The first rule of time management is that there is no rule to time management. There is no silver bullet, no one trick that will make you a better time manager. That's what the so-called time management "experts" won't tell you.
Managing your time better is actually a series of decisions you make about how you behave. And that starts with realizing that you're not great at managing time and that very few people are, but there are a few behavioral changes you can make to make... managing your time easier.
Here are those secrets:
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You Should Never Rely on Your Own Memory to Organize
Have you ever prepared your lunch the night before only to leave it in the fridge the next morning? Or forgotten your gym bag when you planned on attending an after-work yoga class? If you're the King or Queen of forgetting important papers, gym clothes, cell phones, etc. you are not alone. And here's a simple way to fix it: dumb these tasks down as much as possible so you're setting yourself up for success.
A few examples of how this works:
- If you need to bring anything into work,... outside of your regular handbag, laptop bag and/or gym bag, leave it in front of the door. Not near the door, but directly in front of it so you literally cannot get out of your home until you've picked that item up off the ground.
- Store food you are bringing to work in the fridge at eye level so you can't open the door without seeing your lunch and snacks.
- When you take a shower on your last morning or evening in a hotel, toss the products you're using (shampoo, conditioner, body wash, face wash) as soon as you're done with them onto the bath mat outside the shower. This way you can't get out of the bathroom without picking them up and packing.
- Similarly, when you're on your last day of vacation and you're afraid you're going to forget something, again, put it right in front of the door so you can't leave without it.
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Instead, Rely on Routines
Develop personal routine around any tasks you do repeatedly. This way you can rely on your routines to get those mundane, annoying tasks complete rather than relying on your memory.
For instance, if you follow the Weekly Organizing Routine, you can clean your entire house in 20-30 minutes a day rather than give up an entire weekend morning or afternoon (or full day) to complete the same task.
And it doesn't just apply to the mundane, not-that-exciting tasks like cleaning. Sticking to a routine... and doing things regularly is a huge boon to your productivity.
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Overestimate the Time Things Take
Here's the irony about this one: Tasks you know you need to do but don't want to do often take much less time than you think they will: doing laundry, cleaning the bathroom, making that doctor's appointment, etc.
But then there are the tasks you underestimate... like prepping things, work projects and travel time.
Overestimate how much time things take to get done. It's always going to take longer than you think: driving to the doctor's office, writing an email to your boss,... proofing a powerpoint, etc.
People are terrible at judging how long a task will take to complete. It's so bad there's actually a name for it. It's called the planning fallacy. When planning for how long a project will take you to complete how long it will take you to run errands, consider how long it took you in the past. It probably took longer than you think, so plan accordingly (and bring a list of errands so you're not relying on memory).
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Do Your Prep Work to Organize
Take the time to read the directions and lay out the ingredients. In other words: think like a TV chef. TV chefs always have their ingredients measured and laid out in front of them. A production assistant will go through and organize all of the tools and ingredients ahead of time so when the chef starts working, they're not looking around for things.
There are several benefits to this way of working:
- It saves time because you're not searching for anything you need mid-project;
- It lays out... tools so they are easy to reach while working; and,
- Most importantly, it forces you to think ahead to the end result of any project
Apply this strategy to everything you do.
- Before you go grocery shopping, clean out the fridge, so there's a place for new items.
- Before you plan meals for the week, check to make sure you don't have any events that will mean you don't have to cook on certain evenings.
- Before you get in the shower, lay out the towels you will use, the clothes you will change into (including socks and shoes), and any products you will apply post-shower.
Does this sound really inflexible? It might to some. But it will make you feel more in control and more efficient to plan ahead. And that means better time management.