Procrastinating, always feeling flat out, never enough hours in the day, running behind… here are 8 ways to not suck at time management.
When I was in high school and early uni days, some of my friends were compiling a document simply entitled “How To Not Suck”. The intention was that it would be full of great adventures and interesting characters. I remember reading some parts of it and thinking, man, if they keep this going, they may eventually come up with something that would make some hilarious memoirs. Unfortunately, I believe the document no longer exists and has died a slow death.
Now whenever I hear talk about not sucking, I hear it in relation to time management.
Specifically, “I SUCK AT TIME MANAGEMENT”. Or they suck at it. Or we. Or whoever. The skill of managing time is one that many of us feel like we don’t really have a grip in. Always running late, always running from A to B, no time to relax. Some of us always feel exhausted. Some of us always feel behind. Students are notorious for it, but in truth a lot of people in the work place still struggle with it well into their adult years (or they don’t struggle with it… everyone else struggles with their poor time management).
So here are 8 ways to not suck at time management. Or at least ones I’ve found really help.
#1: Recognize how many hours are in your week
One of the most common things I hear people say when they’re talking about time is, “I wish there were more hours in the week”. Well, how many hours are there in your week?
168. 168 hours. Let’s break that down a bit. Let’s say you spend 8 hours a night sleeping. Yeah okay, I know you probably don’t, but let’s say you did. That’s 56 hours sleeping a week. Then say you spend 10 hours a week in transport. Maybe another 10 eating or cooking. Then let’s say you work 40 hours a week. That’s 116 hours. That leaves 52 hours that isn’t one of those activities. That’s over 7 hours a day that aren’t accounted for by one of the above activities.
So you add your kids in there, you add going to the gym, you add entertainment, but you soon realize that there are actually a decent amount of hours in the week. Maybe it’s just our perception of the hours in our week that makes us feel busier than we are, or prevents us from realizing we actually have a lot of time in any given week to work through things.
#2: Make appointments straight away
“Hey man, we should catch up some time”.
“Yeah, we should”.
“Absolutely we should”.
Recognize this conversation? One of the best tips I ever received on organizing meetings, appointments, or just catching up with people, is as soon as a conversation about catching up with someone you want to catch up with comes up, whip out the calendar and follow the next sentence up with “When are you free next?”. It shows people that they’re important (because they are), it means you won’t keep just talking about it, and it also benefits you because you’ve actually locked something concrete in, instead of some nebulous looming feeling that makes you feel like you can’t commit to as much this week.
#3: Keep your word to your own hurt
The Psalmist talks about those who ascend into a blessed life as those who keep their word to their own hurt. What’s your word worth? When you say you’re going to be somewhere, do people feel like you will? Do you have a reputation for being late or disrespecting others’ time?
It can feel inconvenient, but there really is something powerful about doing what you say you’ll do. Even if it means you have less time somewhere else or your feelings aren’t “fully there”, if you’ve made a commitment, the best thing you can do is rock up. Some of the most blessed moments in my life have come from simply being faithful to what I said I’d do, regardless of whether or not it was convenient at the time.
And sure, stuff comes up, but as long as you communicate and give notice, you are respecting the time of others, and I believe that’s a catalyst for having your own time more blessed than it would be otherwise.
#4: Get excellent at rest and play
When I was a tutor at uni, I used to tell people to leave their Friday nights free from study. I also used to tell them that they’ve spent too long focused on the assignment and need to take a break for a while.
Rest and play are powerful tools. In agile project management, the Extreme Programming principle of “40 Hour Week” acknowledges that we work better when we aren’t needlessly working overtime. Sometimes it’s needed and you need to knuckle down, but usually you’re unfocused and unproductive simply because you’re worn out externally or internally, and you just need a good rest.
And a real rest. Not just time not doing your assignment, or time spent thinking of stuff besides the project for a few hours. Things that actually rebuild, relax and restore your soul. What are those things for you? They should have just as much priority in your life as any of the other things you have to do.
On a similar note, margin is a real lifesaver. Many of us are burning the candle at both ends, with things crammed in every single hour of every single week. But what happens when something unexpected happens? What happens if you have a difficult conversation, a tough experience, or an unexpected event take place? Without margin, there is literally no room left to breathe, and even the smallest difficulty can make you feel like your whole world is collapsing and you have no time left, simply because there’s just no margin.
Leave some extra space for yourself. You matter.
#6: Live on purpose
There’s nothing worse than wasting your own time. I don’t mean leisure or just chilling out sometimes – I really think those things are important. I’m talking about the time we spend on activities that really, really don’t matter. Things that we shouldn’t be doing, but are just taking up the schedule. Maybe it is going too far with the leisure and finishing a whole TV series every night.
But what it really is most of the time – the thing that wears us out the most – is that we aren’t using the giftings we’ve been given, or fulfilling the purpose we were born for. There is simply nothing more exhausting than feeling like the time you’re spending is insignificant and that you have nothing to show for it.
Something I love to do is encourage and build people. Absolutely love it. It’s a calling on my life. So at least once every one to two weeks, I’ll try to shout someone dinner and just use it as an opportunity to put into someone’s life. When I’m at work, I love to keep that calling in mind too – I don’t need to wait for an opportunity somewhere else, I can use my giftings wherever I am. As a result, the vast majority of the time I spend feels fruitful and rewarding, and I truly do get to enjoy the fruits of my labour. The time spent away from doing that or making use of my other giftings doesn’t feel nearly as rewarding as intentionally living out who I was called to be.
Are you wasting your time living in insignificance, wearing yourself out from idleness, when you were born for so much more? When our time has a purpose, managing it is a true joy, because every hour is an investment into something that matters.
#7: Working harder vs. working smarter
A simple yet often overlooked one – it might take you 80 hours at the start of your career to learn a new technique. However, if 5 years later, it still takes you 80 hours, your capacity is going to be much more limited as you move forward. We have to get better at doing certain things more effectively.
There’s a balance here though – it doesn’t mean spending one ridiculously good hour with your kids every week, or having the best 10 minute conversation of your whole life with your spouse in the morning. Certain relationships and scenarios still warrant a good measure of our time – in quantity, and not just quality. But for things especially pertaining to career or those “odd jobs” in our lives, if we can get better at them, we can carry more.
#8: Deal with the heart
How’s your heart doing?
I’m notorious for that question. But it’s so important. Most of us aren’t actually super busy. Most of us don’t always have huge amounts of things on. But when you’ve got a weary heart, every single hour you spend on anything feels like a chore. When a car has flat tyres, the engine has to do more work to do anything – move, turn, climb hills. It’s the same when we try to continue doing things with a heavy heart.
Some of us feel like we just have to keep going. We just have to keep going. We just… have to… keep……..
But we’re not. And we’re dying inside.
You have permission to stop for a second. Breathe. Find healing. Get help.
The heart is the wellspring of life. Keep it strong. Give it what it needs.
So there we go. How to not suck at time management. Or just some things that have helped me.
How about you? What are some pro tips you’ve encountered when it comes to organizing your time well?