Time isn't just a valuable resource. It is the most valuable commodity on earth. Yet, we squander it away like it's a renewable resource. To manage your life and steer it in the direction you want it to go, you need to find a way to manage your time.
Whether you made New Year resolutions this year or resolved never to make any resolutions again, the goal for most, as we begin a new year, is for this to be a happier and stress-free (or at least less stressful) year. Which, in theory, shouldn't be that hard since we can all be happier and less stressed by doing things we love.
But that's where the rubber hits the road. We simply can't seem to fit the stress-relieving workouts or hobbies into our already jam-packed schedules. Not for lack of trying or a dearth of willpower, but because, sooner or later, we all run into the same wall—the wall of time.
Time isn't the main thing. It's the only thing. Miles Davis.
The fairest resource
You won't be too wrong if you feel life is unfair. There is significant disparity across the population for most resources—health, relationships, wealth, fortune, etc. Some people seem to be abundantly blessed, while others aren't.
However, there is one resource that doesn't discriminate. Time. It doesn't matter whether you are a royal prince or a pauper on the street, whether your gene pool is amazing or disease-laden, whether you are lucky enough to win the lottery or not. Everyone gets 24 hours a day, 168 hours in a week. These parameters are fixed and unrelenting.
Time is the most equitable resource distribution in the world. However, what isn't fixed is how everyone uses their allotted time.
24 hours is enough
Twenty-four hours a day (168 a week) is plenty of time. You don't have to take my word for it. In her book, 168 hours, Laura Vanderkam makes the case, through time-tracking studies, for why we all have more time in our schedules than we think we do.
So, the problem lies not in the number of hours but in how we manage our time.
Contrary to popular perception, good time management does not mean you need to become uber-productive and maximize every second of every day. Instead, it means you need to reorganize and reprioritize your life to reclaim time that is essentially hiding from you in plain sight. You can then use this "found" time to do what you've always wanted to do—read, knit, walk, learn Latin, play guitar, scale Machu Picchu, or work on any of your someday goals.
When you manage your time, you are, in effect, choosing to spend time on things that matter while letting go of stuff that's irrelevant. To you.
To make time for what matters, you need to find a way to manage your time.
Time management methods
Entire theses have been written on the subject of time management. There are a dime a dozen techniques and tools on how to manage your time. I have tried a fair share of these techniques. Here are five (tried and tested) of my favorite time management methods. I encourage you to try these.
Do you know that, on average, Americans check their phones almost a hundred times a day? And that statistic is based on 2019 data. The numbers are likely much higher as I write this.
That's a lot of repetitive, mindless scrolling. Our weekly screen time reports are now like nutrition labels on food. Scary, and therefore, easy to ignore. The last time I checked, we averaged about 3 hours and 19 minutes of daily screen time. That's enough time, for instance, to become the fittest you've ever been or read over a hundred books a year.
These 3+ hours a day are low-hanging fruit. Why not start to manage your time there?
If you check your phone a lot, try the batching technique. Instead of checking the phone mechanically throughout the day, batch your phone usage by only checking your phone a few times (spread out during the day). When you pick up the phone ten times a day instead of a hundred, you'll correspondingly also reduce the amount of time you spend doomscrolling.
Batching is a way to optimize your time by grouping like tasks into one master activity. Batching works wonders in many areas.
Batching - examples
- Instead of cooking and cleaning each meal separately, try to batch your cooking and cleaning. You'll save a lot on the overheads—you reduce the number of cooking utensils, you cut down on dishwashing time, you won't have to wipe the stove or the oven down as often. The best part, you'll have meals ready and won't have to play the "What should I make for dinner?" game, as often.
- When running errands, try to batch up tasks depending on the location you are driving to. Instead of making separate trips to pick up your child, get gas and groceries—plan your day to hit all three targets on one trip. Not only is this an efficient use of resources, but knowing you have a finite amount of time at each stop will ensure you stick to the essentials and aren't loitering.
- Allocate times in your day to catch up on emails and return phone calls. My most efficient email cleanup happens in the morning. That's because my inbox is untouched overnight as I sleep, allowing me to mass clear emails in the morning in one fell swoop. During the day, however, if I periodically keep going back to my emails, I tend to linger and get distracted, wasting a lot of time in the process.
