This is a short series of long posts about time management – because it seems every TR instructor I know says they’re so busy, and I have a hard time keeping things short! Part 1 was about Perspective, now Part 2 is about tips & techniques to manage and schedule your time. Note these are TIPS meant to HELP, not add more to your plate! So take what works for you!
Time Management, Part 2: Tips & Techniques
Take Responsibility. “You are the boss of your own schedule. It’s your responsibility to keep command of your calendar…it’s up to you to find a schedule that does work for you.” (Bill Hybels, Simplify)
There is power in planning. There is great power in putting plans on a calendar and sticking to them. Hybels tells the story of prioritizing being a good dad, which to him meant staying home 4 nights a week, which he then wrote in his calendar first before all other commitments, and it changed his life. “Drafting a new, proactive, holistic schedule is tantamount to writing a whole new script for the next season of your life” (Hybels). Sometimes the only way to make things happen is to plan ahead when you will do them. Additionally, planning makes me less overwhelmed because I know I put time to take care of certain things into my schedule later, so I don’t have to worry about it right now.
Prioritize your goals, commitments, and To Do list. “You can’t manage time. Time never changes… What you can manage are the activities you choose to do in time… [However] you will never be able to do everything you think you need, want, or should do… So you have to decide what you want to accomplish…what’s important…” (Brigid Schulte, Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time). Prioritizing means scheduling the most important things first – not just your job, errands, appointments, and things you’ll get in trouble for not doing, but the things that help you live better and become more who you want to be. Begin by asking who you want to become or what your current goal is. State it simply – a good dad, fit, at peace, etc. Then list the activities and relationships that will get you there. Add these and any other nonwork responsibilities to your To Do list and understand that they are just as important as everything else, if not more, so prioritize them in the list to be scheduled in first.
Cut some things out. Prioritizing may mean you need to cut things out. If you chronically overschedule your life, just “reshuffling the deck” the nothing because there’s no way you can do everything. To make it all fit, you need to take a few things out.
Put some things on the back burner. If you can’t cut it out, put it on hold. Understand what is necessary versus what you would like to do and what just cannot be a priority right now. Break the “I need to get it all done” cycle. I call it my “wish list” because instead of cutting them completely out, it feels good to know they are there when I might have time. Often that time comes during breaks and holidays.
Chunk your time. Your life has chunks – years, months, days, mornings, afternoons, evenings, the hours of the day. Divide the day into chunks and assign specific activities to each chunk.
Focus on one thing at a time. (AKA minimize interruptions and multitasking). Within those chunks of time only focus on one activity. Remember from Part 1 that interruptions and multitasking decrease productivity. Or as Schulte says, “Multitasking makes you stupid.” Doing this will actually increase your productivity by helping you get things done quicker. I love what Eleanor Roosevelt says in You Learn by Living: “learn to concentrate, to give all your attention to the thing at hand, and then to be able to put it aside and go on to the next thing without confusion…each subject had the attention and concentration it required and each, in turn, was put into the back of the mind, ready to be called upon when needed. Actually, you can finish any task much quicker if you concentrate on it for fifteen minutes than if you give it divided attention for thirty.”
Stay within the chunk of time. Don’t go over the amount of time you planned for. You planned it for a reason (you may have somewhere else to go, or lose focus after a certain amount of time, etc.) so stick to it! If you go beyond, you’ll throw the rest of the day off. If you get so wrapped up in projects that you lose track of time, set an alarm to signal when it’s time to stop, and obey it. Also, move on even if you haven’t finished. I have found that often I feel more accomplished working on everything a little bit and not finishing, rather than spending 5 hours on one thing and not finishing; I also feel better having stuck to my schedule, rather than bumping everything back and not getting to everything!
Schedule your chunks of time based on your priorities list. Filling your schedule is like filling a jar with rocks, pebbles, and sand. To fit it all in, you have to put the rocks in first, then the pebbles, then the sand – if you put the sand in first, you’ll run out of room for the rocks. So schedule the most important things first, like how Hybels first blocked in staying home 4 nights a week. This is how I like to do it:
- First I put in fixed activities I cannot change, like work or dinner commitments or travel.
