Updated: Mar 17, 2019
Time management might be the most important skill to learn if you want to change your life. Managing your time well not only allows you to get all the productive, important things done in your life, but it will also give you more you-time at the end (or beginning) of your day. There are many methods of time management and what works for one person make not work for you. I’ll provide the most helpful tips that I personally have found and use, but if you find something isn’t working for you, try tweaking the method bit by bit until it does work for you.
Find some sort of calendar or planner that works for you.
First of all, if you are a grownass adult, or older than the age of 16, and aren’t using some sort of planner or calendar, what's up with that? Get on it. Stop trying to remember all of the things you need to do and just write them down. I don’t care how good you think your memory is. Use your brain to remember more important things and stop trying to remember all the crap you need to get done.
You don’t know what you’re missing if you don’t have some sort of scheduling system until you get one. Schedules make it way easier to know how you need to spend your time, how you actually spend your time, and what you can actually fit into a day. Get a planner.
For years, I was a paper planner kind of person. I liked the ones that had each week spread onto two pages so that there was plenty of space to write in each day, but I could still see the week in a glance. Toward the end of college, I started carrying my laptop with me everywhere and switched to using my Google calendar, where I can still see the entire week (or month or year) at a glance and still have enough space to write down lots of detail for each day.
Decide what length of time you like to work in. Maybe a week is too long and leaves you feeling overwhelmed. Find a calendar that shows a day, or four days, at a time. Maybe you find you work better planning the whole month at once. Find a planner that lets you see the month all together. It's important to think about how you plan and think. If you need to see the whole week at a glance, a planner that only shows one day at a time isn't going to work, no matter how pretty it is. Function is more important than form.
No matter what time frame you think and plan in, make sure your calendar also has plenty of space to write in for each day. If you want to get a lot done in a day, you’ll need to have space to write it all out. One of the key things about time management, and organization in general, is that we need to get all of those things floating around your head written down somewhere so you aren’t trying to remember them all at once. Use that space in your brain for better things, and focus on the task at hand.
Decide if you’d prefer a paper or digital planner. Both have their pros and cons, so it comes down to personal preference. If you choose a digital planner, it’s easier to carry with you since you probably always have your phone with you. If you’re like me, you may find it easier to think and plan while writing things out physically on paper, but a paper planner is harder to carry with you at all times and more difficult to update when plans change.
Once you have decided on a planner type that will work for you, use it! Every time something comes up that you have to do, write it on that day of the planner. Look at your planner at the beginning and end of every day so you know what’s going on that day, or what to expect come tomorrow. Your planner will tell you how to manage your time, all you have to do is listen to it.
Block out your time the night before.
A habit I picked up during college, and still often use for days that I know I need to get a lot done, is to block out my time the night before. If you use a paper planner, I find putting a sticky note on that day for extra space to write is helpful. If you use a digital calendar, just schedule events back to back throughout the day. Say tomorrow you need to do laundry, go to the gym, go to class, work on your biology homework, work on your calc homework, go to the student senate meeting at 7, and clean your apartment for when your parents are stopping by on Saturday. Block out your entire day so you know what to do and when, in order to get everything done. Start with the things that have set times. Meetings, class, planned lunches with friends, etc. Your schedule can start out looking like:
10:30 a.m. to noon - Class
Noon to 1 p.m. - Lunch with friends
7 p.m. to 8 p.m. - Senate meeting
Then, fit in all the other things you need to do around that. I’m assuming you’ve done laundry, worked on homework, and cleaned your apartment before, so you should have a rough idea of how long these things take you. If you’re not sure, give yourself more time, rather than less. If your homework ends up being easier than you expected, you get an extra break. But if you spend longer than you planned for on something, it can throw off the entire day and make it hard to get everything done. Don’t forget to schedule commuting time and breaks for yourself! In the end, your schedule for tomorrow might look like:
8 a.m. to 9 a.m. - Wake up and get ready for the day
9 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. - Work on biology homework
10:30 a.m. to noon - Class
Noon to 1 p.m. - Lunch with friends
1 p.m. to 1:15 p.m. - Walk back to your apartment
1:15 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. - Put laundry in the washing machine
1:30 p.m. to 2:45 p.m. - Work on calc homework
2:45 p.m. to 3 p.m. - Move laundry from washing machine to dryer
3:00 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. - Take a break
3:30 p.m. to 4 p.m. - Clean apartment
4 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. - Fold and put away laundry
4:30 p.m. to 6:15 p.m. - Go to the gym
6:15 p.m. to 7 p.m. - Eat dinner
7 p.m. to 8 p.m. - Senate meeting
And now you have your schedule for tomorrow. It fits everything in that needs to be done, and you know that after 8 p.m., you have free time to chill and do whatever until it’s time to sleep. And since everything got finished during the day, you won’t have lingering thoughts during that time about all the things you needed to do and didn’t.
