Have you ever looked up from your computer, expecting to see the sun outside and instead been greeted by a pitch-black sky?
Time is a funny thing. Sometimes it moves like molasses, like when you’re waiting for a prospect to sign a new contract. Other times it zips by, like when you have a task list of 10 high-priority things you need to get through.
If you’re finding your relationship with time befuddling, we have some tricks to help bring order to your daily schedule.
Obviously, we’d be remiss if we didn’t suggest hiring a VA. Delegating low-level tasks to a virtual assistant can open up huge blocks of time in your calendar. Plus, a VA can hold you accountable throughout the day.
But if you’re not quite ready to hire a VA (yet!), here are a few tactics you can try solo to wrangle your time.
1. Audit Your Time
The first step in better time management is understanding where you are now. That’s why we suggest anyone looking to make better use of their days start with a time audit.
If you’re the industrious type, you can do this on your own. But if the process sounds like a tedious nightmare, we’re also here to guide you through it!
Either way, it will involve some work and focus on your part. A time audit should account for all of your hours, working and leisure, and it generates the clearest results when you track time for at least a full week.
The good news is there are tools out there to help you capture your activities. We love RescueTime, but you can also opt for another time-tracking tool or simply use the timer feature on your phone.
Once you’ve collected a week’s worth of data, a clear picture will emerge. You’ll see in black and white what activities demand your time each week. Then, you know which non-essential tasks you can either get rid of or delegate to someone else.
2. Explore the Pomodoro Technique
Unfortunately, this is not a delicious pasta recipe. It is, however, a great method for managing your time and energy throughout the day!
Invented by Francesco Cirillo and named after the tomato-shaped timer he invented for the technique, the Pomodoro Technique breaks down your tasks into bite-sized morsels.
The idea behind the Pomodoro Technique is that you work in short but productive sprints with little breaks in between. Set your timer (tomato-shaped or otherwise) for 25 minutes and work on one task. When it buzzes, take a five-minute break.
Repeat this pattern three or four times, then take a longer 15-minute break. Rinse, repeat.
By breaking all of your bigger tasks down into smaller chunks throughout the day, you’re less likely to get lost in the weeds, overwhelmed by the big tasks, or find yourself distracted with your energy flagging.
3. Create Your Ideal Calendar
Is there anything more terrifying than a completely open calendar? It’s an invitation for others to come in with meetings, presentations, and other demands and gobble up all of your time.
It’s your calendar, you should be in the driver’s seat. So create a framework that represents your ideal work week.
This begins by taking note of your energetic peaks and valleys and scheduling high-value work for the times when you’re most alert. Use your low-energy time for more mindless tasks like sorting through emails. Put in blocks to protect family time, exercise, hobbies, or anything else that you need to do to keep yourself operating in tip-top shape.
Once you have a calendar that reflects how you want to spend each part of your day, allow others to book meetings only in those windows that work for you. A tool like Calendly or Mixmax is great for helping you avoid scheduling-creep. It shows others only times you designate as available.
Of course, no system will ever be perfect, and sometimes you’ll have to take a client meeting during a time you’ve set aside for social media management or your Peloton sesh. But starting with some guardrails in place can prevent it from becoming a total free-for-all.
Try it for a few weeks (or months) and pivot as needed. Remember: nothing in Google Calendar is set in stone!
4. Batch Your Time
We alluded to it above, but the sister time management technique to creating your ideal calendar is batching your time.
One of the quickest ways to watch an hour disappear is to dabble in teeny tiny tasks here and there. Five minutes in your inbox, five minutes scrolling through LinkedIn, a few minutes responding to Instagram DMs… suddenly the better part of an hour has disappeared, and you have yet to check a single thing off your to-do list!
This is where time batching comes to the rescue. Create blocks of time in your calendar where you can tackle all similar tasks. Use your ideal workday as a guide to where you should plan to put each batch. For example, save the low-value tasks you need to do for your low-energy times.
Let’s say you’re the type who starts out slow, then gets a cup of coffee (or three) on board and really starts buzzing!
You might structure your batches like this:
Your morning routine and email are your warmups. Once the coffee kicks in, you can do some productive writing and knock out a killer blog post.
Client calls are next. You’re on in the late morning, so you know you’ll be alert and impressive.
Social media monitoring comes right before the hangry sets in. Do some low-key social engagement on industry-relevant accounts and respond to DMs from customers.
After lunch, you’ll feel recharged and ready to dive into a strategy session with your right-hand team member.
Energy starts to flag in the late afternoon, so that’s a good time to do some more email responses, followed by editing.
Your day ends with your all-important workout, which gives you an endorphin boost to power you through dinner and some leisure time with family or friends.
Consider these time blocks sacred! If you’ve still got 20 unread emails at 9 am, that’s okay. But it’s time to close your Gmail tab and fire up your Word document to get writing.
Sticking to these blocks will keep you on track throughout the day. And when you honor your planned schedule, you’ll ultimately get more done (even if it’s not all in one fell swoop).
Take These Time Management Tips for a Spin
Time management is tough. You want to be there for your team, your customers, and your family, and sometimes it feels like other people’s priorities are running you.
Time management helps you regain control of your time in a way that allows you to be there for all of those people in a much more meaningful way. This starts with setting boundaries and honoring your plans. While it can be challenging at first, the good news is that time management is a practice—and that means the more you do it, the better you’ll get at it.
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