I’ve heard it again and again and I’ve said it myself, “I just need to learn to manage my time.” I’m starting to think I may not be management material. In my endless attempts to manage my time better, however, I’ve learned things about myself and about the concept of time management.
- I am not an island.
I make different schedules, I make numbered lists, I block out my entire day in chunks of time (like the Pomodoro method), or I choose a time for every task. You know what happens every day though? Something not on the list. Something like realizing there’s nothing left to make a decent meal out of. Something like a phone call from a family member or friend right when I was planning to do my pole training. Something like a surprise invitation to get ice cream when I was about to work for two hours. Because I am not a self-sustaining, isolated tract of land, I need to eat and I need to keep my relationships in good health and I need to take care of myself and others. So do you, I’m guessing. Unless you are an island, in which case, I have questions.
- Making a list of more than five things is setting myself up for failure.
In fact, making a list of more than three things is often setting myself up for failure. I keep a planner like I’m still in high school because I never understood how anyone could know on the spot if they were available for something unless they had a calendar with them, and because I track my work deadlines on it. On Fridays, I plan out the next week in terms of chores, errands, work deadlines, workouts, classes, and more. Yet every day I add more to it and every Friday, I’m trying to get done things that were scheduled for Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. If you’re a person who’s hard on yourself when you don’t get everything checked off, don’t make to-do lists. It’s crushing for us to end the day or week with so many unchecked boxes.
- There’s two ways to get things done: a little at a time and the whole thing at once.
I think everyone naturally leans one way or the other. I definitely am the latter. Unfortunately, that leads me into doing nothing sometimes. For example, if I have fifteen minute before I need to log into a meeting, that’s not enough time to do a pole training session or clean the bathroom. Fifteen minutes might be enough time to just clean the sink in the bathroom or the mirror, but I’ll probably choose nothing over a little something because I’ll think, “What’s the point if I can’t finish the job?” Well, the point is I could do something, and then maybe later that extra fifteen minutes I bought myself would be connected to another fifteen minutes and I would have time to do a quick training session.
- I want to do it all, but I can’t.
I have a lot of responsibilities and a lot of hobbies and a lot of goals (getting those gosh-darn splits before I’m dead, for one). I bet many of you do too. I have realized I have to let some things go if I really want other things, even if it is temporary. I have to choose certain parts of my life over other parts. This is sometimes the most painful thing and sometimes the easiest thing. Usually when it’s easy, it causes me pain later in the form of staying up late or getting up crazy early to make a deadline, or failing to attain a goal, like finally being comfortable in Superman.
What do I need to do differently to be more productive with my time and get more of what I want in my day? Recognize that doing a little now means having to do a little less later. Acknowledge that I am choosing one thing over another and making sure that’s the thing I really want to prioritize. Make short to-do lists with a maximum of three items, or start making Ta-Done lists, where I only list things as I complete them, as in, “Ta-dah, it’s done!”
Ultimately, I think the best way to manage one’s time better is to be kinder to oneself. A message to you and me: Stop expecting yourself to get everything done. Stop overloading your commitments. Start celebrating everything you do in a day, even if you didn’t plan on doing it. In the end, we’re not managing our time, we’re managing ourselves. We all deserve a kind manager who acknowledges what we have done rather than one who looks at what we haven’t.
Article by Sara Wielenberg