If you’re like me and love to check off To Do lists, put check boxes beside each activity and check them off when they’re finished. Creating a schedule like this is helpful for me when I know I have a lot to get done around the house. Putting laundry, doing the dishes, vacuuming, meal prepping, taking out the trash, and taking care of my plants all onto a schedule like this keeps my mind off of actually doing the chores and instead focused on checking off the To Do list.
Depending on what your day to day life looks like, it may be more helpful to plan one day or one week at a time. During college when my schedule varied quite a bit every day, I put all of my classes on my calendar at the beginning of the semester, but scheduled each day the night before when I had a better idea of exactly what I needed to accomplish the following day. Now that my life isn’t as variable, I have the recurring events already scheduled, and add in new things that I need to do as they come up.
I’ll have a post up in a few days about how I calendar block my Google calendar and walk through the specifics of how I personally use calendar blocking in order to get things done. (Edit: it's up!)
Use the little pockets of time.
You know those little pockets of time while your tea is steeping or the shower is warming up? Use them. Instead of standing around on your phone while you wait, put the dishes away or clean up your bathroom counter. Have a few minutes to wait until your friend is picking you up for dinner? Pull out some flashcards and study for midterms for a bit. It may not seem like much but a few minutes here and there throughout the day actually allows you to accomplish quite a bit.
In the same vein, if something takes less than five minutes, just do it. Notice the kitchen counters need wiped off? That takes less than five minutes. Just do it. You threw your jacket on the couch instead of putting it in the closet? Hanging it up takes less than five minutes. Just do it. You get the idea. Every little bit counts and all these five minute pockets will add up to so much more productivity.
Doing something for the first time almost always takes longer than subsequent repetitions. Developing efficient routines will allow you to streamline the things you do regularly, rather than having to think about it and make sure you aren’t missing any steps.
Instead of immediately sitting down when you get home from work, create a routine. Shoes and coat in the closet, keys hung on a hook by the door, lunchbox in the kitchen and containers from lunch into the dishwasher, and you’re done. All of that takes at most five minutes, and you didn’t create a series of random tasks for future you. Doing all of those tasks separately, without the automatic routine, would take longer than doing them in one fell swoop.
One of the most important routines is a bedtime routine. Consistently doing the same set of actions before bed will help condition you to become tired afterwards and make it easier to fall asleep, along with wrapping up any last things from that day, and setting you up for success tomorrow morning.
Personally, before I get into bed, I refill the water bottle that I keep beside my bed, refill the humidifier tank in my room and turn it and the ceiling fan on, set out my gym clothes for the next morning, and pack work clothes into my gym bag. The whole process takes no more than ten minutes but mentally prepares me to sleep and streamlines my mornings so I’m not trying to figure out what I’m forgetting while I’m still only half awake.
If you aren’t used to having a bedtime routine, start simply. Try putting out your work clothes before you get in bed for a week or two. Once that becomes automatic, add something else to the routine - maybe put away anything that was left out in the living room, then put out your work clothes. Over the course of a month or two, build up to a routine that works for you.
Along with bedtime routines, morning routines are killer when it comes to getting things done and out of the way in an efficient manner. Knowing exactly what you need to do to get ready and how long it takes you means you’ll be able to get ready as efficiently as possible.
Similar to the morning routine is the Sunday Reset. I do a Sunday Reset every weekend, which sets me up for a streamlined week. Everything that can be done ahead of time is done on Sundays so that I'm not wasting time during the week doing lots of little tasks that should have already been taken care of.
Monitor your day.
Yesterday, I posted about what I learned from writing down how I spent every minute of my day. My goal going into the experiment was to learn how much time I wasted aimlessly scrolling through Instagram, but it turned out that when I had to write down that I was scrolling on Instagram, and I knew I was going to have to tell you guys about it, it was way easier to decide not to scroll.
Writing down how I spent every minute kept me much more on schedule than usual because I was aware of what time it was and what I needed to be working on throughout the entire day. By writing down everything I did, I not only held myself accountable to my schedule, but also had to actually admit when I did things that are a waste of time, making me less likely to do them. I’m definitely considering doing this for a week sometime in the future because I know it would be a very productive week.
Monitoring your time definitely isn’t something you need to do every day, or even with any sort of regularity, but it’s an interesting experiment that forces you to really confront how you’re spending your time. It can help you with finding your most productive times and which tasks you struggle to get done so that you can plan your days in a way that works best for you.
As with the rest of getting your life together, the thing about all this is you still have to actually get up and do it.
The world’s most perfect calendar and scheduling system won’t get you anywhere if you never actually do the things on the calendar. Blocking out your schedule for tomorrow does nothing if tomorrow comes and you don’t do a single thing you’ve blocked out. This is where discipline comes in.
Good time management is a tool that assists your productivity and discipline, but on it’s own, it’s like having a stove with no pots and pans. You won’t be doing much cooking without the pots and pans. Ultimately, whatever system of time management helps you the most and allows you to work toward your goals the most efficiently is the one for you. This has to be figured out with trial and error, so start out by trying any tips I’ve mentioned that seem most useful for you and build from there. But as always, the key is that you have to actually take action.