Time management is an essential life skill that many of us struggle with, at some point in our lives.
We may possess all the genius and creativity in the world but, without strong time management skills, the freedom, impact and prosperity we desire, will always remain out of reach.
I enjoy learning about and experimenting with all things personal development. This season has been no different. In fact, it’s forced me to learn how to be even more effective, given the added responsibilities, pressures and anxieties that have come with it.
This season has also inspired me to revisit my purpose, to dream bigger and to adjust my present to be more in alignment with where I want to go.
You know how it is when, everywhere you look, certain messages are being reinforced? That’s how the past few weeks have been for me. I’ll seemingly randomly stumble upon an article, then come across a video, then pick a next book to read … and they’re all reiterating the same thing!
I’ve been paying attention and a lot of it comes down to managing my time better, in order to become the person I need to be, in order to achieve the things I desire.
I want to share what’s been working for me, with the hope that you can get something useful here too.
Design your life
Unless we consciously plan how we’re going to spend our time, life will continue to just happen to us. Our days will be dictated by the needs and expectations of others and we’ll be unfulfilled, at best.
At worst? Frustrated, drained, overwhelmed, burned out, hopeless, self-destructive and the list goes on. I think most of us have been there, at one time or another.
But it doesn’t have to be this way.
We have the power to break out of the cycle where each day is simply a mindless repetition of the last. We can live intentionally, so that we’re constantly growing towards the person we want to become. Growing into our future self.
We get to set this in motion by choosing how we spend our time.
I’ve split my recommendations into 3 areas:
- Time management foundations
- Time management for your future self
- Time management for your whole self
Time management foundations
Start with simplicity
Simplicity isn’t easy!
I’m sold on simple. When I found myself overwhelmed last month – and sick and nearly burned out – I knew it was a call to institute a whole new level of simplicity in my life.
The essentialist journey of less but better is something that I wrote more extensively about, in discussing the dilemma of being multi-passionate and why it’s dangerous.
One of the key things I took from it was to remember the meaning of the word “priority:” one thing that is more important than the others. ONE. Only.
Honour the word “priority”
Take time at the beginning of each day (or better yet, the night before) to determine the one thing you can do that day, that will have the most impact on your goals. Write it down and think of it as a compass for your day.
Everything else you accomplish is a bonus!
Towards the end of March 2020, my team started working from home. We instituted a daily morning check-in, on Slack, where we each share our priority for the day. Doing so allows us to interrogate each other – ”is that priority aligned with what we need to achieve this week/month?” It also helps us keep up to date with what everybody is working on, which is especially helpful when you’re no longer in the same physical space.
At the start of 2020, I became serious about being an early riser. Me – a previously self-proclaimed night owl!
Waking up by 5am has been the biggest game-changer for me.
The motivation for getting up early was initially to make time for my wellness practices.
Soon, I started to also make time in my morning routine, for what I refer to as “goals work”. Taking advantage of the quiet of the morning and the freshness of my mind, to work on my business. That is, to work on strategic tasks that will move things forward.
For added accountability, my Afri-love Connection Club co-founder, Danielle Anderson and I, have been doing virtual check-ins in the morning. We set aside 2 hours to work on our goals. At the start, we share our plan for that morning and, at the end, we report back on how we did. All this happens before 9am.
Indeed, there are few highs greater than reaching lunchtime and knowing you’ve done the most important work and you’ve taken care of yourself.
I’m currently reading and thoroughly enjoying The 5AM Club: Own Your Morning. Elevate Your Life by Robin Sharma. It’s an entertaining read full of such wisdom and reinforces the necessity of early rising, in crafting the person you want to become.
If you still need more encouragement to get up this early, check out some more compelling reasons here.
Sleep and rest
My biggest challenge in becoming an early riser was getting to sleep early enough.
It’s certainly a lifestyle change and one that, perhaps, has been made easier in this season of curfews and lockdowns (I can find you a silver lining anywhere!).
Another thing that’s key, in this quest for greater productivity, creativity and wellness is rest. So, not just sleep but, time spent consciously on nourishing your mind, body and soul.
Seems obvious, right? But how elusive is it?!
A couple of things that can help you focus:
Work on one task at a time
Multi-tasking doesn’t really exist – you’re actually rapidly switching from one thing to another. Exhausting right? And it actually hampers your productivity and your excellence.
