Here's how to conquer time management
We live in times of few certainties, but one of them is that every day of our lives has 24 hours, nothing more and nothing less. Do some say everything is relative? If tomorrow is the last day to pay taxes and I don’t do it, I can assure you there is nothing as absolute as the fine that will come to my house (and soon). Does everything depend on my opinion? Well, no. The time required to cook an egg is what it is. If I cut it short, I get a runny egg. If I go over, maybe I set the kitchen on fire.
I say this because, whether we like it or not, the human condition is subject to time and space. And in time, we have hours made up of 60 minutes and weeks of 7 days. Time doesn’t move fast or slow, but sometimes we get the sensation that it flies, and sometimes it seems to crawl. But the worst feeling is that of having wasted our time. It’s that bitter feeling that you get in the wake of something you can’t go back and change. Did you lose the morning? Well, there’s no way to get it back. Did you waste your weekend? Better start thinking about how you’ll avoid wasting the next one.
We’ve all wasted time at some point in our lives. We’ve even wasted it consciously. Hasn’t it ever happened to you when you stepped into Target or Costco for a five-minute errand and got lost inside for two hours? Or logged onto Facebook for a few minutes and came out an hour later, feeling a bit lost? Wait, where did all that time go? And when you talk to your girlfriends, you realize: I’m not the only one! The same thing happens to 101 percent of the population. So let’s figure out a way to keep it from happening again.
Here we have a list of good habits that will help us starting… tomorrow. If you agree, let’s approach this like a game: I’ll start the sentence and you end it according to your lifestyle. Sound good?
- The night before. You’ll feel so on top of things if you take a quick look at tomorrow’s tasks before you go to bed. Don’t get overwhelmed: if you do, look at that list again and cross out anything you know you can’t handle. When you look over the tasks, you can also prepare material, check transportation schedules, make sure you have your travel tickets in your bag, etc.
- When you wake up. Get up. Yes, get up. Don’t look at the alarm clock and hit snooze. Have you ever wondered how much time you waste trying to avoid the day before it starts? I know this is especially hard for people like me who are night owls. That’s why they call it the “heroic minute.” Take courage and go for it. A personal recommendation: give yourself a good reason to get out of bed without delay.
- First thing in the morning, take a look at your list of tasks. Check over what you have to do and if there is an obstacle (for example, if the weather blocks some of your plans), think about the material you need to avoid returning home: keys for all the places you’ll be, notebooks, medical and official documents, work tools, suit, extra shoes, sports clothes, the clothes you have to return to the store… In the car, I always have a cloth grocery bag and a cooler. You can make your trunk your great ally.
- During the day, put the pieces together. Some might fit inside the others. If you remember that you have to call your friend right when you’re working, take note and use your lunch break or your time on the metro to make the call. If you’re driving, you can stop by the dry cleaner’s before work and pick it up on your way home. Use your lunch hour to talk to your old aunt who lives alone and that you know you need to visit.
- Break your dependence on your cell phone. If you notice that your life without you cell phone would be… impossible, and if you get anxious if you are away from your phone for two seconds, then you need a disconnection program. The cosmetics company Natura Lisse offers two hours of tech-free spa time and regenerating treatment for about $175. My proposal is more economical: start by turning off your cell phone at meal times (lunch and dinner). And use that time to talk to your family, colleagues, friends… You’ll see that what you missed when you weren’t talking with them because you were stuck to your phone. Little by little, you’ll be able to catch up on their lives, on what you could do together… You’ll see how you make good use of time by talking with your family and friends.
- Control your thirst for social networks. Everyone knows what they need and why they use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, WhatsApp, Snapchat… The creative director and photographer Berta Bernad closed her Instagram account this year because of anxiety. So did the deputy director of a fashion magazine. Berta had 95,000 followers. Perhaps you don’t have as many, but the feeling of “I don’t want to miss anything” is something that assaults you from the first minute with a social network. How can you get it right for you? A very simple solution: before jumping in, say how much time you will dedicate to it and be inflexible with yourself.
- Do you know what you use your time on? Of course you know, you’ll say, but I’m asking if you can fill the “dead” time that you have in your day: a waiting room at the dentist’s or doctor’s office, transport time on the metro or on the bus, chauffeur duty in your car as you bring the kids from one activity to another, a time of running… Don’t just fill that time with whatever is on the radio, but use it for an activity that you would otherwise struggle to find time for: studying a language, reading literature, updating your knowledge of your profession. Audio books are great for people with long commutes. Random House also had the great idea of launching a collection of classics with the voices of famous actors: for example, the novel Little Women narrated by Julia Roberts.
- At night, keep your cell phone out of reach. Not on your night stand. And I don’t say it because the rays will cause a tumor in your brain — which isn’t proven — but because we lose so many hours of sleep by looking at our phone when we should be sleeping. And: 1) The light of the screen activates the brain and causes insomnia, another stupid way of losing time. 2) As our will is weaker at those hours of the night, we are no longer capable of shutting off the phone to sleep and we keep reading Facebook or web pages in a kind of lethargy. 3) We can end up making accidental phone calls because we fell asleep and pushed a button without meaning to. Would anyone like their work colleague to hear them snoring? Well, it can happen. Remember: sleeping is an excellent way of using your time.
- Bring your agenda. It’s a classic piece of advice, but it works. It doesn’t matter if it’s in Google or on rice paper. Either way, it helps. Each of us has our mental structure and our own way of organizing things, and it’s worth while to find an agenda where your day is written down, and where you can see what’s coming and what you’ve done. You can also move things around and use it at the end of the day to reflect on how your day went and whether you really did the most important things on your list.
- Determination. Note down what you’re going to do and don’t change the plan. Do we have to be so rigid? Of course, life is full of unforeseen things and extraordinary circumstances. But that doesn’t mean we can’t govern our life by a scale of values. When you decide what to do, think about what is most important. Careful: don’t go for the most urgent, but the most important. The most urgent can wait, but the most important shouldn’t wait. Will there be changes of plans? Tons, and you will be the one to decide what category they fall in.
- Direct your schedule toward the goal you set for yourself and don’t get distracted. When you prepare for final exams at school and at college, it’s so typical to suddenly discover that your closet needs a total reorganization, not to mention your desk… and all of your bedroom furniture, actually. When the urge arises, be like Ulysses with the sirens: tie yourself to the mast and let them sing until your boat passes by. Keep studying and remember that the sirens were not beautiful, charming women: they were half woman and half devouring monster. That’s what you’ll do with your time if you stop concentrating on what you have to get done.
- Got any other ideas?Splendid. Jot them down. If you’re creative, that’s good, but do channel the proposals your imagination comes up with. If you’re interrupting another task, note them down and finish what you’re doing — then you can decide what to do with those ideas next.
This article was originally published in the Spanish edition of Aleteia and has been translated and/or adapted here for English speaking readers.