Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Time Management in 4 Easy Steps

Last week I delivered a course about time management to my Motivate Me workshop ladies.  The response was wonderful, and the evening was a huge success.  As I chatted to the group it became evident that we are prone to reject or forget many self-help tools.   We may see them as yet another chore rather than a way to help ourselves.  Our lives are far too busy to remember all that self-help mojo!

With the festive season screaming towards us it's the perfect time to claim some 'me time' before we all lose ourselves in mince pies and tinsel.  Managing the time we do have means we are more productive.

The term 'time management' is more often associated with the corporate world.  The business masses who fill their day and diary with copious emails, meetings, phone calls and networking events.  I'm exhausted just thinking about it.  Of course, seven years ago I was one of them.  My diary was full; my social calendar was a jumble of events and the children's sports days, parents evenings and school plays filled in any blank space.

I had to change my career path to be able to achieve the elusive 'me time'.  I now run my own business to fit around my family and other commitments.  But how did I do it?  What worked for me?  Read on...

Anyone who Google's 'Time Management' will find Stephen Covey, author of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.  Stephen is one of the best-known self-help authors around, and it's thanks to his books that I was able to tweak my life and find that elusive free time.

In a nutshell I want to share with you what worked for me, a single mum of three and a business owner/writer.

1.  Big Task, Little Task - Most of us fill our time doing the little day-to-day jobs that make up our to-do list; buy milk, clean the fish tank, download a new album, call mum.  We tick them off our list with a smug smile and pat ourselves on the back.  Phew, we've achieved so much today.  What we fail to realise is that our bigger tasks; presentation for work, confirming a hospital appointment, replying to our messages - these important jobs get pushed to the next day or the day after. 

When I gave my talk, I pointed out that if I hadn't prepared the presentation for that workshop, I would have been standing in front of a room full of people with nothing to say.  That would have been quite embarrassing.  It's, therefore, more important to do your Big Tasks first and fill any gaps with the Little Tasks.  The classic stones and sand exercise is a wonderful visual aid to reinforce this point. 

Start with a bucket, enough big rocks to fill it, some small pebbles and some sand.
If you filled a bucket with the sand and pebbles first, the big stones wouldn't fit.  So...
Put the big rocks in the bucket.  Put the small pebbles in around the big rocks.  Pour the sand in and give it a shake.  Now everything fits.  The point of this exercise is that unless you put the Big Rocks (Big Tasks) in first, you won't get them in (or done) at all.

2.  To-Do List or Not-To-Do-List.  This is a tricky area.  Anyone who is suffering from anxiety or depression could easily use list making as a way to reaffirm that they can't accomplish anything.  A long list of things to do with no real time to do it = failure.  We often add this pressure so we can beat ourselves up about not being good enough.  If you feel anxious or overwhelmed, it may be wise to avoid making lists and instead use the diary management tools I mention below.  To-Do lists work if used appropriately.  I use a combination of list making and diary management.

My daily list may look like this; write my newsletter, buy milk, promote book on Facebook, answer email from Harper Collins who are requesting a three-book deal (I didn't say it was a real list!), join a book club and cancel hair appointment.

On my to-do list, I would have - buy milk and Facebook promotion.

In my diary, I would assign a day/date/time to the other items (in pen) so they become action points.  My email to Harper Collins would be the first task on Monday morning.  Cancelling my hair appointment would be next in the diary, this is time sensitive as most hairdressers have a cancellation policy - I don't want to get charged so I need to action this as soon as possible.  Joining a book club would also be in my diary.  Let's say the local library are having an open day on Saturday, and I can enrol on any course/club then.  In my diary, I would have Saturday marked down as enrolment day.  Writing my newsletter is another time sensitive task, if I send them out on the first of the month, I need to have them written and ready to go by at least the 29th of each month.

I can use my participation in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) to show the benefits of using diary management.

