Lesson #70: Tips for Time Management

by Rachel on February 28, 2011

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!

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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?
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.)
  10. …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!

{ 46 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Stina February 28, 2011 at 10:31 am

Finding the holes in my day made a huge difference to me. I spend 2 – 3 hours a day on the bus and train commuting to and from work. A lot of people don’t understand how I manage to do this, but this time has become really valuable to me. I use it as my “me time.” I pop in my head phones (Sometimes I don’t even turn on my iPod, I just use the headphones to muffle background noise.) and use the time to read, meal plan, plan my schedule, nap, or just chill and decompress from a stressful day.


2 Lori March 1, 2011 at 12:53 pm

Stina: I can relate. I spent 1.5 years doing a 3 hour round trip commute in my car for work, daily. But considering it was through rural Colorado with no one on the roads, it was certainly a time of peace and reflection for me. Plus, I listened to to about 30 or more books in that time. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have been able to find time to do my favorite past-time.


3 Sable February 28, 2011 at 10:47 am

I am definitely able to let some things slide. I am also an expert at utilizing holes in my day! :) My biggest time management tip is DELEGATE. Don’t have time to prepare all the week’s meals ahead of time? Don’t — teach your husband, BF, or significant other to prep some of them. Same goes for laundry, dishwasher, etc…there is no reason for one person to do everything! And for the love of God it doesn’t make you less of a woman if your significant other does some of the womanly chores.


4 Rachel February 28, 2011 at 11:20 am

AMEN TO THIS!!! This might actually be the #1 thing I’m excited about in terms of moving in with Eric.


5 Sarah February 28, 2011 at 10:53 am

Let me start by saying that your blog is the best one ever. Possibly ever ever, but I don’t want to get carried away.
Now, scheduling. I have a work schedule that is different every week, but is planned a year in advanced and consists of switching between month on nights and month on days mixed with month working weekends and month with all free weekends. My free time is extremely important and I use that Google calendar like there is no tomorrow. I am constantly scheduling social events, exercise, movie openings and me time. Anything I need, I have to put in there or it might not get overlooked. I also have things that I keep in mind as more flexible than others and have no issue moving a workout or canceling on a social outing if I need. I like to take whatever day is my first off day (this week it is today) and go through and check out what is going on in the week, as well as catch up on blogs and things that I may have missed on workdays in lieu of getting sleep.


6 Caitlin February 28, 2011 at 11:01 am

Bookmarking and reading six more times. Because clearly, I spent way too much time reading blogs this morning and now I am going to be late for work.

But really, LOVE. And also, NEED.


7 Stephanie February 28, 2011 at 11:24 am

Great post! I used to think I was great at time management…until I was honest with myself and realized NOTHING was getting done.

I’ve tried using so many types of calendars and I just never am consistent with anything. But not having some kind of schedule is stressing me out to the max because nothing is getting accomplished, on the daily or working towards my goals :( I’m definitely going to utilize some of these tips!


8 Cynthia (It All Changes) February 28, 2011 at 11:27 am

I love combining things like grocery shopping and friends or running and watching Survivor. It gets me out of my house and allows me to feel accomplished.

I carry both a paper and have an electronic calendar. 99% of the time I’m at my desk on the computer so Google calendar makes since but for that 1% I love my paper calendar. Old habits die hard and I’m to broke for a smart phone.


9 Elise February 28, 2011 at 11:28 am

I used to always be late not because I wasn’t honest about the time, at least I didn’t feel dishonest. I just HONESTLY thought that I could get anywhere anytime in 5-10 minutes. I don’t know why I thought this. It is not true.


10 Marie March 2, 2011 at 6:33 pm

This must be my problem…


11 Manon February 28, 2011 at 11:30 am

I sooooooooo needed this. Well, not so much need this right now because all I can really do is go to work, go home, and lay on my couch or in bed….but once I’m back to my “normal” life, I have to get organized and plan better. I get sooooo frustrated when I feel unproductive and stretched too thin!


12 Katie February 28, 2011 at 11:53 am

I use Google calendar as well for workouts, bill reminders, important events, appointments, etc. I love that I can set up an email reminder for something and I’ll get it on my blackberry. For example- auto loan payment reminder is great so I know a few hundo sadly just left my bank account. I still love using a written list for the day-to-day. For some reason when I write it all down, I’m much more likely to start it. And if I give myself some time constraints, I usually have no problem hitting them. If I sat there in front of my computer without a list I’d prob end up on Facebook and blogs for hours.

While I’m at work, I carry around a small notebook all day at work to jot down all the million and one things people ask or email, thoughts from meetings, or things I want to expand on or research later. It’s not always super organized as I’m going about my day but every evening after work, I review the list and make a to-do for the next morning. It really helps me let go of work at the end of the day and I don’t lay awake worrying that I forgot something. Some days I even review and prioritize again at lunch to regroup.


13 Katie February 28, 2011 at 11:54 am

damn that was long!


