to the next steps. After all, you want to change and improve yourself. Why harp on what you’re already doing?

You have to know what needs to change before you can change it. If you want to get more done, you have to know how much you’re already doing. If you want an extra hour in your day, you need to understand how you’re allocating the hours that you already have.

One of the easiest ways to do this is to make a schedule. This isn’t a plan of what you intend to do. Instead, fill it in as you go about your day.

Record exactly what you do and when you do it. Don’t neglect the seemingly insignificant tasks. Jot down every snack and bathroom break. Record every instance of checking your texts or emails.

You waste a lot of time when you’re not doing something valuable. But if you can stop wasting that time, you will gain extra minutes and even hours to do the things that you really want to do.

This process may seem tedious. That’s because it is. Once you do it for about five to seven days, you can stop.

Reflect on everything that you recorded. Spend some time analyzing it. Some questions to ask during your assessment include:

  • How much time did I spend working?
  • How frequently do I check my phone/email/texts?
  • What do I spend the most time doing during the day?
  • How much time do I need for dinner/work commute/morning routine?
  • When was I the most productive?
  • When was I the least productive?
  • At what time was I the most likely to relax?

Look for patterns that keep appearing. Maybe, no matter how hard you try, you just can’t seem to tackle any career-oriented projects until after 10 a.m. That tells you that you probably shouldn’t bother to get to work that early in the morning. What else can you do to feel joyful, fulfilled and productive before that time?

Once you know precisely how you’re spending your time, you can work to adjust your schedule. If you’re spending far more time than you thought surfing the internet, give yourself a goal to work toward. Perhaps you’ll limit your internet time to 30 minutes a day, separated into two 15-minute segments.

Step 2: Schedule Your Day

The next step is to plan what you’re going to do for the day. However, keeping a laundry list of tasks can be exhausting. Plus, it’s not realistic to keep notes about what you plan to do if you don’t know when you’re going to do it.

It’s time to take out the calendar. You can use whatever type of calendar format you’d like. One that is broken down into 30-minute increments is especially useful for being detailed with your planning.

Start by thinking about how you’d like to feel that day. You might even want to write that at the top of the calendar. Keeping that sentiment in mind will help you prioritize your to-dos.

Then, write down everything that you have to do on a scrap piece of paper. Some people enjoy doing a brain dump just to get all of those residual obligations and worries out of their heads. If you do that, don’t expect every item to end up on the day’s to-do list, though.

Once you can see everything in front of you, sort it by priority. You should have the following groups:

  • Today
  • Tomorrow
  • Soon
  • Someday

Then, ask yourself, “What is the first thing that I will do today?” Write down your answer in the first appropriate slot on your daily agenda. You’ll tackle this the moment that you finish planning out your day. It should not be something complicated or long. It should be something swift and easy that gives you confidence and momentum.

Next, schedule the rest of the day’s to-dos. You’ll have to estimate how long each one will take you. That shouldn’t be a problem when you can use your time-tracking record as a resource. You’ll know exactly how much time you need to do all of your regular tasks because you monitored them the week before.

Consider tentatively scheduling tomorrow’s to-dos. You might have to rearrange them when you get to your calendar tomorrow. However, you’ll already be well on your way to envisioning everything that needs to get done.

Finally, set a tentative date or deadline for the “soon” and “someday” categories. Keep your brain dump until tomorrow. When you do this routine again, re-write the brain dump and toss the old sheet of paper. Seeing and writing similar items every day helps you remember to pay attention to them. Feel free to eliminate any tasks that are no longer necessary.

One of the things that you probably noticed when you were recording your day from the previous step is when you’re likely to take leisure time. Use that information to schedule free moments. You might leave time for a yoga class, a meditation session or a shower.

Alternatively, you can allot a free hour or 30 minutes to do whatever you feel like doing at the time. If you don’t schedule it in, you’re likely to fill your day with something less enjoyable or important.

Step 3: Create Systems

Once you’ve practiced steps 1 and 2 for a little while, they should come to you more easily. You don’t need to repeat step 1 frequently. But you should go back to it from time to time. Perhaps you can revisit your time-tracking technique when your routine changes, you’re feeling overwhelmed or you feel like you’ve lost control of time.

