Our entire lives have been turned upside down by Covid-19. What we weren’t prepared for, among other things, was the loss of routine. In an odd way, our sense of stability is related to the familiar. It may be chaotic – racing the clock to get out the door, make it to work on time, meet our deadlines, and return home to put kids to bed or eat dinner with our family – but there is something sacred and deeply fulfilling in the mundane details of daily life.
However, the majority of us have felt overwhelmed from the perpetual fast pace.
For years we have said, “I’ll get to it when I have time.”
“I’m just too busy to fix the fence.”
“I’ll pick up that hobby again when work slows down.”
While this article isn’t about the Coronavirus, we have to admit it has had an impact. It turns out that busyness was a bit of an excuse. When our family’s schedules went out the window, we breathed a sigh of relief those first weeks. Such calm. Slowing down felt like a luxurious vacation. No extra meetings. No running out the door for sports games. No rushing around in order to get everybody where they need to be.
After those first few days, if your family is anything like mine, our productivity took a nosedive, despite our best efforts to structure the day armed with charts and plans. Dishes didn’t get washed. Beds weren’t made. Working remotely was a much bigger challenge than anticipated. How did time simply evaporate? What was going on? I had no other obligations. So why couldn’t I seem to find the time to get things done?
In finding a new normal, I learned so much about myself and time management. This is one leadership quality I thought I had mastered, but there’s nothing like a global pandemic to reveal our flaws.
Time management truly is a superhuman skill. If you’ve experienced some of the same difficulties I described above in your own family, or even if you haven’t, be proactive and learn from me! Here are a few time management principles to apply in both your professional and personal life.
Nothing derails time management like ambiguity. Many people lose hours simply because they don’t have clear expectations. This goes for both work and home. Do you know when you’re expected to answer emails for work and when you are clearly not on the clock? Do you have set hours for spending time with your children or family, where nothing else can intrude? If you’re an entrepreneur, this can be a difficult reality to master.
Don’t allow other people to make crucial decisions for your business. Setting boundaries takes intentionality and forethought, but determining when you’ll complete tasks and how you’ll complete them can be life changing. Yes, it’s okay for your business life to integrate with your personal life, but that doesn’t mean it needs to take over. An effective strategy can help you define boundaries that will set you free and in turn help your business to flourish.
Manage your Calendar – Guard your Time!
Setting clear boundaries is really the key to managing your calendar well. Have you ever had a week where you began with nothing on your calendar and suddenly it was full to the brim – meetings, responsibilities, and extra projects piling up?
Learning how to say no is empowering. Before you start accepting requests for meetings and helping others or even social engagements, decide what is important to you. There are certainly some “have-tos” on your list, but be sure to leave room for the things YOU want before you start giving your time away. We’re talking about determining what your priorities are. There is only so much time in a day and you can’t manufacture more. Set aside a little time each week to create a reasonable list of your priorities. Include work and your obligations.
Find Ways to Optimize.
If you’re a manager, an executive, or an entrepreneur, you wield power.
How much time do you think is wasted in a week? Are you constantly sitting in a meeting that is going longer than scheduled, consequently making you late for your next meeting? It’s a vicious cycle we’re all familiar with.
One remedy is to keep track of your time for a few weeks. Just jot down each hour what you are doing, and take time to review. Where can you find opportunity?
Chances are, there are meetings that could be accomplished in much less time. You’ll find you got lost in your inbox, or stuck on a phone call.
Americans spend nearly 28% of their workweek in their inbox. (https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/technology-media-and-telecommunications/our-insights/the-social-economy)
If you’re struggling to keep up with the volume of email while working either in the office OR at home, you’re not alone.
Schedule a hard 30-minute deadline for shorter meetings. Leave a buffer in between meetings you know run long. Set a limit on how many times you check your email per day, and stick to it. This can optimize your work hours, but it works for your personal life too. Find out where you lose time scrolling on social media or stuck on a phone call, then make a change.
This is one thing all the experts agree on: when you are setting goals, you have to make them smart. No one understands this better than finance experts. For example, if you want to have X number of dollars in assets – what do you do first? Now what? Stating a big “hairy audacious goal” (https://www.jimcollins.com/article_topics/articles/BHAG.html) involves more than simply stating your desired end result. Finance experts know what it takes to stay the course – and make adjustments as you go, and celebrate every step that gets you CLOSER to your goal. That’s the key. If you’ve got something you want to accomplish with your time – write that novel, finish working on that antique project car, move to your dream location – then you have to figure out smaller sub goals to help you get there. If you want to write a novel, maybe commit to a word count per week. Get specific and get serious!
As they say, “hope is not a strategy.”
Pay Attention to your Energy Levels.
It’s perfectly fine if you’re not the kind of person who rolls out of bed at 5 a.m. charged up and ready to go. Trying to run 5 miles before 7 a.m. might not be the right goal for you. People who have mastered time management understand that they should work with their natural rhythms, and play to their strengths. Don’t waste time fighting it if it’s not right for you. Reasonably manage your time. If your peak energy level is at 10 a.m., program your day with the toughest work you have to tackle in that time slot. Figure out when you are most productive, and design your day around it.
If you have the tendency to be a taskmaster and skip lunch and breaks, you’ll burn out (and your time management strategy will never stick!) Take breaks. It’s proven to boost productivity. Walk away from the project, the desk, or the to-do list for a moment. (https://executive.mit.edu/blog/want-to-be-more-productive-in-2018-take-more-breaks) If you know your habit is to take an extended break and not make it back to the desk, don’t allow yourself to get caught. Put 15 minutes on the clock and be intentional with your playtime until you need to get back at it.
For more advice on managing your time and your money, talk to one of our advisors today.