- Second I add daily priorities, such as exercise and quiet time. Although these can happen any time, I try to keep them at the same time daily so they become habit.
- Lastly I add in a few weekly variable items, such as riding, my to do list, or blogging.
Work with the body’s natural rhythms. Based on what we learned about the body’s natural rhythms in Part 1, consider the following when making your schedule:
- Try to not work more than 6 hours in mental labor and 8 hours in physical labor in a row or without a big break. (After that you become less productive).
- Take a break every 30-90 minutes to work with your alertness waves. (This actually improves your focus. 30 minutes is a good amount of time to maximize focus but prevent hyperfocus (read: crazy eyes). Also, you can focus on anything for 30 minutes – if you’re procrastinating, commit to work on it for 30 then take a break!
- Consider the Pomodoro techniques: 25 minutes working on one task, 3-5 minutes break, repeat 4x before taking a longer break.
- Take naps. (Rejuvenation!)
- Sleep. Get enough sleep. Sleeping enough changed my life.
Work with your best hours. Whatever time of day you notice you work best, are freshest, most energized and productive – use them! For example,, if you’re freshest in the morning, work then.
Work with your personality. I think these are the biggest factors:
- Introvert/Extrovert. How do you regain energy – with or without people? If you’re an extrovert in an introverted job, make sure to schedule in social time to re-energize outside of work. If you’re an introvert in an extroverted job, make sure to schedule plenty of along time outside of work. It’s the only way you’ll be able to go back to work feeling refreshed.
- Nature of work. If you get energy from your work, awesome! If your work drains you, schedule in time outside of work to re-energize.
- Work environment. Do you prefer an office that’s separate or integrated? Do you work best on teams or alone? Ask for what you need, because others probably don’t know.
- Other traits. If you have ADD, OCD, or type whatever personality, figure out what adaptations you have to make to be at your best (there are tons of suggestions online).
Schedule & protect self care. This includes:
- Breaks & Leisure. Time to refocus and refresh!
- Guilt free family time.
- Personal time. If you are an introvert or spiritual person, making time for yourself, time with God, or whatever else, is vitally important for your mental well being.
- Enough sleep.
- Healthy eating. Remember to go grocery shopping.
- Whatever else replenishes you!
Plan for margins. This means planning for time between activities. When you block off time for work or appointments, include the time it takes to get there with some extra. It feels so much better to drive unhurried than stressed out. Seriously, not feeling rushed is a game changer! It also means “planning for the unplannable. It means we understand what’s possible for us as finite creatures and then we schedule for less than that” (DeYoung, Crazy Busy).
Transition well. Your brain and body need time to transition. Pause or take a little break before changing tasks to reset your brain and perspective, then fully set aside what you were working on and move on. I hear smiling for 3 minutes helps destress your body.
Plan for desk time. ADDitude magazine recommends setting aside 15 minutes each day to clear your desk and organize your paperwork in order to prevent “buried desk syndrome.” Another game changer for me was to block in a half hour every morning for “desk time” to check emails and do any pressing thinks in my desk To Do list, or else come the weekend and I have a million things piled up to do.
Focus on a few projects at a time. ADDitude magazine writer says, “I limit the amount of things that I work on during the day. I often have several projects going on at any given time, but I limit myself to three (sometimes two) a day. When I try to focus on everything, I get nothing done — the key word being “done.” There is a difference between being busy and being productive. To me, productivity means working on something and finishing it.” I myself tend to have so many projects I want to work on, that I’ve found it really helps to just choose 1-2 per week. For example, this week is “put things on Ebay week.”
Create routine and ritual. Schulte points out that these help parts of you day become automatic and therefore decreases “decision fatigue.” Her example is setting out your running clothes the night before, so in the morning you don’t have to decide whether or not to go running. My example is how I don’t make good decisions about how to wake up in the morning, so I started the routine of wake up, quiet time, work out, desk time – the same every morning so I don’t have to think about it, and these are the things I know wake me up and prepare me for the day. The rhythm it created was another game changer.
