I’d like to tell you that I’ve got my shit together when it comes to time management but by design… I’m basically a hot mess.
Time and I never got the hang of each other. We’ve danced around each other and acknowledged we needed to exist for practical purposes but never really bothered to connect beyond that.
I get it.
For the purposes of a useful post, I’m going to put my esoteric views on time as a human construct aside for another time. For now, let’s accept that to fit in with society we need to flow with the construct of time to some extent.
Easy for some. Challenging for most.
For those of us who drift around in our own world? Time management is something we’ve never quite figured out.
I thought I had escaped such challenge when I started my home business and wasn’t working for The Man anymore. I was giddy with the freedom to create my own schedule.
I did it, you guys. I Beat Time.
WRONG, WRONG, WRONG.
The first few years of working for myself were a disaster.
Turns out, my Grade 6 teacher was right. I am “an absent minded professor”.
Left to my own devices, without a boss on my back holding me accountable to start and finish times and task deadlines, I am time’s bitch.
This wasn’t going to work.
Or so I thought.
I was NOT going back to working for The Man again. This entrepreneur’s here to stay.
Which meant one thing: I had to suck it up, sort it out and get square with time management.
I read all the books. Googled. Tried. Tripped over spectacularly. Cried. Gave up. Got up. Tried again, a different way. Lather, rinse, repeat.
Time and I still haven’t fully worked each other out but we’re tentatively, begrudgingly eking out common ground.
I’m getting a groove. I’m flowing better. Life is easier.
Here’s what I’ve learned.
Get deep, balanced sleep each night
Without enough, I’m an angry bear at best and a zombie at worst. My thoughts are scattered.
I make time sucking mistakes. My eyes burn. I move slower… if I move at all.
I burst into tears if I drop a teaspoon on the floor. It takes me six goes to spell “teaspoon” correctly.
On the flip side, oversleep has the same effect. Six hours of quality sleep seems to be my personal optimum level: a single hour more or less and the next day is a cluster fuck.
Going to bed at the right time and getting some good, high quality sleep = less likely to sleep through your alarm = not running around late all day playing catch up = better time management. Get to it, my friends.
Related resource: The Importance of Beauty Sleep
Take more breaks
My old boss actually used to be the champion of breaks. He believed that 52 minutes of solid work equalled 7 minutes of screen and sitting hiatus: nip to the loo, pop the kettle on and sip a hot and goosebumpy cup of green tea, curl up under the desk and rest those peepers for 5 minutes, do some desk yoga, or go outside for a brisk 5 minute walk.
If we were complaining about being motivated, he would ask us when we last got up and away from our desk.
I know, I know. It seems counterproductive and counter intuitive, totaling 40 minutes sapped from your workday everyday.
TRY it. It is genius and game changing.
Just as with sleep, work times are about quality not quantity. It is futile to chain yourself to your desk if you’re there being unproductive.
You’ll get more done by remembering to take a quick break and refocus every so often.
Here’s how I do it:
Set aside one full hour a day, distraction free that is your Power Hour: put your phone on silent, put up a ‘DO NOT DISTURB’ sign at your desk and log out of the social medias so you don’t get tempted with notifications.
(You can even try a Chrome extension that blocks you from checking social media at particular times.)
In this hour, commit to a full hour of straight up HUSTLE.
For the other times in your work day, try the Pomodoro technique: 52 minutes of work followed by 7 minutes of getting away from your desk.
Go for a five minute walk around the block
Do some sun salutations or desk yoga
Use the loo and freshen up in the ladies’ room
Take a five minute nap (if your boss doesn’t mind)
Do some eye exercises to ease eye strain
Make yourself a healthy snack or a cup of tea
Meditate and/or do some deep breathing exercises
When I reintroduced this into my workday, I smashed those 52 minute work chunks knowing I could get up, reinvigorate and find a bit of life amidst the work.
No more gazing at the clock with a sinking feeling knowing I was still three hours away from my lunch break. Chunking it down made everything more manageable and exciting.
Schedule in some “me” time
I’m especially looking at you, entrepreneurs. (I’m guilty, too.) We tend to wed ourselves to our screens, focus squashed beneath the pressure of our looming to do lists.
But without indulging in some “me” time, without making human connection that doesn’t involve cyberspace?
