Making the Most of Your Time By Rachel Pohli

Photo: Wessel Du Plooy
Would you like to have more time in your day? Who wouldn’t? Especially as life fills up with more and more responsibilities—job, spouse, children, etc.—it seems that the days get shorter and shorter, and we find ourselves wishing for more hours to get it all done and do it well. You may have asked yourself, “How do they do it all?”; “they” being anyone who seems to be accomplishing more than you. You will discover that “their” secret is just a little organization and discipline. The following steps will help you devise a system to manage your time and feel a real sense of accomplishment at the end of each day. It could be the difference in your life you’ve been looking for!

Some Preliminaries

1. Identify your priorities. Before you can get started on this plan, there are some things you need to do. First, you must take inventory of your life. We are given only a finite number of hours in the day, and therefore are limited in what we can reasonably accomplish, so we must determine what are the truly important things and what things can be discarded. We need to be realistic.

Divide your priority list into daily and weekly priorities, and highlight several things that are important to you to accomplish on a daily (or almost daily) basis. Determine how much time you’d like to devote to each priority (again, be realistic with your time estimates!). 

Then decide what things you’d like to do a few times a week, and how much time you want to spend doing them. Things like spiritual time, exercise, quality time with family, and preparing healthy meals might be on your list of top daily priorities. Examples of weekly priorities might include things such as time for hobbies, reading, keeping up with current events, etc. Of course, each person’s priorities will be different, so determine what things are really important to you, and write them down. Keep this list close to you as you move on to the next step. 

2. Acquire a time organization tool. This plan will not work without one. It must be something that helps you keep close track of the time in your days, and which will help hold you accountable to your plan. One option is a simple date book. Or you can use a write-on calendar, be it one that you place on your desk, or one that you hang on your wall. You may choose to use a software tool on your computer. Just find something that works best for you. 

I recommend a Smart phone or iPad. It has all the essential elements for keeping your time organized: a calendar, a phone book, a to-do list and memo function. You can accomplish all your time organization with this one tool, and it’s compact and portable as well. 

The biggest advantage of a Smart phone (or something similar) is the flexibility to move things around. If you’re handwriting your to-do list and appointments in a traditional date book, it will not be nearly as convenient (or neat) to rearrange the items when you need to. Speaking of a to-do list, that's the next step.

3. Make a To-Do List and let it become part of your daily routine. You may not like this idea, but it is an essential part of this plan, not only to accomplish more with your time, but also simply to remember all the things you need to do! As life becomes more hectic, more and more things are simply put aside for later or forgotten completely, because they haven’t been written down. It is very satisfying and rewarding to check items off your to-do list as you finish them. This is concrete evidence of what you’ve accomplished and how your new time organization plan is working.

Smart phone apps come in very handy with the to-do list, because each item on your list can be prioritized in importance from 1 to 5. You can also categorize the type of item it is, as well as designate a date for each item. If a task isn’t accomplished on the day that you have set for it, just move it to the next day. It’s as simple as that. 

Keep in mind that your to-do list is not the same as your list of daily and weekly priorities. Your priorities are the same, consistently repeating items that continue for perhaps your whole life, whereas the to-do list is more specific to each day and has a much larger variety of items that are always changing (though, of course, there are many items on a to-do list that you do over and over as well).

4. Decide on a set bed time and waking time. Determine how much sleep you need to function well. Set your times and be prepared to stick to them! This is important because sleep time is the foundation of your schedule. In order to manage your time more effectively, you need to plan in advance so you can build your schedule knowing how many hours in your day you have to work with. Knowing the approximate amount of your waking time helps you delegate it better. (Note: if a strict set bed time and wake time is not something you’re used to, work up to it slowly, giving yourself a break as you develop the habit, and build in time to take a break from it, say, on the weekends.)

Implementing the Plan

Once you have decided on your top priorities, set yourself up with your organization tool, started a to-do list, and decided on your bed time and wake-up time, you’re ready to begin your time organization plan. 

All you need is your calendar and your to-do list. Think of your calendar as a blank canvas that you will be painting each day, designing something that creates form and function out of the chaos of all those things you have to do. The best time to do this is to take a few minutes right before bedtime. That way, you’re all set first thing in the morning.

Start with your daily priorities. You’ve already determined those things that you must accomplish each day, so put those on the calendar right away, deciding what times of day you will do them. If you’re using a Palm, these are the kinds of things that you can put in as repeating items on the calendar. (Keep in mind that for these kinds of priorities, it’s often helpful to plan to do them at the same time every day, when possible – it keeps your planning more simple). Remember to be realistic in the amount of time that you allot for each one. 

Next, take a look at your to-do list. Decide which things you’d like to tackle for the next day. Look at the slots of time in between your daily priorities, and fill in those blank time slots with the items from your list.  If you have a regular work schedule, a set number of hours that you have to be at a job, just focus on scheduling the hours around your job. If you schedule is more flexible, i.e. you work from home with varying hours or are a stay-at-home parent, you will have a lot more hours that are “undesignated”, requiring a little more planning in order to make the most of them. 

What you have when you’re done is a schedule. No longer are your plans for your time ethereal and abstract, things that you hope you might be able to accomplish during those hours in your day that you have to do them. Now you have an accountability tool, something to follow that’s concrete, something to hold you accountable to being disciplined with your time. You will find that having this schedule helps you immensely to avoid wasting time during your day, because you become motivated to stick to your schedule and actually accomplish the things listed there! 

Some Tips for Success

1) Be realistic with your time estimates. Build in “buffer time”, which means that it’s better to overestimate than underestimate how long a task will take you. That way, if you have a little extra time, you can figure out what else you’d like to do with it, or just take a breather during that time. It’s better to do that than to get behind in your schedule, become frustrated and just give up on the whole thing. 

2) Identify your personal distractions, and develop strategies to avoid them. Just as an example, you might be easily distracted by “checking your e-mail.” What is intended to be just a quick check can often turn into wasted time, because one thing leads to another and another, and suddenly you’ve spent too much time on the Internet again! Recognize this is a hazard area and avoid your computer unless you’ve built time into your schedule that day for answering your e-mail. Your time-wasting distraction may be different. Remember to identify distractions and develop strategies to avoid them.

3) Be flexible and schedule in “free time” for doing those things that might often distract you. A schedule that is too rigid becomes more of a burden than a help. Once you find yourself getting off the schedule for the day, you’re tempted to give up on it completely. This is a barrier to your success, so make sure that you don’t “over-schedule” yourself down to the last minute. 

4) Learn to multi-task, if possible. You may not be the sort of person who is capable or enjoys multi-tasking, and if so, don’t worry about it. But if you are, start trying to think of ways that you can kill two birds with one stone. For example, if you know that you have an appointment that will require you to wait for a period of time, bring along something to do from your list that you’d like to accomplish, such as catching up on a book or magazine you’re behind on, making a phone call that has been put off, paying some bills, etc, etc. Once you start thinking in terms of multi-tasking, you’ll find that there are a lot of times when you can accomplish two things (or more) during one slot of time. 

5) Finally, give yourself a break! Though this is a tool to help you manage your time better, it should not function as a slave driver. It’s not the end of the world if you don’t accomplish everything on your schedule for that day. If you haven’t finished an item, there’s always tomorrow. Simply move it to the next day (or another day that you designate), congratulate yourself for what you did accomplish that day, and move on! 

The most important thing is that this tool should help you focus on what’s really important: time with God, your family and friends and taking better care of yourself.

Rachel Pohli writes from Marysville, WA. All rights reserved © 2011 Click here for content usage information