Step 2 is something that you should do daily. As you get more comfortable with planning your day, you can eventually set aside time to plan your week, month and year.

You might feel some resistance to doing step 2. If you’re trying to squeeze more time out of your day, spending 30 minutes planning it out can seem like a waste. It’s not. Scheduling your tasks is one of the most essential time management strategies.

Creating systems is also a vital element of time management. A system is a process that is performed in the same manner every time you do it. In time, it becomes as natural as brushing your teeth.

Earlier, we discussed how much time people spend looking for lost items. Creating systems for where you put your stuff can instantly cut down on these wasted intervals.

You can also create systems for:

  • Dealing with emails – Creating subfolders; replying, deleting or filing an email immediately after you read it; scheduling time to manage emails twice a day
  • Keeping track of appointments – Putting them into an online calendar and setting a reminder; writing them in your planner
  • Establishing goals – Using the same flow chart every time; dividing every goal into action steps; taking the first action steps right away
  • Making meals – Tracking the recipes your family loves; using a grocery list app; meal planning

The more systems you have, the better your time management skills should become. Just make sure that you’re not wasting time with certain systems. For example, some tasks that you can take care of immediately don’t have to be funneled into a system. Doing so will just slow you down.

Step 4: Write Everything Down

Now that you’re on a roll with time management, your creativity and productivity should flow more rapidly. Every time you get an idea, write it down. You might not be able to act on it right away, but you might remain distracted by the thought as it rolls around in your mind. Jotting it down clears it from your head so that you can focus on the task at hand. Schedule some time to come back to the thought and expand on it or take the action that it requires.

This technique is ideal to use when you’re timing yourself during a timed focus session. If another to-do creeps into your mind, write it down and address it later.

Step 5: Learn How to Refocus After a Disruption

You can use these time-management steps to plan out your day. However, you can’t control every aspect of life. Sometimes, the unexpected happens, and you have to adjust everything. Learning how to regroup can help you stay on track.

Start before you get disrupted. For example, if you’re in the midst of a brainstorming session and your children’s school calls, jot down the last few phrases or words that you were thinking about before you answer. You’ll be primed to get back to it when you’re able to.

If a distraction took just a few minutes, you could usually go back to the task at hand. However, you might have lost your train of thought or your rhythm. Get it back by going back one step. If you were writing, re-read the last few paragraphs. Make notes of anything that comes up as you do so. You should be able to ease back into the flow of things.

Sometimes, it’s impossible to get back into the groove. In that case, you’ll waste time if you try to force it. Consider doing something completely different. Maybe you can tackle some other things on your to-do list.

If you’re not feeling particularly productive, you might want to do something leisurely. Although that goes against your instinct to plug along and complete all the tasks that you had scheduled for the day, it may make you more productive in the long run.

When you combine the dopamine release from a pleasurable activity with relaxation and distraction, your mind is in the perfect place to come up with creative ideas. Keep a notebook handy so that you can capture your strokes of genius whenever they occur. You can elaborate on them later.

What Are the Biggest Time Management Mistakes?

Time management shouldn’t be complicated. It should simplify your life. If you’re still struggling, you might want to determine whether you’re making any of the following time management mistakes:

  • Not prioritizing – If you don’t identify which task is more urgent, which is more important and which is both, you’ll have trouble deciding what to do first. Keep writing it all down and assessing your to-dos on a daily basis to improve in this department.
  • Sleeping in – When you’re busy, one of the best things that you can do is wake up early. Cross off some of the tasks that you’ve been resisting to clear your day for more enjoyable activities.
  • Procrastinating – When you procrastinate, you tend to avoid your priorities and schedule altogether. You’ll have to pick up the pieces eventually. Take one baby step toward a task that you’re procrastinating to gain some momentum.
  • Underestimating your time – If you don’t track your time periodically, you may not know how to predict how long specific tasks will take you. It’s better to overestimate than underestimate your time.
  • Multitasking – Your brain is not equipped to multitask. If you tend to do multiple activities at once, you’re essentially in continual distraction mode. Do one thing at a time.
  • Skipping breaks – You should give yourself time to unwind even on your busiest days. If you don’t, you’ll experience a physical and mental crash at some point. Your brain and body need time to rest and rejuvenate themselves to operate at peak performance.

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