I received a nice e-mail over the weekend from a reader that complimented me on my productivity and asked if I’d share some of my tips for time management. Ah, time management…one of my favorite things to talk about.
Time management is a skill that I honed as a sorority girl in college. Say what you will about Greek life, but those women get their shizz done. It was then that I really learned how to balance my time, and it’s something that just gets better with practice.
Here are my tips!
- Figure out how you want to keep track of your schedule. This is so important…you won’t do well sticking to a schedule if you don’t like how it looks. Some people work better with an electronic calendar or an app, while other people need to write everything down. I used to write everything down, because even though I loved doing a calendar on my computer, I wanted something that I could always have with me. Then I got my Droid last fall and could easily access my Google calendar my phone, as well as at work or on my home computer. It’s been amazing. I have five different calendars on the one calendar (workouts, coaching, personal/bills/big work commitments, my blog, Hollaback), and I can look at all of them at once….or one at a time, when I don’t feel like dealing with everything.
- Determine your non-negotiables. Start by listing the parts of your schedule that aren’t flexible — usually your job or your college classes. My biggest non-negotiable besides work is working out; while which days and times I go to Define is flexible, but the days I can go to spin aren’t, and I also know that my legs won’t let me follow an evening workout with a morning workout. And things like a doctor’s appointment or a work obligation can be a non-negotiable too. Once your non-negotiables are set, you can figure out your wake-up time, and, more important, your bedtime — a good night’s sleep is seriously the root of well…everything! I know how much sleep I need to function well, so my bedtime is pretty much non-negotiable.
- Consider your “at best” times. For everything else you want to do, figure out which times of the day you’re at your best to do that activity. Are you best as a morning exerciser or an evening exerciser? Are you best at getting up early to work on a project or do you hit your creative streak later at night? You can’t always do things at your “best at” times, but you should try to do your most important things during those times, because otherwise, you’re just not going to get as much out of them. And when you’re thinking about this, think about what you like to do. I like staying in alone on Friday nights. I have a strange mental block to working out on Wednesdays. I try to get my schedule to accommodate these things whenever possible — sorry I’m not sorry.
- Think of everything need to do and things you you want to do. We all have things that we need to do (work, go to the grocery store, hang out with your friends) and that we want to do (do nothing but watch “Law & Order: SVU” for a few hours). Decide which of your want-to-dos can be treated as need-to-dos — you have to give yourself some sort of mental breaks and things to look forward to or you’re going to go crazy.
- Stop treating things you “need” to do as important. Things you “need” to do — like hanging out with friends you don’t really like or going to a class at the gym that you think you “have” to do to be in shape, but dread every week and hate the entire time — need to be taken off your schedule. Seriously STOP. If you have limited time, do not waste it on people or activities you can’t be excited about. If you get excited about “SVU,” and not about your weekly brunch with your sort-of friend, ummm….start telling her you’re busy. Because you are. Owning it means not justifying every choice you make, so the fact that you’re busy with Elliot and Olivia is no one’s fucking beeswax.
- Be honest about how much time things really take. I’ve read that people who are always late don’t have a good idea of how long activities actually take them. Before you schedule a long day filled with activities, think about how long it will actually take you to complete each one. How long did it take last time you did it? How long is the travel time? Can you really get to the gym in 10 minutes after work…or is it more like 30 minutes once you account for parking, changing, and picking out a song on your ipod?
- Figure out your minimums. What is the minimum level of time you need to put into certain things to get something out of it? If you’re a blogger, what is the minimum amount of time you can spend each week to write a blog you’re proud of? When considering your minimums, think about what I call the “one less” rule — decide what activities you could do one less time per week (or month!) and still do well. Could you do one less workout per week and still feel fit and active? Would writing one less blog post a week free up the time you need to connect with your real friends? Great — then your minimum is actually a little lower than you thought it was.
- Be flexible. Despite loving my calendar, I’m actually really laid-back about a lot of things. Besides my non-negotiables, I am perfectly happy to make changes to my schedule to accommodate other people or things I really want to do. I also make changes based on my “at best” times. If I’m really in the mood to sit down at the computer and write, then I’ll do it, and plan to work out the next morning instead. I make my schedule with that flexibility in mind.
- Combine activities when possible. Workout dates? Are a godsend. So are grocery store dates. (I’m not kidding…I love going to the grocery store! Going with a guy makes me happier than is cool to admit here.) I try not to multitask too much, but things like working out or watching “Law & Order” can be done with someone else. (Or you can work out and watch “Law & Order” at the same time! The possibilities are endless!!) I also plan to run as many errands as I can on the same days. If I need to go to Target, the mall, and the bank, I try to do it all at once, instead of doing each errand on a different day. Once I’m already out and in errand mode, I’d rather just do them all at once. (And while it sounds unsexy, an errand running date is like…crazy efficient. My advice? Just finish it with a fun errand, like getting fro yo or having lunch out.)
- …but don’t combine if one of the activities requires too much mental energy. There are certain things I just can’t multitask on, and that involves anything I do while sitting at my computer. It’s useless for me to try, and it sucks for the person who I’m with, who is not getting any of my attention. If I’m blogging while Eric is around, I don’t count that as spending time with him.
OK — once you have all this figured out, you can start putting things into your schedule. When it comes to the actual scheduling, here is my best advice: find the holes in your day. Every time of day is up for grabs, and once you start considering those times that may not be obvious, you’ll be surprised at how much more you can get done. If you don’t have to go into work until 9:30, you have a huge chunk of the morning open for use. Got a lunch break? Perfect — drop that mail off at the Post Office or run to the grocery store for a few items for dinner. Other small changes, like working out right before bed or editing a bunch of blog pictures for a few hours on Sunday morning (the best time to work as far as I am concerned, because no one is around to distract you!) can make it so much easier to fit everything in. Time management is easy once you see how much time you really have.
Trying to figure out a schedule will require a lot of mental gymnastics as your non-negotiables, at bests, minimums, and wants and needs battle it out. I usually do my calendar a week in advance, but not just once a week, if that makes sense. (If I only updated my schedule on Saturdays, then updating it on Saturday Feb. 26th would take me through March 5th…but by March 3rd, I already want to know my schedule for the following week. So, since some date is always a week away, I update every few days.) I’ll post my actual schedule later this week, if you’re interested in seeing how this all actually looks for me.
Once you’ve made your schedule, tell yourself this: no more, no less. The deal I have with myself is that my schedule was carefully planned, and when I wake up feeling guilty on a Sunday morning about what I “should” be doing…I remember that it’s not on the schedule, so I don’t have to. On the other hand, if I blow something off for no good reason, then I have to make time to fit it in, and this usually brings along some punishment (getting up earlier, skipping a workout). I don’t like that to happen, so discipline naturally follows.
And one more thing: it’s OK to not be able to do it all. I don’t do it all. No one actually does it all. I do all that’s super important to me, but believe me, there are things that are still pretty important to me that just don’t make it into my schedule. I read an interview with Meredith Viera years ago, and she said something that really stuck with me: that when asked how she “does it all,” she said she doesn’t. And that she doesn’t want to. That trying to do it all is selfish.
And in most cases, I think that’s true. Doing it all is impossible and trying to do it all means you’re cheating someone or something important to you — your family, your education, your job, your significant other — out of some part of you. And, of course, if you’re stressed about where you need to be next or what else you should be doing, then you’re cheating yourself out of the full experience of each thing you love.
What are your best tips for time management? What kind of calendar do you like? What are your non-negotiables? Do you feel like your MO is “Do it all or die tryin'” or are you able to let some things go? I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas!