Everyone is concerned about time all the time.
Will there be enough time for all my activities? Will I have enough time to sleep, eat, and exercise? Will I have time to work more (and earn more)? Will I get there in time? Those are just a few questions regarding time that we ask ourselves daily.
Luckily, just like you can salvage your finances with financial education and budgeting, learning to manage your time and planning its expenditure can help you regain control over it quickly.
This beginner’s guide to time management will teach you the basics to start spending your time wisely within your limits. You’ll learn where your time is going, how to optimize it without overloading yourself, and design a viable time management strategy that fits your daily life.
What is time management?
Time management is the process of dividing and allocating your time in the most efficient and effective way possible. It is about fitting your tasks and activities so that you can get everything done while preserving your well-being.
Learning how to get a hold of your time can result in:
- Completing all your tasks within the deadline;
- Improving your decision-making process;
- Understanding your limits and creating reasonable boundaries;
- Enjoying more free time;
- And much more.
Time management is a skill that should be taught early in life. We’re spending and exchanging our time every minute of our days. Knowing how to control and take care of your time is essential to help a person lead a balanced lifestyle and become an outstanding professional in any industry.
Here are a few signs that might indicate you’re currently managing your time poorly:
- You’re constantly late for meetings and missing deadlines.
- You take too long to finish your tasks.
- You’re frequently getting distracted and wasting time.
- You have difficulty saying no and repeatedly accepts new demands without thinking.
- You have a hard time making decisions and setting your priorities.
Why do people struggle with time management?
Although time is such a recurrent topic, most people are careless with it simply because they have never learned how to manage their time efficiently. An average person is conditioned to wasting time with frivolous activities such as 2,5 hours on social media daily and reiterating that they “never have time for anything.”
It is not by chance that so many people struggle with time management.
Spending more time working or doing non-essential activities is a relatively recent phenomenon. For most of human history, we used to work only to fulfill our basic needs and improve our comfort. In reality, a small society in the Kalahari used to work an average of only 15 hours per week until the Western culture influenced their daily life.
In fact, we do not have 24 hours to spend as we wish anymore. Subtracting the time we spend sleeping, working, and doing other life-maintenance chores, there is only so little left to spend on leisure, personal growth, and side projects. An American survey showed that this spare time could be around 5 hours per day, or less, for adults.
The good news is that effective time management is not hard to learn. It sure demands practice, but the step-by-step below will make your time-saving journey much more manageable.
1. Conduct a time audit
To manage your time discerningly, you must first study how you spend it. You’re likely to be surprised by how much valuable time you’re currently wasting.
One of the best ways to understand how we’re distributing and spending our time is through a time audit.
Much like a financial audit, you’ll write down every activity of your days, from when you wake up to when you go to sleep. You’ll probably forget a few activities or get their duration wrong at first, so the next step in your audit will be to track and monitor your time for a few days.
Time track your day
Over two or three days, track each activity from start to finish to get a true sense of how much it takes you to complete them. You can use your cellphone timer, mark the starting and ending times on paper, or use a specialized tool like Toggl to get more detailed data and insights into your performance.
With your initial time audit in your hands, you’ll be able to take an in-depth look into how you’re spending your days. Categorize the activities by type to better understand which groups of activities are more demanding and which are barely making it.
Assess your time audit
Take a moment to reflect if the current scenario is working for you and, if not, what you wish to do better. You can ask yourself:
- Which activity group is consuming most of my time? How important is it?
- How am I spending my time at work? Am I deep focusing or concentrating on shallow tasks?
- Do I get distracted too often? What is distracting me?
- How am I balancing work and my personal responsibilities?
- Am I committing to the activities I’m proposing myself to do? Why?
- Are my current activities aligned with my principles and goals?
The next step is when you’ll roll up your sleeves to improve your time expenditure and work toward your desired schedule.
2. Create a time budget
Now that you have an overview of your time expenditure, you can optimize it.
Define your priorities
We can only fit so much in 24 hours. The best way to spend them is by choosing a few priorities that align with our current goals and focusing on them instead of scattering our time into several impactless tasks.
Go back to those questions you’ve asked yourself in the time audit and decide which will be your priorities in your professional and personal lives. A few examples:
- To prioritize your career, you’ll spend more time improving and learning new skills.
- To prioritize your health, you’ll spend more time exercising and cooking.
- To prioritize your guitar playing skills, you’ll spend more time studying and practicing.
Nothing is a priority when everything is a priority. On the contrary, focusing on our goals is way harder when we’re stuck with all the possibilities. So, prioritizing a few things also means cutting back on others.
Design your time budget
Although now you have your priorities set, it doesn’t mean you can spend your time mindlessly with them. Instead, you must to allocate a time budget to each of them, a limit that will guarantee you’ll have time for everything else on your plan.
Whether it is a daily or weekly budget, it must be specific to the point you know how many hours you can spend on each task or activity. Let’s say you’re trying to reduce your extra working hours, so you set 8 hours a day to execute everything work-related.
Nonetheless, having a financial budget never stops anyone from overspending; the same happens with a time budget. Your budget is a guide to help you plan your days accordingly to your priorities, but the real work comes in real-time when you’ll have to stick to the schedule and manage any unexpected circumstances.