I cannot overstate the efficiency batching has brought to my life. Yes, batching requires some level of planning. But any repetitive task (with overheads) is a good candidate for batching.
With this technique, you commit a finite amount of time to attack a task and call it done when the time's up, regardless of whether the task is complete or not.
This works great for two types of activities:
a) Those you really don't want to but should do. Like paying bills, filing paperwork, decluttering, or even exercising.
b) Those time-wasting tasks you ought not to but would really like to do.
- Pick a drawer or closet that needs to be organized and set a timer for 15 minutes every day. Work on it until the timer goes off, even if you are only partway through the cleanup. You can resume the following day guilt-free. You did your bit.
- Jump on the treadmill, or go for a walk in the neighborhood for 30 minutes. When the time's up, you can come back to the couch and put your feet up with a clear conscience.
- Social media indulgences or binge-watching streaming services are great candidates for timeboxing. Yes, you can live a little. Give yourself a finite amount of time to TikTok, scroll through Insta feeds, or binge-watch Bridgerton2. But, stop when the timer goes off.
Timeboxing makes even herculean tasks look less daunting and, as a result, more doable. It's a great way to get outside your comfort zone.
This is the go-to strategy for the frogs on your list—the most challenging, most procrastinated tasks on your list. Tasks such as doctor's appointments, having difficult conversations, or even the new exercise plan. You cannot endlessly put away these admittedly demanding tasks.
If it's your job to eat a frog, it's best to do it first thing in the morning. And if it's your job to eat two frogs, it's best to eat the biggest one first. Mark Twain.
Relying on willpower and motivation to eat the frogs on your list is like depending on an unreliable narrator's story. You can never be sure of the result. The only surefire way to get these sorts of tasks done is by acknowledging their difficulty and giving them some extra TLC., which is why pregaming works like a charm.
Pregaming is simply the process of lining up your ducks in a row before starting a difficult task.
Here's what it looks like in real life.
When I have a challenging workout on my schedule, I tend to do all of these the night before:
- Lay out my outfit and shoes
- Download the music/podcast I want to listen to
- Charge my watch, phone and headphones overnight
- Map out my running route and distance
- Get my electrolyte drinks lined up
(PS: Whoever said running is a low-equipment sport hasn't met me.)
Once I wake up, it's game time. I don't allow time for my brain even to comprehend what's happening because I know full well that my brain is an expert at coming up with a million reasons why I should rather stay in bed than stepping outside to run when it's cold and windy.
Pregaming is essentially an FYI to quieten the Negative Nancy within you. It works.
And yes, it does sound like a counterintuitive technique to manage your time. Pregaming requires you to spend what seems like additional time and effort to organize before the actual event. So, how is that an efficient time-management strategy if you're actually spending more time than needed?
Pregaming can save you countless hours of fussing around; it can help prevent the endless analysis-paralysis that often accompanies making difficult choices. With pregaming, you decide to do something once and get it done.
Because there are times in your life when you need to do first and think later!
Waking up each day with a blank slate and no goal is great—if you are on vacation. Or on your day off. But it can't be your de facto mode.
Not planning to do something is the same as planning to do nothing. Fail to plan, plan to fail.
Planning requires creating goals and to-do lists. To manage your time well, you need to wake up to a pre-planned to-do list. The list will provide structure, priority, and guidance to your day. I have written detailed posts on how to create and use to-do lists.
To-do lists have many advantages, the greatest of which, in my opinion, is their ability to keep you focused instead of letting other people's whims and fancies run your day.
5. Live a little
This technique doesn't require a lot of convincing. Schedule some "living time" into your day. Every day. YOLO. Reading a frothy thriller, or taking a long afternoon nap, savoring a long brunch with a friend all sound appealing and can be done. If we manage our time wisely.
The goal of time management is not to turn you into an efficient robot. It is to balance being productive and useful while also enjoying the little pleasures of life.
So, when you tell yourself next time you'd really like to, but can't read, knit, run, cook, "insert your want-to but can't hobby here," because you have no time, think again. Yes, time flies. But you're the pilot. All it takes is a little steering in the right direction.
Manage your time to manage your life.