It can often feel that the thing that stands between you and your goals is lack of time. How often have you wished for more time in the day? How many times have you thought that if you had just one, two, three more hours you could get everything done?
But alas, time is the great equalizer – it’s the one thing we all have the same amount of. And so the key is not to wish for more of it, but to use the time you have as effectively as you can. There are a thousand apps and hacks to help with this, but often we miss the fundamentals to get us started and we end up feeling just as frustrated as ever.
Start with these three essential pillars to ensure you are using your time effectively. Once you have the basics nailed, tips, tricks, and technology will be far more helpful.
1. Be Ruthlessly Selective about What Gets on to Your To Do List
The number one reason that most of us feel like there isn’t enough time to get it all done is because there isn’t enough time to get it all done. And since we can’t expand the amount of time we have, we must reduce the number of things on the to-do list.
Being ruthlessly selective doesn’t mean being unkind; it means being an unapologetic defender of what is important to you. Write down a short list of things that are most important to you. The tasks associated with those things should occupy the majority of your to do list. The bigger return on investment you get from something, the more valuable use of your time it is. Everything else, you can either defer or say no to, knowing that you are putting your priorities first.
Saying no doesn’t always have to mean “No, never;” it can mean “No, not now” or “Not in the exact way you requested it.” Remember, you are the gatekeeper of your to do list. Every time you say yes to something, you are saying no to something else.
2. Get a Realistic Idea of How Long Things Take
Studies show that human beings are horrible at accurately assessing how long things take us. This is because we don’t sense time like we sense sound, images, or taste. Instead, we perceive it. The brain takes all the information available and turns it into knowledge — kind of like putting a pile of jigsaw pieces into a complete puzzle.
When you’re doing something easy, repetitive, or pleasurable, it is simple for the brain to reorganize the pieces of information, so time seems to go by quickly. But if you’re doing something complex or traumatic, it takes the brain longer to turn all the pieces of information into a complete picture, so time seems to go by much slower. If you’ve ever been in a car accident, it may have felt like it all happened in slow motion. This is why – your brain was working super hard to make sense of what was happening.
Consequently, you can’t trust your sense of how long things take you. The only way around this is to measure how long things take you. For one week, use a timer to find out how long you spend each day answering emails, making dinner, writing reports, and other routine tasks. You might be surprised to find that you’re consistently allowing less time for common tasks than they actually take. If you’re someone who is consistently late in the morning, this is likely because you don’t have an accurate idea of how long you take to get ready.
Over time, observe how long things take you. Pay attention to how long it takes you to complete essential daily tasks – email, getting ready, picking up groceries – but also pay attention to how long it takes to complete your priority tasks – playing with the kids, brainstorming new ideas for your business, spending time with friends.
3. Manage Your Time with Time Blocking
Personally, I am not a fan of using a written to-do list to track my tasks. I find it to be a documented list of my current failures; an unclimb-able mountain of tasks, most of which I’ll rewrite four times before actually completing them.
What I find far more effective is time blocking – putting the tasks I need to complete on my calendar, and then sticking to it.
The information you learned in steps 1 and 2 is very important in putting time blocking into action. You know now what is important to you, and how long these tasks take you.
Block out an hour and plot out everything on your to do list onto your calendar, using your accurate time assessments to make sure you allow enough time for each thing. Be sure to allow time for unexpected tasks or emergencies, and some buffer time between each thing.
If you’re anything like me, you’ll find that at first it doesn’t all fit. No wonder you’re stressed out – there simply are not enough hours in the day to do everything you’ve committed to! This will help you know how much you can say yes to. It’ll also mean that when you say, “I don’t have time to do that right now,” it’ll truly be the case.
When we make decisions about what to spend money on, we look at how much money is in the bank, and what other demands on that money are coming up in the future. We should plan our time in the same way.
Every time a new thing comes up that you have said yes to, add it to your calendar. Do this for weekends and weekdays alike. Gone will be the days of getting to Sunday night and feeling like you didn’t accomplish anything you wanted to – because you will only have said yes to the things you know you can get done.
Ongoing application of these three fundamental rules – ruthless protection of your to do list, an accurate idea of how long things take, and managing your time with time blocking – will alleviate the endless frustration of feeling like there simply aren’t enough hours in the day. And it will make the hours you do have much more satisfying.