14 Rachel February 28, 2011 at 12:02 pm

I do the same with the small notebook! I HAVE to write out my daily to-do list for some reason. And I get SO MUCH JOY from crossing things off! I also really like to review mine and keep ongoing lists (especially of things I need to do/pick up on errand day). It’s also a great place to write down addresses or things like that.


15 Cynthia (It All Changes) February 28, 2011 at 10:52 pm

The joy of crossing things off is addicting. If I do something that wasn’t originally on the list I write it down just to cross it off. It’s a sickness but not one for which I want treatment.


16 Rachel February 28, 2011 at 10:53 pm

Oh YES. I do the same thing!


17 Parita@myinnershakti February 28, 2011 at 12:09 pm

The thing that helps me the most is having a plan and writing all my tasks down. And like you said above, the feeling you get from crossing things off a to do list is awesome! Something else you said resonated with me as well – know yourself (you didn’t say that exactly but that’s what I took from your post…LOL!). I think knowing how I deal with stress and what my trigger points are helps me manage my time more effectively. Great post, Rachel!


18 Jasmine @ Eat Move Write February 28, 2011 at 12:28 pm

Really great tips. My favorite (and one I utilize myself) is combine activities. I do “grocery store dates” with my best girlfriend every Sunday. It’s a great way to hang and get shiz done. Hubby and I also workout together. It’s not only good for getting stuff done and spending time together, but it’s a bonding time, I think. Sweating together is good for a marriage/relationship, we think. :D

Have a great week pretty girl! :)


19 Teri [a foodie stays fit] February 28, 2011 at 12:43 pm

dude, it’s no wonder you are a life coach. you always have such great advice on topics like this – and they aren’t your standard tips either. I’m having issues right now because my iPhone calendar isn’t linking to my Macbook calendar which doesn’t link to my work calendar so I’ve got 3 different calendars going. And there’s really no way to solve it. I always used a franklin covey planner growing up and I’m wondering if maybe I just need to go back to the paper & pen system.

Non-negotiables: sitting down for my meals, gym, running on the weekends.


20 Diane February 28, 2011 at 1:46 pm

I do grocery store dates with one of my friends. It’s practically the only thing that convinces me to go. I know everyone loves going to the grocery store but I hate it! If I’m tempted to skip out, I remind myself how much I love the “morning after” talks that always ensue. I love scandalizing people when they overhear us talking about one night stands in the frozen food section.


21 Rachel February 28, 2011 at 2:21 pm

haha love that!


22 Val @ Balancing Val February 28, 2011 at 2:02 pm

Excellet Tips!!

My life has gotten so incredibly busy in the past few months and it really forced me to evaluate how I was spending my time.

One of the things that were important is learning that I really cant afford to have any negative or usless things going on in my life. I cut out a lot of things that werent condusive to my own self care or future . . . this even meant losing some friends that I no longer connected with.

I believe that everyone should work towards doing something with their lives that truly brings them joy . . . once you find out what that is and how to get there there is no doubt that time management plays a huge role in following out your dreams!

BE ORGANIZED . . . and dont do anything that brings you down :)


23 Clare @ Fitting It All In February 28, 2011 at 2:16 pm

Awesome post. I really like the “one less” concept – I need to look at things I can do one less time.
Also, it’s so true that we need to stop doing thing we don’t really want to do. I have found some relationships that are toxic and just don’t excite me, so I don’t actively try to make them work anymore. It’s not worth it!


24 Kari February 28, 2011 at 2:38 pm

I agree! I am a sorority girl and I learned all of my time management skills from the balance of sorority life, work, school, etc. I think I learned more from my sorority than I did from my university!


25 Nikki February 28, 2011 at 3:06 pm

This post is fantastic. I especially love the “no more, no less” rule. I have a terrible time guilting myself constantly. It’s something I’m working on, and while I’m a lot better I still have a long way to go. I think this tip could really help me get rid of the guilt.

As far as time management, I intentionally keep my schedule light. Because I know myself and I know I get easily overwhelmed. So my spiritual time, my husband, my workouts, and my job are must haves. Everything else is flexible.

I’m still a paper calendar girl, even though I’m not currently 100% happy with the one I have. I wish it had a section for notes and brainstorming. I added a small pad of post-its (maybe 20 pulled off a regular pad) and have it in the back for extra notes and such. It’s working pretty well, but I’d rather have it built in.


26 Rachel February 28, 2011 at 3:50 pm

Finding the perfect planner is SO hard…once you do, it’s so exciting, but it’s nearly impossible to find one that has everything you need! The notes thing is clutch…I ended up just getting a mini notebook that I used when I had a paper planner and still use now for my to-do lists.


27 Cynthia (It All Changes) February 28, 2011 at 10:55 pm

I have a quo vadis one that has a large section for each day. I write my appointments and use the rest of the space for notes. And it has a notes section in the back. It had a variety of covers which made me happy.


28 Angela (the diet book junkie) February 28, 2011 at 3:36 pm

thanks so much for the tips, i could REALLY use them right about now. :) totally agree with being flexible and STOP checking your EMAIL 50 times a day!!!! lol…it really is a time killer.


