Yesterday I wrote about how time management is really the source of so much stress and anxiety for so many of us. No matter how much time we have, we never feel like we have enough. In this post, I am going to suggest a method for managing your time that will help you to look at your day ahead and feel at ease, rather than overwhelmed.
“My” time blocking method is one of those things that I thought lots of people did, but when I started suggesting and explaining it to people, they acted like they had never thought of it before, at least not in this way. And the feedback they gave me after trying it was very positive. Sometimes all it takes is someone else to suggest something that deep down you’ve always known is a good idea.
The method is so simple that I almost feel silly writing it out. The title just about says it all for me. But I think going through the steps will clarify it and hopefully make it easier for you to try for yourself. So here goes.
Step 1: Make a List
As I mentioned in my previous post, we all start most days with a list (in our heads) of things that we know need to get done. The problem is, we usually don’t write out that list anywhere. So whether it is work-related stuff, personal, or both, it all sort of floats around inside our heads in a big cloudy mess. The more things we know we have to do that day, the cloudier and more crowded it becomes until we feel that stress coming on again. So the first part of my method is definitely making a list, somewhere outside of your head–meaning on a piece of paper, on your computer, on your phone, somewhere. Just get it all out there. This is HUGE. Include things that seem insignificant, like “call so and so back” or “make dentist appointment.” These little things may only take a few minutes each when you actually go to do them(see step 2), but if your day is going to be super busy anyway, then you might never get to these little things. Also, a lot of little things can really add up in terms of time. So writing them out and planning for them can really help a lot, and can keep you on track.
Sometimes making a list is all it takes to lighten our load, because looking at everything somehow makes it a little less scary. But sometimes, we need a little bit more help. We need to set some guidelines for ourselves to ensure that we actually get everything done on that list. Which is why we have steps 2 and 3.
Step 2: Assign Time Amounts to Each Item
This is one of those things that you might not actually have to do. But if it helps you to make this a step of its own, then go for it. Some people might go directly to step 3 if they think they can. However, if you have a really long and complicated-looking list, then taking a couple seconds to jot down about how long you think each line item is going to take will make step 3 a whole lot easier.
Step 3: Time Blocking
Look at your calendar and figure out where you’re going to fit in the list items. Remember to include those little things that you felt silly even writing on your list to begin with. You will be glad you planned for them ahead of time. Also, make sure you make room in there for a little bit of wiggle room–because usually things don’t take the exact amount of time that you thought they would. And last of all, don’t forget lunch!!! It sounds silly but if you look at your day and start putting stuff in there, you might forget about it. And then when you do take that break, the rest of your calendar is going to be thrown off.
If you have a wide open day to begin with (and don’t have to fit things in around pre-existing items), or at least some flexibility, then think about how you want to structure it. You’re not going to want to do two really intense tasks one right after the other. Try to add in some variety whenever you can. Think about it like this: if you do two very similar things right in a row, the quality of the second thing is probably not going to be as good as the first, because you’re not approaching them with the same energy level. For example, if you have two things on your list that both involve sitting in front of a computer typing for about 30 minutes each, I would recommend not putting them back to back. Because chances are, after you finish the one, you’re not going to want to jump right into the next one. So when you’re making your schedule, it would be best to follow that first activity with things that involve getting up from your desk, or at least doing something slightly different in nature.
Some Final Thoughts…
You might think this sounds like you’re going to be living on a strict schedule, with every minute of your day spoken for. But trust me, it actually is so freeing to know what you should be doing and when. I’m not saying to do this for every waking minute of your whole life, but especially when it comes to work stuff, or just things that you know need to get done, just put them in your calendar. Once everything is in there, your stress is already half lifted because you have consciously made room in your day for all of the things you need to do. Remember, things are going to come up that were not part of your plan. It’s a fact of life (in fact, I think Shakespeare even wrote about this!). Just take a deep breath, take the change as it comes, and make adjustments as needed. But try your best to stick to your calendar plan whenever you can.
Time blocking is such a great tool that I use often, and I have seen it help out other people as well. Take a few minutes to plan your days this way, and you will be surprised at how much more productive you will be. And the best part is, I can guarantee you that you will not feel as overwhelmed when you think about the upcoming day. Happy planning!