Learn your limits and set boundaries
The last step of creating a time budget is getting to know your limits and setting boundaries. Most people tend to be unhealthily generous with their time and end up overcommitting instead of turning down a few requests.
A time budget means you only get a set of hours to work, for example. So, all the assignments you commit to must fit in that time frame. If something new comes up and threatens to disrupt your plan, you’ll either have to swap another task for the new one or say no to the new request.
It’s not easy to say no, especially at work, but your life will be much easier once you get a hold of it.
3. Plan your schedule ahead
Starting the day without a guide can decrease your rates of successful time management. Planning the tasks for the day beforehand and setting a specific time to get them done makes it much more likely to execute everything without getting too distracted or giving in to procrastination.
Planning your day
A daily plan is about strategy. It helps you avoid falling into the pits of endless shallow tasks, such as checking your messenger or email every minute, and keeps you on track to focus on meaningful activities.
With your time budget ready, you’ll then allocate each task to the period of your day that seems more fit. For example, you may want to schedule your workout session for early in the day or at the end of it.
Planning with time blocking
There are many techniques to help you plan your day effectively (and we’ll talk about a few of them briefly), but over here, we’re huge enthusiasts of the time blocking method. This method requires you to lock a time slot in your calendar for each activity of the day, including breaks and buffer time for any occasional changes in the plan.
You can easily implement time blocking in your planning approach with Akiflow. Our app unifies the task list and calendar view to help you plan your tasks better and faster.
Keep in mind that planning your day increases the chances of it happening as imagined, but it doesn’t guarantee a perfect day. And it’s all good: time management is meant to make your life easier and raise awareness of time as a limited resource, not to get you obsessed with perfection or unhealthy productivity.
4. Build your time management strategy
There isn’t only one right approach to time management. On the contrary, the more your time management strategy is tailored to your routine and needs, the more effective it will be.
However, effective time management goes beyond knowing its importance and basic concepts. It is about learning a few new skills and improving some that you might already have. At this point, you have already learned:
- Prioritization and decision-making
- Setting limits and saying no
Now you’ll use all that to create a time management system that works for you.
Choose your time management methods
As mentioned before, numerous time management techniques and methods can help you control your time better. You already learned a bit about time blocking, so here are a few other alternatives:
Pomodoro Technique: Break down your work into 25-minute sessions and focus on one task per session.
Getting Things Done (GTD): Write down your tasks and turn them into actionable assignments by prioritizing and engaging.
Eat That Frog Technique: Begin your day by doing the most demanding chores first and getting them out of the way.
Learn to focus and keep distractions away
Finding a balance between focus and distraction is a valuable skill to add to your time management strategy.
Distractions are time-consuming and offer a quick rush of pleasure that only makes you want more of it. Investigating your distraction triggers and keeping them as far away as possible will make your time go further.
On the other hand, you must also train yourself to focus more deeply while executing your tasks. The deeper and more unbreakable your focus is, the faster you’ll complete your activities, and the higher quality of your results will be.
Balance productivity and wellness
No one can be productive 100% of the time. In fact, we can only be effectively productive if we’re well rested and healthy. In that sense, a functional time management strategy will include wellness-related activities.
You can do a wide range of things to improve and maintain your wellness. Sleeping 7+ hours a day, cooking nutritious meals, exercising regularly, meditating, spending quality time with family and friends, reading, going out, etc. But on top of all that, you can balance your productivity and wellness by simply adding breaks to your daily plan.
Whether you prefer small breaks every hour or longer breaks every two or three hours, scheduling breaks to give your brain a rest is key to keeping it fresh and productive.
5. Pick helpful time management tools
The last step in your beginner time management journey is to pick a few tools that make the whole process a lot more practical. Here are some of our favorites:
A to-do list is a must to collect all the tasks you’ll be planning and managing. Without it, you’re more likely to overlook the things you have to tackle and swap your priorities for low-value assignments.
You can always quickly write down your task list on paper, but using a digital to-do list that pulls tasks from all your apps and platforms is a game changer.
Another essential tool is a calendar or planner. It is vital to help you create a realistic time budget and to plan when to execute each task and activity.
Much like the to-do list, a digital calendar makes creating and editing your daily plan much more effortless. Prefer options that support task and event creation, and that send you reminders before every activity.
Tracking the time spent on tasks is a great way to monitor your performance and control wasted time. As mentioned previously, you can use a simple cell phone timer or an advanced app to get more detailed insights.
Akiflow is an all-in-one time management and productivity app. With its native to-do list and calendar, it’s easy to plan your tasks with the time blocking method.
The app also provides many possible integrations so you can connect and pull tasks automatically from other platforms. Functioning as your single source of truth, Akiflow smoothens your time management experience.
Time management is a precious skill in today’s age. Although time is a scarce and limited resource, there is a high daily demand for our time, and knowing how to control it is the only way to attend to such requests with balance.
In this guide, you’ve learned the five initial steps to regain control over your time and how to use it strategically. But don’t rush the process; go through each step with full attention and stay through to your lifestyle while answering the questions and filling the requirements.
You are now very close to starting a lifelong journey of healthy and sustainable time management habits. This is an outstanding achievement!