29 Natalie @ Scarlett Notions February 28, 2011 at 3:41 pm

Thanks so much for this post! I immediately got crackin’ and got my calendar into gear. I’ve synced my iPhone, Outlook, and Google Calendar and have never been happier. I’ll be doing my MTV-ing at the gym tonight. :)


30 Rachel February 28, 2011 at 3:49 pm

Woot woot!


31 Meaghan February 28, 2011 at 4:46 pm

I think I actually love you. What a terrific post!


32 Sarah February 28, 2011 at 5:40 pm

Loved this post! Definitely something I need to work on with midterms and spring break coming up. I can see a huge life organization sesh in my near future!


33 Julia February 28, 2011 at 7:09 pm

Great post, Rach! Since you are my go-to techy friend, I’d love a follow-up post where you could recommend some good technology that help keep people organized – the best apps, Gmail tips, etc. Pretty much I’m just obsessed with my new iPhone and can’t wait to use it to the fullest! I think a lot of your readers would have some good app/tech suggestions as well. Anyway, just my thought! Thanks for being my FWHHST, or Friend Who Has Her Shit Together. :)


34 Smash February 28, 2011 at 8:22 pm

One thing I need to schedule: time to go grocery shop. It’s not my favorite thing to do, especially since I’m buying for myself and my boyfriend as we live together. If I don’t go by Sunday night, I’m screwed for the rest of the week. I need to make this a non-negotiable sometime soon!


35 Kayla February 28, 2011 at 9:00 pm

I was laying there on my mat after yoga tonight, and I literally had this exact same epiphany. I was thinking about my last few days, and all the things I should be working on, and realizing all the time I’m wasting. Whether it be Facebook, twitter, blog reading, or online dating, I need to learn to use my time more wisely.

So, I think I’m going to spend the next little bit planning out my next few days, and being more strict about where I use my time. I agree that mental breaks are hugely important and great motivators, but I find myself giving myself mental breaks more than I’m actually working.


36 Bess February 28, 2011 at 10:24 pm

I am a FIEND about maximizing every minute of my day during the work week, though try my best (try being the operative term) to let myself unplug during the weekends.

One of my big tips as far as communication goes is to respond to communication as quick as possible, because at least I find that if I don’t respond (even if it’s just via a brief text or email) right away, I will probably never remember to do…this may be also in large part because I have essentially no short term memory (but an amazing long term memory)-go figure!

Let’s just say that after today, my chiropractor’s assistant knows better than to keep me waiting half an hour during the work week…


37 Caroline March 1, 2011 at 4:45 am

Ummmm can I just admit that right now I’m reading this post as a break from my all nighter?


38 Lauren at Keep It Sweet March 1, 2011 at 8:27 am

This post is so relevant because I am constantly wondering how I can “do it all”. I am actually realizing that isn’t quite possible and prioritizing really is the first and most important step. I’m saving your tips to.


39 Lauren at Keep It Sweet March 1, 2011 at 8:27 am

by “to” I mean “too”


40 Lori March 1, 2011 at 12:58 pm

I genuinely have NO freakin’ idea how I’m going to keep all my ducks in a row with our first kid coming in July. I’m terrible with time management just with me and the mister!

I think what I need to do is figure out what my non-negotiables will be and then figure out the minimums. Plus, I’ll be getting one of those new-fangled phones (woo hoo to upgrades!) with a data plan so I can start using the Google calendar more regularly.

Great post!


41 Amy March 1, 2011 at 6:37 pm

I just put off writing a paper to read these through several times. ;)

Great post!


42 Jessica March 4, 2011 at 8:03 pm

Love this post! I am a super organized person, but sometimes I feel like it takes up so much of my time getting there!



43 Lisa March 4, 2011 at 11:30 pm

I never knew how awesome Google Calendars could be. Thanks for introducing me to my new favorite tool!


44 Narita March 8, 2011 at 3:14 am

This was sooo helpful! Gosh, I was just thinking that I needed to find a solution to my procrastination and google calendar may just be it! Being a college student and starting to take higher level classes, the procrastination skills of my high school self really need to go away. Time to grow up and time manage! :)


45 Jacki July 12, 2011 at 10:37 am

I needed to read this post today! This morning I was totally overwhelmed by everything that needs to get done, got to this post via your post about how to cook at all hours, and am “liking” it so I can come back later and read it again … after I’ve finished my non-negotiables for the day. It is about 95% certain that next month, I’m buying a house, and it’s well past time for me to learn to manage my life better. Time management is a big struggle and remembering some basic tips will be very helpful! I think the problem is I spend too much time on the stuff I WANT to do and not enough on the stuff I MUST do … and I end up feeling stressed out all the time. Time to make some improvements!


46 Kelsey July 14, 2011 at 12:06 pm

I’ve been trying to wake up early to get freelance work done, but I just need to admit that isn’t my most productive time and move on!


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