Do you struggle with time management? Does it seem like you to-do list just keeps growing and growing with no end in sight? I used to feel that way every morning. Sometimes just the thought of my tasks ahead would overwhelm me so much, and I wouldn’t even start ANY of them. I needed a way to sort them all out so it wasn’t so overwhelming, and still be able to have moments throughout my day to be able to catch the random ball flying at my head and run with it. Life is full of chaos, and we have to learn to take a hold of the reins and pull back a little.
Image Credit: Ariana Young
My day would start by writing a to-do list and it would inevitably be a million miles long (ok that may be a little exaggerated but it sure felt that way)! If I didn’t complete a task, it would just get carried over to the next day, and the next. Before I knew it, that same task would have stayed on that list for weeks, sometimes even months. Why couldn’t I seem to get things done when everyone else around me was doing all the things AND more!? Are they some type of demi-god or something?
We’ve all heard the phrase “Work smarter, not harder.” So… I threw out that to-do list, and started over from the beginning with a different strategy and a focus on time management. I started asking those demigod-like people how they did it, and started with their advice. Some of the advice worked and some didn’t, but I was determined to find a way to make it work for me. I want to share the strategies that worked for me in hopes that they, too, can help you manage your time to increase productivity and allow for a happy work/life balance.
Seriously, my very first advice is for you to get a physical planner that you write in. If you work better with phone apps, that’s fine, but use it as an extension to your written planner. Studies have shown that we follow through with tasks more often if we physically WRITE THEM DOWN. When it takes more effort to re-write a task somewhere else, we have a tendency to complete the task because it takes less effort to check a box or cross it out. I found that digital reminders on a phone didn’t help me because I could just click a button to dismiss it, eventually just forgetting about it and never completing the task. By writing it down, I’m committing myself to completing that task.
I personally use an Erin Condren Life-Planner with an hourly layout that creates a powerhouse for success. This planner can be customized to fit your needs. You can not only choose the type of planner (Life, Teacher, Academic), but also the layout (horizontal, vertical, or hourly), and cover design. I love the hourly layout because it reminds me of an appointment book, and I’m effectively making appointments with myself for the tasks I need to complete.
Striving to be a better person than you are today is the best way to push yourself in the direction you want to go. Outlining your goals will put you on the right track for success, but the goals you set must be SMART goals. SMART goal setting is a method that considers certain factors about a goal relative to the person setting them. What is a SMART goal? Let’s break it down.
Image Credit: Ariana Young
Every goal should be specific, simple, sensible, and significant. By narrowing down our large goals into smaller, more specific goals, we can achieve success. Baby steps!
For instance “I want to help entrepreneurs succeed with their business” is too vague. Rather than writing that I could say, “I will help entrepreneurs succeed with their business by providing helpful content in my blog posts.” This is more specific.
When you are more specific with your goals, it’s easier for you to identify all the steps and work toward achieving it.
Having measurable goals is important so we can track our progress and stay motivated. Analyzing progress helps us stay focused, meet deadlines, and feel excitement while working on the goals. A measurable goal should address questions such as:
• How much?
• How many?
• How will I know when it’s accomplished?
Using the example above, we can measure the goal by stating, “I will help entrepreneurs succeed in their business by providing helpful content in weekly blog posts.” This shows us that the goal is not only providing helpful content, but each blog article is posted on a weekly basis. We can then analyze the progress of this goal by making sure that blog posts are completed weekly.
Our goals need to be achievable to be successful. In other words, the goals should challenge us, but not be so far away from our current abilities that we’re setting ourselves up for failure. Think of it like taking one step out of our comfort zone.
An achievable goal will answer questions like:
• How can I accomplish this goal?
• Is it within my ability to write a weekly blog post?
• Is it within my ability to accomplish this goal?
Pro Tip: Beware of setting goals that you do not have control over!
For example, “Get a promotion at work” depends on who else applies for the position and on your bosses decision, but “Get the experience and training necessary to be considered for the promotion” is entirely up to you.
This step is about ensuring that our goal is realistic and relevant. A realistic goal will answer “yes” to any or all of these questions:
• Is it worthwhile?