You’re less productive in work time, scattered and lost, uninspired, easily bored or distracted, weakening connections with friendships and spouses and life moments that ground, uplift, and bring joy.
As an aside, joyful people are more focused, productive and motivated.
Related resource: Self Care Routines for Busy People
Get up earlier
I’m never thinking clearly when I wake up 5 minutes before I need to leave the house. What’s usually going on instead is running around, stubbing my toe, spilling my coffee, the ruthless disembowelment of my wardrobe trying to find an outfit, cussing so bad it would turn my nanna’s stomach: and that’s when I forget shit, make mistakes and kick off the day’s game of catch up.
When I bite the bullet, get up with my alarm and put my feet on the floor before I can talk myself out of it: I’m calm. Focused.
Everything is quieter. I am up before the devil knows about it.
The air smells more beautiful. I am waking up with the world. There’s a breathtaking sacredness to it.
I make better choices. I FEEL productive. What you focus on expands, right?
Exercise every day
No excuses. Don’t do it for the supermodel body, nor to be able to run 20 km or lift your body weight. But because it makes you feel like a fucking boss.
Yes, it takes up an extra hour of your day which doesn’t seem to make sense in a time management post. But you have to spend it to make it, right? And it is the best spent hour in my day.
This is science, y’all. It keeps you mentally sharp (better decisions), boosts energy (motivation fuel), stimulates the immune system (less sick days), increases blood flow to the brain (greater alertness), reduces anxiety and depression and increases stamina.
Move lovingly and joyfully. Find what works for you.
Forget the calories, the fads or the trends. Do what you love because it feels good.
Keep your desk space organised
The inner world reflects the outer world just as much as the outer world reflects the inner world. It’s a tautology: the sky is blue because it reflects the ocean and the ocean is blue because it reflects the sky.
Ergo, if your desk is chaotic your mind probably is too.
A disorganized, messy, cluttered desk = a disorganized, messy, cluttered mind, unable to focus or make good snap decisions. (Plus, you can’t find that client contract when it’s hidden beneath a mound of filing and the plate your morning avocado toast was on.)
Do a quick purge of the stuff that doesn’t need to be there daily before you leave the office. Make it a goodnight ritual. If it’s not used once a day, it has no business taking up the real estate on your desk.
This Virgo got stuck in “perfectionist paralysis” daily. I didn’t get The Thing done because it wasn’t “perfect” yet.
You know what I accomplished doing this? Exactly NOTHING.
So, I ditched perfectionism.
I didn’t ditch pride in the quality of my work. I didn’t begin half assing.
This conversation isn’t about that. This is about the life altering realization that there comes a time where for the sake of productivity you aim for YOUR best, rather than THE best, in the time you have allocated for the task, and then you move on.
Work hard. Do your absolute, very best that you can do in that moment. Be present, be focused, be mindful, be attentive, be dedicated.
If you finish a job with space left over in that deadline, go back in, proof read, tidy and fuss and fluff. But as soon as that deadline clicks over, submit and move on.
In just a few short days of doing this I doubled my productivity and boosted my hourly rate.
Set three priority tasks per day (no more, no less)
These bad boys get done first, before anything else.
Out of those three, pick one that is an absolute non-negotiable and get it out of the way FIRST. You feel instantly more productive, accomplished and focused.
It builds momentum which helps you accomplish more, and you will finish the day feeling more productive, instead of deflated because you didn’t get through a looming to do list.
Write your to-do list on Post-It Notes
Stick them to the top of your computer monitor so that you keep track of your priority in every moment.
Through the day, look at the row of Post-Its whenever Facebook or Google whisper in your ear, begging for attention. Whenever your priorities change, you can simply move and re-stick the Post-Its.
As you finish each task, throw the relevant Post-It away. If you get inspired to Google something, before that beautiful spider lures you into her web, write the question on a Post-It and add it to the list.
Beautiful. Simple. Genius. It is the best time management hack I ever received.
Plan ahead and live intentionally
On Sunday night, I sit down with my weekly intention setting worksheet and a mug of herbal tea and I do a weekly planning session.
First, I review what got done and I pat myself on the back. I carry across missed to-dos, prepare for events and pencil in new one.
