We all know that time management is important but few of us know how to do it effectively! This is the second post of a three-part series dedicated to equipping you with knowledge and strategies that will help you claim ownership of your schedule and feel like you are back in the driver’s seat of your life. The focus on this week’s blog is to help you structure your schedule to achieve the goals you set for yourself in the important domains of your life. The ability to prioritize commitments, set clear goals, and maintain appropriate boundaries with your energy will help you better leverage your time and orient your efforts toward goal achievement.
THE TIME DILEMMA
Our energy may be a renewable resource but our time is finite. Whether it’s coming from our own mouths or from someone we know, we hear the statement, “I don’t have enough time,” or “I wish there were more than 24-hours in the day.” However, the ugly truth is that if you don’t have time in a 24-hour day, you will not have time in a longer one.
The issue isn’t the amount of time, it’s how we choose to use it. There are many possible reasons why we don’t feel like there is enough time in the day or we find ourselves constantly playing catch-up when it comes to our assignments and deadlines:
We prioritize what is easy or enjoyable over what is unpleasant or requires more effort
We have poor boundaries with ourselves and with others
We are not realistic about how long it will take us to complete a task
We default to the story that we “work better under pressure”
We have unclear values and, therefore, have difficulty making value-based decisions
We let perfectionism drive and strive to be excellent at everything
Instead of stating, “I don’t have time,” try saying, “It’s not a priority for me right now,” and see how that feels. We all have the same 24-hours in a day, and it’s up to you how you choose to use it. Our daily, weekly, monthly, and annual schedules serve as important roadmaps for achievement, satisfaction, and enjoyment in our daily lives. However, like the GPS on our phones need to calibrate our current location before it tells us where to go, we need to engage in an honest self-assessment of our priorities and our willingness to invest and sacrifice in our own success.
What comes to mind when you are asked, “What goals or commitments in your life are most important to you right now?” Maybe it’s finishing your degree, continuing your exercise routine, homeschooling your kids, getting 6-8 hours of sleep each night, going to work so you can pay rent, or something else entirely. Most of us have more goals, commitments, and tasks on our list than we could even begin to count, and that’s okay!
If we think of ourselves as juggling all these balls in the air, the trick becomes knowing which balls are rubber and which balls are glass. The rubber balls are the tasks, commitments, and goals that we can “drop” temporarily because we know they’ll bounce and we can pick them up again later; the glass balls are the ones that require our immediate attention and energy because if they drop, they’ll shatter and it will be a huge mess.
What’s neat is that some of the balls can change from rubber to glass and back again, so we must pay attention in order to know when something has shifted. School, for example, is a glass ball during the semester but will turn to rubber over the holidays and the summer. Work might be a glass ball if you need to pay your bills, but it might become rubber if you are sick or need to care for a loved one who is injured. Things like rest, recovery, and sleep will be rubber until they are not, and that transformation can happen quickly and with a detrimental effect! It’s fairly easy to sacrifice sleep, nutrition, and hydration when we have a looming deadline, but as we learned last week, we must make time to recover and renew our physical energy or the self-care ball becomes glass.
Our daily tasks and obligations deplete us at different rates, much like how different apps will drain our phone battery more quickly than others. Similarly, other activities fill us with energy and also do so at different rates, similar to how some charging cables recharge our phones faster than the car adapter we’ve had since 2009. Evaluate which of your commitments charge your battery and which ones drain it. If an energy-draining commitment is not a glass ball, it’s okay to let it drop (which is kind of like closing down an app on your phone to conserve battery). We have activities that demand our energies; therefore, we must also plan to commit time to the activities that supply our energy. It’s important to find an energy-task balance to sustain our health and well-being.
Setting clear goals for our schedule remind us of what we want to accomplish and/or disengage from, and they also give us a platform from which we can evaluate our progress. However, clear goals are not enough! We may set a goal that we want to focus more on our homework for the week, but something so general does not provide an adequate or effective benchmark for progress. Instead, we need to “de-blob” our goals by creating specific and measurable parameters.
Focus more on homework → Commit at least 45 minutes per day per class to coursework.
Read more → Spend at least 15 minutes each morning reading a book for fun.
Eat better → Cook dinner at home at least five nights a week (instead of take-out).
Drink more water → Drink 70oz of water per day.
Spend less time scrolling → Only spend 3 hours on social media per day (and set up time limits in your phone settings).
Save more money → Track my daily expenses.
Remember, you may have a goal to prioritize the big paper that is due at the end of the week, but this doesn’t diminish the need to go to work, your need for sleep and exercise, or the desire to spend time with friends and family. That said, it does mean that you need to prioritize your homework as non-negotiable appointments with yourself. The best part is that when we follow through with our commitments to complete tasks, we are able to fully engage with the more fun activities (e.g., dinner with friends, weekend hiking, movie nights) that help to recharge our batteries!
There is no one “right way” to own your schedule; only you know the best, most effective way to organize your responsibilities and hobbies. However, as we mentioned last week, we all need to defend our priorities as if our lives and successes depend on it… Because they do! Saying no and setting (and maintaining) boundaries can feel overwhelmingly hard at times, but there are ways to kindly and clearly communicate that your time and priorities are valuable:
I have another appointment during that time! May I suggest another time that we schedule it? Whether it’s a job interview, dentist appointment, or time you have set aside for your workout, you do not need to explain what else you have going on. Use this as an opportunity to proactively plan a time that works well for all who are involved, including you!
I am interested but wouldn’t be able to get involved for another three weeks. Would that work with your timeline or would you prefer that I make a referral to someone else who might be available now? Communicating your interest while acknowledging your current commitments is usually seen as a strength, rather than a limiter, because it means that you want to be able to dedicate the energy and attention that the task demands. Be realistic with your own schedule; the ability to say “no,” or, “not now,” is powerful for both you and the person requesting your time.
I don’t think I’m the best fit for this project, but I’d love to introduce you to someone else who might be! Not being interested in a project means that you are not a good fit! Similar to the first example, you don’t have to provide any explanation. Offering to connect them with someone else demonstrates that you recognize that their project is a priority for them and you want to see them achieve success, even if you are not an active player.
Thank you for your waiting! I really appreciate your patience. We are sometimes late due to scheduling errors or unexpected roadblocks. Acknowledge that you are late and thank whoever you are meeting. Opening with, “I’m sorry for being late,” is often followed by a story about our own problems; instead, turn your focus to their willingness to wait!
This is the second of a three-part series addressing strategies to better manage our schedules and structure our daily lives. Building off last week’s topic of embracing the responsibility for creating, managing, and maintaining a schedule, we discussed the importance of honestly identifying our priorities, setting clear goals to guide our behaviors, and setting and maintaining effective boundaries with our time and energy. At the start, this process might feel restrictive and limiting, but, ultimately, the ability to set goals and then efficiently and effectively accomplish tasks will gift us more freedom and time to invest in the people and pursuits we value the most!
*This blog was co-authored by Dr. Amanda Leibovitz and Dr. Jeff Allen.