For the 30 days of November I have chunks of time blocked out in coloured pen in my diary, with 'WRITING' written in bold across each day.  If I have any chance of writing 50,000 words in 30 days, then I need an action plan.  This is a Big Task, but I can break it down into smaller, more manageable goals by putting a daily word count in my diary.  Day 1 - 1700 words.  Day 2 - 2000 words.  Day 3 - 500 words and so on. 

I treat each entry as an important appointment.   If a friend asks me to go for coffee, I can look in my diary and see 'WRITING'.  I won't feel guilty about saying I have a prior engagement that day but I'm free the following day after 3pm.

3.  How Do You Spend Your Day?  You probably tell yourself that you are too busy to go to the gym, or you have no time to commit to a night class.  Do you know exactly what you do with your 24 hours?  I made myself a blank clock face and filled in a normal busy day for me - by doing this I found one and a half hours when I faff around.  I could have gone for a walk, cooked a batch of Bolognese for the freezer, read a book, had a bath or watched paint dry.  It was free time. 

Try it for yourself.  Map out your entire week and see where your time leaks appear.

Determine How You Spend a Typical 24-Hour Day, include the following:
  • sleeping
  • exercise/sport
  • work
  • family commitments
  • meal prep/eating/cleaning up
  • shower/shave/hair/makeup
  • transportation (school, work)
  • relaxing (TV, cinema, reading, gaming)
  • socialising/networking
  • other

4.  It's the Simple Things That Matter.  To make time for ourselves we have to make a commitment.  We have to put in a little work to be able to reap the benefits.  Stephen Covey has a wonderful analogy for this - a woodcutter labours for several days, becoming less and less productive because he refuses to take time out to sharpen his saw.  This says it all for me.

It's the simple things that can make all the difference, and when I shared this with my group, there were plenty of light bulb moments.  I'm not telling you anything you haven't heard before.  We know this stuff, we just forgot.

Try these simple tasks to make life flow a little better:
  • Meal Plan - Write out a meal planner for a week (or two) include breakfast, lunch and dinner.  From this, you can write your shopping list.  To save even more time you could do your shopping online (saving money and time).  Pin this up in your kitchen and then when you get in from work/school run and everyone is asking 'what's for tea?' you can glance at your planner and calmly tell them it's taco night, with the added knowledge that all the ingredients are in the fridge/cupboard.
  • Shop online.  As we approach the festive season, I start to visit the shops less and less.  The crowds drive me crazy.  I like to visit the Christmas markets and get in the spirit of the holidays but for gift shopping I turn to my laptop.  You may even find a company who wraps the stuff for you too!
  • Pre-make any packed lunches.  If you're making dinner and the kitchen is already a mess of utensils, pots and pans, then why not quickly make the sandwiches/lunch for the next day and pop it in the fridge.  The time you've saved in the morning may be the equivalent of a 10 minute lie in, an extra long shower or being able to sit down to eat breakfast rather than slide it down your throat whilst stood over the sink!
It's not rocket science.  We can all do this and streamline our lives.  Don't forget to involve the entire family.  The kids can wash up, take the bins out or make their own packed lunches.  You may only claim 5 minutes back, but you're teaching them a valuable lesson.

What's your favourite time management tips?  Do you have a top tip of your own that would help people?  Please share them below in the comments.


  1. So glad I made time (!) to read this. Yes, it's all obvious stuff, but we need reminding. I'm a big fan of meditation as a way of making time, especially the STOP technique: Stop, Take a breath, Observe, Proceed. Keep doing what you're doing, Shelley.

    1. Thanks for making the time Julia haha :-) I love your STOP technique, so simple yet effective. I shall be setting aside some time to do this, thank you for sharing

  2. My best time management tip is to close the Twitter and Facebook tabs on my browser when I need to do some work. It sounds silly, but when they're there, there's always the temptation to just have a quick look, and before I know it I've wasted half an hour flicking between the two!

  3. That's a great tip Vicky, if only I had your willpower ;) Maybe this could be my next challenge!

  4. Vicky's tip is brilliant. I need to follow her advice!