Create firm boundaries. For example:
- At work, limit how many hours you work. No one else will do it for you. Also set boundaries for uninterrupted work time.
- At home, set boundaries for uninterrupted time with family. Work does not follow you home. Set a # of times you check email and/or a # of hours you have to respond. Don’t be at home switching roles back and forth between mom and Mrs. Manager all the time.
- During leisure, set boundaries for guilt free recharge time.
- For technology, don’t be connected all the time. You don’t have to know everything right now. Technology is a distraction and stimulant and a time sinkhole.
- For your personal patterns of distraction (TV, Facebook, etc.), notice what they are and set limits.
- If a task takes two minutes or less, do it then and there.
- Don’t say, “Just let me” (check Facebook first) – when you decide what to work on, get started!
Brain dump. At the beginning of every week, or just when you’re feeling stressed, write down everything you’re worried or thinking about. Get it off your chest. Just journaling everything I’m worried about helps so much. For the things you can change, you can prioritize and add to your schedule (for more on that see the Lifehacker on Brain Dump), for the things you can’t change, pray about it and move on. Let the paper worry about it!
Just make sure your brain comes back…
Discipline your thoughts. Your thought life affects your productivity. Schulte points out that “Studies have shown that when left to itself, the mind turn to bad thoughts, trivialities, worry, sad memories, disorder, confusion, and decay.” They actually paged people at random times of the day to have them write their thoughts, and the majority of thoughts fell in those categories. I found that fascinating! So the mind must be trained to find peace, and you must learn to snap our of negative and self-defeating thought patterns. This is not a new concept (think: meditation). Schulte recommends: catch self-defeating thought patterns when they happen; discover the core false belief; reframe the belief to the truth; constantly repeat the truth to yourself. Encourage yourself!
Cultivate your inner calm. Schulte says: “The overwhelm never goes away. Pause and notice it without judgment. Change your thinking. Realize you already are where you are, there’s no need to rush to the next moment, it will come automatically, and you’ll get more done if you focus on the now.” I love how Eleanor Roosevelt puts it in You Learn by Living: “One of the secrets of using your time well is to gain a certain ability to maintain peace within yourself so that much can go on around you and you can stay calm inside… With a family of five children I had to learn to stay outwardly and inwardly calm. Even when they were quite young I seemed to have a number of interests and activities…[which] often had to be carried out in a room where any number of things were happening, with children playing on the floor, shouting, and making all kinds of noise. Either I could learn to continue with the reading, writing, or whatever I had to do in the midst of this turmoil, or I would have to relinquish it. In time, I learned to go ahead even when the room was filled with children. I learned that the ability to attain this inner calm, regardless of outside turmoil, is a kind of strength. It saves an immense amount of wear and tear on the nervous system.”
Reassess and make changes. If last week’s schedule did not work for you, or you needed more margin time, or something was just not working – change it for this week, or ditch it! It’s an ongoing process. It may help to track your time usage – compare your plan to how long it actually took, and use it when planning the next week.
Be flexible. Right, after all this scheduling be flexible? I just mean don’t fall apart if it doesn’t work out exactly how you planned – because it rarely does. There is something in life called other people, and they will affect you. You will have to change your plans. And you will be okay.
I hope some of these ideas help! I know they super helped me. Better time management makes me a better instructor because I’m less stressed and can focus on the present. What time management strategies have helped you?
Coming up next is Part 3: time management in lessons!
- Bill Hybels. Simplify
- Brigid Schulte. Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time
- Kevin DeYoung. Crazy Busy
- ADDitude magazine
- Eleanor Roosevelt. You Learn by Living
- Desiring God. You Have Just Enough Time.
- Kris Carr. How to be more productive.
Note: This is not professional advice, this is a blog. I am not liable for what you do with or how you use this information. The activities explained in this blog may not be fit for every rider, riding instructor, or riding center depending on their current condition and resources. Use your best personal judgment!