Work in sprints
Set a timer for a block of time where you consciously remove all distractions (no notifications, phone on airplane mode, doors shut etc.) and focus on one thing. Then reward yourself with a break and a treat afterwards.
I’ve used the Pomodoro technique (25-minute blocks with 5-minute breaks and a half hour break every 3 Pomodoros). Lately, I’m experimenting with 60-minute blocks. My treat is usually reading/watching something interesting I saved for later or going to stand out in the sun.
Release the guilt of having to be available all the time. Most of the time, people can wait.
Plan ahead of time
Planning your priority tasks before your day begins, means you know what you need to do, as soon as you wake up, and can hit the ground running.
Another practice that helps with my time management is, doing an end-of-the-day review.
I specifically write down:
- 3 wins
- 3 things I could have done better
- 3 things to keep in mind for tomorrow (mostly in terms of mindset, such as “maintain this high vibration” or “watch my thoughts”)
- 9 things I’m grateful for
I borrowed (and adjusted) this format from the SELF journal.
This review helps me to pause and analyse what worked well and what didn’t, so that I can use that information for better time – as well as energy and mindset – management tomorrow.
These three things – time, energy and mindset – are so connected!
Speaking of connection, the gratitude part of this practice helps to contextualise why you’re doing what you’re doing in the first place. Your why. And this is key for keeping you motivated.
Time management for your future self
Breaking down your goals
Why we’re even concerned with time management in the first place, is a biggie.
I assume you’re still reading because you have dreams you want to turn into reality!
To do so, you’ll need to:
- Set SMART goals
- Be clear about why these goals are important to you – and write this down
- Chunk them down into actionable pieces which helps you to leverage the Zeigarnik effect and overcome procrastination.
But you don’t need a fancy planner to make things happen!
Once you have a goal, work backwards and:
- Set monthly milestones
- Break these down into different tasks that can be ideally completed in one sitting
- Spread these tasks across the available weeks
- Each week, assign the week’s tasks to specific days
Prioritising your goals
Is there one goal that will automatically make all the other goals possible?
In order to achieve one of my personal goals for 2020, I’m going to need to develop the discipline and commitment that will enable me to realise all my other 5 goals!
Thus, the tasks – and habits – related to this goal have become top priority.
Checking in with your goals daily
Each morning I write down my goals for the year. Most mornings I just list them, starring my priority one. Every now and then however, I put myself in future mode and write about how it feels and what my life looks like, having accomplished the goal.
This puts me in a mindframe to pick the day’s priority task well.
Benjamin Hardy has some great tips for a journaling practice around this (and more behaviours for 100% commitment)
Time management for your whole self
Ditching work-life balance
While I’ve always been pretty good at time management, I’ve still occasionally found myself overwhelmed and on the brink of burn out.
I listened to a Goal Digger podcast interview featuring Myisha T. Hill who talked about her answer to the elusive work-life balance: synergy. And it all clicked for me!
Prior to this, if I’m honest, my time management efforts were mostly centred around work. Yes I had a morning routine and yes, it involved wellness practices that were becoming more and more essential for me. But, I still wasn’t connecting everything in the way I’ve come to realise is key, if I’m to become the future version of myself that I aspire to be.
Myisha’s approach is to pick a priority task each day, in three areas:
- Yourself – I translate this as taking care of my person – body, mind and soul
- Your life – I translate this as my life, beyond just taking care of my person. So family, friendships, my personal interests etc. Ultimately paying attention to my why!
- Your career
Revelations are made here
I recently took my own advice and checked in with my purpose. It’s an exercise I usually do at the start of the year but, so much has happened in the past quarter, in the world as a whole!
With that, there are many things I’ve had to shift and rethink and with all the reflection has come new clarity. Checking in with my purpose helped me to figure out how I’m going to act on this new clarity which has renewed my energy, excitement and focus.
If you haven’t taken some time to reflect on your purpose and match that with how you’re currently spending your time, I invite you to check out this resource I created.
On Wednesday 22nd July, we’re holding an Afri-love Connection Club webinar, to help you recalibrate your year. Find out more and register here.
Over to you
What time management strategies have been working well for you?