After a conversation with a friend about her time management concerns, I felt inspired to think about my time. She has a ton of responsibilities leading to a regular state of unrest and distress. I have a much more relaxed life. But I wonder if I make the most of my time.
I am not sure if I have a good hold of my time; but I am trying to learn. After talking to a few people, I realized that a lot of them have spent time figuring out their time. So I decided to collect a few thoughts from a small group of people I know. Someone work as a freelancer, another one has a 9-5 job; one of them juggles multiple hats, another one relatively free of responsibilities. Some of these tips are simple enough to execute; some sound like a lot of work. Some are specific to a job type; some are generic. Some of them are often talked about and recommended; a few were novel ideas to me.
I hope to pick and choose to make a personal toolkit from the list.
After reading through the list of tips, I realized that all of them are essentially trying to solve a fixed set of problems. So maybe, that’s the essence of time management. Figure out answers to these questions and you have a much better control of your time. The answers could be borrowed or your own unique solutions.
- “How can I do my work faster?”
- This is simply about productivity and efficiency; and most talked about
- “How can I eliminate or reduce time guzzlers?”
- The perennial question ‘So what do I do now?’
- If you observe carefully, thinking ‘what to do’ takes up more time than ‘doing’
- Wasteful activities
- Those extra minutes spent looking for a charger or papers or that document in the computer or that extra half an hour spent on figuring out what to wear
- Repetitive unavoidable tasks
- Buying grocery, paying bills etc
- The perennial question ‘So what do I do now?’
- “Can I ‘make’ more time for myself?”
- Time may seem objective; but the experience of time and feelings are subjective
I asked people to share tips and tricks, small or big that worked for them and why it worked for them? Here’s a list of curated replies clubbed in the 5 categories identified above. Some of them solve more than one problem.
Faster Work / Productivity
- Productivity tools:
- Why it works for me? Every now and then I keep changing the tool but I have always had a tool to manage my tasks. I don’t want to waste brainpower in remembering things. I do not do things that are not on my calendar, asana (productivity app) or notepad.
- This reply to my time management query is further elaborated in this very useful link on productivity. Read this.
- Efficiency vs multi-tasking: I don’t do two things at the same time.
- Why it works for me? This simple rule keeps me focused and efficient. I manage to do more and better quality work in less time. I manage multiple things during the same time duration but I don’t do multiple things at the same time. What this means is that I might take up more than one project for this week. But when I sit down to write for one, I don’t spend energy thinking about another one. If while working on A, I get an idea applicable for B, I make a note and visit it afterwards.
- Avoid unnecessary distractions: Switch off digital and focus.
- Why it works for me? I check my emails during a specified period of the day. I have turned off mail notifications on phone. Some things are important and urgent. But most things can wait for tomorrow. So whatever personal things I have to do in the night, I am able to finish and my peaceful mornings remain undisturbed. When I do work that needs focus like research on a new topic, reading, writing, I switch off everything else including email. I am not active on Facebook or Twitter during the workday. I open other windows only after I finish a task.
What to do now?
- Lists: To-do list with priority and deadlines (daily and weekly).
- Why it works for me? I make this first thing in the morning or right after I reach office. I don’t forget tasks. It helps me plan my day. I manage to get time for what is important because it’s there in the checklist. Over a period of time, I also got a good sense of my productivity and efficiency. Crossed items feel good and allow me to take little do-nothing breaks as gratification. I feel I have more time.
- Goal setting:
- Why it works for me? I have a long-term goal list. I revisit this once a month. This helps me plan my work better and prioritize my time.
- Daily Plan-of-action:
- Why it works for me? This is a version of lists but it has a different intent. Before I sleep in the night or first thing in the morning, I take a quick stock of things I need to do and how I will start my day. This gives a fresh, committed and motivated start to my day. I don’t feel lost or overwhelmed with work.
- Time of the day: Dedicate time slots of the day for specific tasks.
- Why it works for me? Depending on my energy level through the day, I figured out some time slots are more productive for me; some time slots allow me to ideate better; and some allow me to execute mind-numbing but important tasks. I do most of my thinking and writing work early morning. I use late evenings for organizing things and other physical non-digital activities to give rest to my eyes a little before its sleep time. It saves me time on decision-making. It also keeps my efficiency higher which means more work done in less time. If we go by the cycle of nature, morning time is considered most productive. However, in the modern and digital world, we are not aligned to nature anymore. So figure out your own productive time slots.
- Organisation: Own less (remove junk); organize; improve accessibility.
- I don’t buy a lot of things
- Why it works for me? It saves wasted time to manage, maintain, search, decide and use. Most things we own are avoidable or redundant. Quality of lifestyle doesn’t go down by owning less if you own only useful things.
- Organize ‘things’:
- Why it works for me? I don’t have to spend time searching for anything in my house because most things are organized in a specific place that is spatially visible and accessible to me. I ensure they are returned in the same place end of the day including pens, keys, jewellery. I have a small magnet for safety pins and a separate box for hair accessories.
- Keep relevant things easily accessible.
- Why it works for me? I don’t have to spend time searching or moving around unnecessarily if important, urgent things are accessible. Eg, in my room, these things are within a reach of one-arm distance – pen, paper, memo pad, water or relevant wires. Same principle applies to work folders in my computer. I organize and label files for faster accessibility.
- I don’t buy a lot of things
- Leave for office early:
- Why it works for me? I am able to beat traffic and save my travel time substantially.
Repetitive unavoidable tasks
- Automate bill payments:
- Why it works for me? All my bills are on autopay except credit card that I want to check before paying. This saves me a lot of time every month otherwise spent scratching my head over bills. I don’t have to remember bills and I don’t have delayed payment.
- Shop for Grocery on weekdays
- Why it works for me? My weekends are free from chores and I can do more things I love. Boring household chores on weekdays seem more bearable and don’t feel like work. On a weekend, it feels like wasted time.
- Cook and maid:
- Why it works for me? Hiring a maid and cook gives me a lot more free time, especially the morning 3 hours that I can now spend with myself (even if I am doing nothing). I feel I have time.
Making time for self
- Breaks: Committed do-nothing mental breaks through the day.
- Why it works for me? When I spend sometime every day for myself to do things that relaxes me (even if for 15min), I don’t feel overwhelmed with work and I feel like I have time. Sometimes I take this break for lunch or tea and sometimes other personal things (like light reading, walk etc).
- Respect my time:
- Why it works for me? This is the most important lesson I have learnt. I have learnt to say no to events and people that have no value add to my life, intellectually or emotionally. I give importance to my time. I make a conscious decision now for every block of my time someone demands for anything, even a movie or dinner.
- Commit time to what I want:
- Why it works for me? I saved (or utilized) maximum time by joining music class and yoga class. I was most productive then. Left to myself, I waste time. I somehow managed to wrap up my office at a particular time everyday. Nothing in my life stopped after I joined these classes. I didn’t know I had 2 hours every day of the week to be dedicated to something I love.
- Prioritization in favour of useful activities:
- Why it works for me? I stopped my TV connection. I try to read every day instead of watching TV even if it’s for half an hour. Not many things on TV are interesting to me. And I waste time switching channels or watching something with limited interest.
Hope you might also find some of these useful.