Then I do a weekly projection of how I want my week to go down. This is subconscious rocket fuel, programming it to look for ways to make it happen.
Say “NO” a lot more
I spend a tremendous amount of time in my work day verbally or figuratively saying “no” to things.
Ringing mobile phones. People wanting to pop in for a “quick coffee” during work hours because “I’m only at home anyway”.
Email and Messenger pop ups flicking up on my desktop, begging for my instantaneous acknowledgement and attention. Running errands.
Helping out when I know it’s going to stress me out, involve multitasking or leave no white space in my schedule. (I’m a dreadful juggler.) I say “no” to things that will suck my time for little payoff.
This takes practice!!! I get it, it’s hard.
Society hates hearing the word “no” and I hate saying no, so this is something I’m still practicing myself.
I practice in my mirror. I enunciate and even vary my tone. “No, no, no, no.” (I learned this technique after watching my 3-year-old niece do this very thing with “no” in the mirror. She’s a genius.)
You don’t have to (and shouldn't) say “no” to everything, but if your day is full of time suckers, you may need to start saying “no” a lot more. This frees up more space in life for the things you genuinely can do and want to do and you can show up and be present for yourself and others more fully.
Mastering the art of learning when to say no is a cornerstone of good time management.
Related resource: How to Be Assertive (A Guide for Empaths)
Give your time a dollar value and guard it accordingly
If I only have an hour to get a job done because I’ll only make my hourly rate doing that job, I’ll only take an hour. However, if I can’t possibly get it done to a quality standard in that time, it’s no longer commercially viable and I don’t take it on. Basic, right?
While I have built my blog, I have been a transcription typist from home.
Some jobs would average a decent hourly rate (I get paid by the line). Others with difficult dictators and a lot of style rules took almost the whole day to complete and get right - and I only made $20 for them.
Not cool, right?
Well, it embarrassingly took me a year and a half in business to figure that out. That way of doing business was causing me to hemorrhage money and give away my time basically for free – the one resource I can’t earn back later.
The moral to the story is: if Richard Branson wouldn’t view it as commercially viable, you shouldn’t either. After all, you can also go broke sitting on the beach all day.
Only check your emails twice a day
Inboxes and instant messengers are sneaky time suckers. Put a lid on them stat.
I allocate half an hour mid-morning and half an hour at the end of my work day to check and deal with my email and instant messages. Although I still pop my head in and address my inbox regularly, I don’t live there anymore.
Choose times in your day to go in and check your emails. If you work in an office, get yourself and your co-workers into the habit of getting up and talking to one another instead of sending a string of urgent emails.
Talking about it in person is usually a lot faster and more productive than an email string back and forth. It saves you sitting in your inbox all day and you can actually get other things done - also, it gets you up and moving throughout your day!
If it takes less than two minutes, do it now
Don’t put off anything that will only take a few minutes to do. This goes for business/admin tasks, phone calls to book appointments, or chores around the house.
It’s so tempting to put them off and think that you’ll get to them later - only you never do! Suddenly you end up with an accumulated roster of two hours’ worth of tasks that would have only taken a few minutes each to complete.
Instead, make it a habit that if something pops up that will only take a few minutes to deal with, handle it there and then on the spot and then you don’t have to think about it, try and remember it, or add it to a long to do list!
Find your own truth
Ninety-five percent of all the time management things I tried backfired in my face spectacularly. I’m a creative. I don’t like being pigeonholed into one way of doing things.
You will likely find the same thing.
Read everything. Google everything.
Try everything on. If it works, keep it. If it doesn’t, toss it aside and try something else.
When you live in your own little world, chances are you need to bring your own brand to time management. You’ll get there. Even with all the tips in the world, time management takes a lot of trial and error, the right motivation and a bit of patience to master.
It's totally worth it to master some solid strategies to leverage your time better. It frees you up to live your life more fully and spend time on the things you actually enjoy.
Let’s connect and have a chat about it in the comments below. What are your favourite hacks and resources for managing your time and prioritising your day?
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The Achievement Trap: The Over Achiever, People Pleaser & Perfectionist’s Guide to Freedom & True Success - Brandilyn Tebo The Four Hour Workweek - Tim Ferris Eat That Frog - Brian Tracy