• Is it the right time?
• Does it align with other goals/needs?
• Am I the right person to reach this goal?
• Is it applicable to my current environment?
Examples: Do I have the time to write a weekly blog post? Will it interfere with my current schedule? Can I adjust my schedule to make time? Will it interfere with others schedules that include me?
Every goal needs a target date (notice I did NOT say deadline). This is so we can stay on track and focused on the completion of the goal. This date should be realistic in relation to other smaller steps it takes to reach the main goal. If you know the smaller steps take a few hours, or a full week to complete, allow yourself the time to complete those tasks.
Back to using our example, “I want to help entrepreneurs succeed in their business by providing helpful content in weekly blog posts that are completed by Wednesday each week.” This is an example of a time based goal because the target date is Wednesday. I know that I have time in my schedule to complete weekly blog posts, but the steps needed to publish it will have to be spread out over 3 days since I only have a few hours each day to work on it. This keeps me focused to stay on track for completing the smaller tasks required to publish the article: research, resource gathering, rough drafts, editing, image creation, and publishing.
The SMART method of goal setting is an effective tool to provide clarity, focus, and motivation to accomplish our goals. Think about how you can adjust your current vision, and restructure it as a SMART goal, so that you can make your dreams come true!
Another important key step in time management is prioritizing your workload. This is the area that I struggle in the most, but I have recently found a method that has worked well (so far) to help figure out what is a priority and what isn’t. This method is the Eisenhower Matrix. It helps you clearly define what needs to be done right away, what can be done later, what you can delegate to others, and what should be tossed to the side until you have time to throw it in your schedule. Here’s a short video on how it works.
I’ve gone ahead and taken the hassle out of finding an Eisenhower Matrix box. You can grab a free worksheet here:
Task batching refers to the batching (or grouping) of similar tasks to accomplish in the same time block. For example, I have set days that I complete certain tasks that are similar in processing:
Monday – Gathering links/data and researching for blog post.
Tuesday – Blog post images
Wednesday – Write & publish blog post
Thursday – Tailwind & Email
Friday – Follow up and Finish Incomplete Tasks
Saturday – Shenanigans (Family Time)
Sunday – Scheduling and Errands
Life can get crazy chaotic (and sometimes my days get switched around), but for the most part, this is the batch scheduling process I try and follow.
Block scheduling is another method I use in conjunction with the other methods above. This method uses set blocks of time to start and finish tasks. You may even be using this method without even realizing it! A great example of this would be a class schedule where each class period lasts for a specific amount of time. Another example would be an appointment book at a doctor’s office where each patient gets a specific amount of time to see the doctor. I use this in my Erin Condren Life Planner as you can see below.
By using this method, I can quickly see open blocks of time at a glance, and be able to throw in random tasks that pop out of nowhere. As a mom, we need to be super flexible because we never know when we’ll have to throw in a random doctor appointment because your kiddo got sick (like what happened to me on Wednesday). Once I finish the task, I lightly scribble over it in the corresponding block color.
As you can see from the image above, I use colors to organize the blocks. I use specific colors for certain batches, but they can be used in all sorts of ways. Pick and choose your own colors, or just go ahead and borrow mine… I don’t mind!
Green – Meals. Since I cook or prepare most of the meals in the house, I set aside a batch block in my schedule to do this. Not that my kids would let me forget that they are “STARRRRVING” or anything like that.
Blue – Blue is for Blog/Business (they all start with the letter B so it’s easy to remember)
Pink – Personal. These are the family or personal tasks that I need to set aside time for. Whether it be coffee with a friend, band concert, soccer game, or family game night. I always block out some time for the most important people.
Suzi, from Start A Mom Blog, uses color coding and block scheduling with post-it notes to keep her on track. You can read more about her method here.
There are so many different methods out there to help with time management, and sometimes you only need one method, other times it may be a mixture of several different methods. But, the key is finding out which method(s) work best. Now go pick a method (or two) and start using it today! I’d love to hear about which method you chose and how it worked out for you.