It’s time to better manage your time.
A naval reservist, a full time employee, a full time university student, a teaching assistant and a board member in a technically demanding start-up. How does one cope with such a busy schedule?
The positions listed above are just a portion of my weekly commitments, yet I am happy to say that time management, task prioritization and good routine practices have kept me going for the past few years.
Let’s face it, we sometimes find ourselves taking on more tasks than we “think” we can handle (I will get back to the word “think” in a second). We see these successful “entrepreneurs” and “young business prodigies” that are reaching new heights in their daily lives and we can’t help but feel that we need to do more…. that I need to do more…. There has to be something that sets the high achievers apart from the average.
Before I proceed with sharing my personal tips and recommendations, I want to start by discussing the importance of a proper mindset and the concept of the flow state (A state of continuous productive work). Much like the fundamentals of being an athlete that trains for an event, an individual with good time management practices (let’s call’em a Time-ee) will typically have a good understanding of the time it takes them to enter this flow state and the level of effort they will need to accomplish a task. A Time-ee will use this knowledge to prioritize the tasks in mind and distribute their effort throughout a given day. This is where the term think becomes important. For one to become a Time-ee, one must think like a Time-ee and to think like a Time-ee, one must train to become a Time-ee. This means that you must practice entering and exiting this flow state to become efficient with your time. So the big question now is, how do you train to be a Time-ee?
I think Marty Lobdell described it best in this 1 hour video on how to study. He describes the study habit (essentially the state of flow) as a muscle where you must train it with repeated sessions to learn to focus. He explains that for one to properly enter this state, you must practice focusing for short intervals with intermittent breaks. Meaning, if you are not adept at sitting and working away for hours on end, you should schedule 25 minute intervals with 5 – 15 minutes of rest. With every 25 minutes spent working on an item (truly focused), you should step away for 5 – 15 minutes and reward yourself. Even as I type this article, I am giving my self 5 minutes to catch a breath of fresh air outside of this office before resuming the blog post. Note that these short pauses cannot be more than 15 minutes, otherwise you will learn to procrastinate (if you’re reading this post, procrastination is not your goal).
Now that we are aware on how to better use our time, let’s consider what it takes to properly schedule our time. Let the tips begin:
- Use a scheduling tool: This one is, without a doubt, the most obvious of the tips. Using a tool such as outlook or google calendar will serve to do all the thinking for you. By synchronizing your devices to this one calendar, you are able to directly refer to your scheduling tool at a moments notice. It’s important to get use to consulting this calendar before making instantaneous plans. When filling in a time slot consider the following questions:
- How long will this take me?
- Will this take more than a day?
- Will I need a break before/after?
- Who is involved?
- How will I feel that day? (This one will require you to develop an emotional understanding of yourself. Do you build anxiety in the moments leading up to an exam? Are you distracted by the thought of an upcoming interview that day?)
- Write everything down: Writing everything down, means writing “everything down“. As described in Scott J. Harris’ book, How to Become an A+ Student, a Time-ee must learn to keep a paper and pen near by. This is a philosophy that is also adopted by the Navy where each member must always keep a blue pen and a notepad in their pocket. To properly benefit from this, I recommend constantly updating this sheet of paper with the specific items:
- Item 1: “What tasks do I NEED to have done for today?”“
- Item 2: “What do I NEED to put in my schedule?”
- Learn to delegate: In some cases you will find yourself working with a team, managing people or supervising people. It is important that you learn to share the load with those around you. As a board member with JAMZ Delivery Inc I am proud to say that I can always rely on sharing my tasks with my immediate team members. At no point do I feel that an upcoming deliverable is too difficult to complete. This is because I know that the effort that I am willing to put into this deliverable is shared by each and every member of the JAMZ Delivery team. To achieve this level of trust between your team mates, it takes time. You need to learn to evaluate your own performance along with other team members and act on any weaknesses. Each team member will need to demonstrate competency in their work, while receiving an equal level of competency from your end. A good tool for conducting this analysis and the one that we use with our team is ITP Metrics . This is a free-to-use online tool for team work analysis and it can help identify any short-falls in your team’s progress.
- Take the time to exercise: This might sounds misplaced, but exercising on a daily basis can help you keep tabs on your current schedule. I am only asking you to commit to 30 minutes a day. If you feel like you deserve more, then by all means use more time to exercise, but nothing below 30 minutes. By scheduling a sequence breaking activity, you are allowing yourself to identify:
- The time of day.
- The amount of time you are about to spend on a task.
- The number of items completed before the workout and the number of items to complete afterwards.
- Any performance limiting emotions or thoughts
- Any pending energy that might need to be released
- Start the work at 5 am. Stop the work at 8 pm: Except for special circumstances, you should schedule your days to start one hour after you wake up and two hours before you sleep. In my case, I aim to wake up at 4 am every day and I sleep at 10 pm (with the exception of Sunday where I give myself the luxury of sleeping in). There should be no need for you to stay-up late if you are on top of your tasks. With this in mind I want you to consider the following:
- The one hour period, from when you wake up, is reserved specifically for alone time. Do whatever you want (in my case it is to watch my favourite YouTube Channels) for that one hour and enjoy a small breakfast while you are at it.
- The two hours before you sleep are reserved specifically for relaxing. Avoid any caffeine, take a warm shower and reward yourself for a hard days work with a relaxing routine (in my case it’s a big, healthy meal and, again, a good episode of Rick and Morty). This is crucial as you will need to take rewarding breaks to avoid burning out.
These tips are my personal techniques for getting such a busy schedule crammed into a single week. I’ve taken to looking at the week in terms of 168 hours rather than 7 days. Becoming a Time-ee can mean an improved lifestyle, an augmented sense of self-worth and a huge serving of accomplishment at the end of each day. It’s one thing to go to sleep tired, but it’s another to go to sleep with peace of mind and a smile on your face for your effort in life.
I invite you to try and become a Time-ee and gain control of your life.