As a working woman, I’m sure you’ve had challenges when trying to manage your time. Managing your time effectively becomes a bigger priority if you’re a working mum, and more so for mums in leadership positions.
As mentioned in the last post, poor time management is one of the main causes of overwhelm and burnout. Today’s post is part of a series on how to overcome overwhelm and overwork. Other articles in this series are:
- 5 reasons why you’re overwhelmed and overworked.
- How to overcome procrastination and make progress towards your goals.
- How to maintain motivation and focus on your goals.
- How to create and enforce strong boundaries.
- 8 toxic relationships you need to detox from.
How to manage your time effectively
It’s easy to get tempted to look for a program that will help you manage your time. The reality is that time management is not so much about managing time as it is about managing yourself.
Everyone has the same 24 hours a day. What matters is what you do with your 24 hours. Below are 10 tips to help you manage your time better.
1. Stop taking on more work
It may seem obvious that this is the first thing you should do. However, this is not so easy to do especially if you’re not in control of your work and schedule.
If you’ve overcommitted and your schedule is crazy, then it’s time to stop taking on more work. Do whatever it takes to cut down the extra work you’ve already taken.
If you have a boss who keeps heaping extra work on you, then you need to manage your boss. An easy way to do this is to ask, “You already gave me this work and said it was important. Which of these two is more important so that I give it a higher priority?”
With time, you’ll find your boss thinking things through before s/he gives you more work.
Other things you can drop or reduce include:
- the number of social responsibilities you have,
- your children’s extra-curricular activities that need your attention and presence,
- the roles you take on in the home, especially if you’re always taking up work that belong to your partner or spouse (give it back or let it drop).
I can hear women complaining that if you don’t do some things in the home, then they won’t get done…and I’ll address that in an article on boundaries.
Next, take a look at your to-do list for the next month (you do have one, don’t you?) and find what’s really your work and what is not:
- Are there some tasks or responsibilities you can get out of completely?
- Are there others you need to hand over to other people?
- Which ones can you delegate and to whom?
Prune your to-do list and hand over people’s work back to them.
Related article: How to Create Time for Yourself
2. Create some white space in your calendar
When your calendar is full, you’ll feel overwhelmed because you have no time and space to breathe. You’ll find yourself rushing from one thing to another with no breaks.
Now that you’ve reduced your to-do list, it’s time to create pockets in your calendar when you have nothing planned. This is especially handy if you create space to relax after travel or after completing a heavy project.
Having space to think leads to making wiser decisions. You’ll respond better to crises and be more calm and relaxed when managing your work and home. Finally, you’ll manage your time better because you’ve placed a high priority on it.
Looking through your calendar, when can you create white space?
For example, when I had a full schedule I’d get tired and wind down by 3:00pm. I’d wake up at 5:00am and go to bed past midnight. I spent most of the time between 9:00pm and midnight working. During the day, I’d take a 30-minute lunch break and rush back to work.
To combat this, I now stop working at 5:00pm daily. I have a 25-minute nap after lunch, then have a coffee or herbal tea and I’m good to go. This post-lunch nap is white space in my daily calendar and it has saved my day.
Similarly, I’ve now reduced my working week to 5 days. I only work a few Saturday mornings when I have a weekend class, or when a client requests for a Saturday session because they’re unable to make it during the week. And when I do work on Saturdays, I’m through by 10:30am and spend the rest of the day relaxing.
It takes time to create white space on your schedule, but the results are worth it.
3. Use a plan
It’s amazing how easy it is to breeze through life with no plans. Start by planning your goals for the year and then narrow them down to monthly goals. Stick to 6 items on your yearly and monthly goals’ lists so that you don’t get overwhelmed.
Create your weekly schedule from your monthly goals and your daily to-do list from your weekly schedule. As you plan your day, keep in mind the Rule of 6 whereby you only have 6 main things to do each day. You can add other tasks to your list after you complete these 6 important tasks.
Reduce overwhelm by doing your most important tasks first thing in the morning. These are the tasks that will have the biggest positive impact in your life and/or business or job.
Related article: A 5-Step Process for Achieving Your Big Goals
4. Prepare in the evening
Having a live-in househelp does not reduce morning madness, especially if you have children. Limit the tasks you have to do in the morning by preparing the night before.
I’ve found it useful to have my children pack their bags, lay out their school uniforms, and polish their shoes before going to bed. This limits confusion and distractions in the morning when there’s little or no time to run around looking for things.
At the end of my workday, I wrap up any pending work, update my weekly plan, plan for the next day, and shut down my computer. This helps me start the next day fast because I don’t have to think of what to do – it’s already laid out.
Since I don’t have a live-in househelp, it’s my duty to prepare breakfast and get the children ready for school. The hectic morning rush reduced when I started preparing the evening before and taught my children the same.
Additional chores like fuelling your car, packing lunch, packing your handbag and work bag, and laying out your clothes and shoes the night before will help you overcome overwhelm in the mornings.
5. Set time aside for self-care
It’s easy to forget yourself as you’re busy taking care of family and conquering the world. Self-care is very important and you need ‘me-time’ on a daily basis.
In the previous article, I mentioned that I used to work late at night and all days, including Sunday. I ended up tired, distracted, and would lose my temper easily.
Today, I rarely switch on my computer in the evenings after the children go to bed. Instead, we have gadget-free dinner time and talk. I also read, journal or listen to music after the children have gone to sleep. My bedtime has also shifted from midnight to 9:30pm and I wake up feeling well rested each day.
Interestingly, reducing my working hours has not had a negative effect on my business as I’d expected. When I’m well-rested, I’m able to work optimally the next day.
Your daily self-care includes activities that help you unwind and relax. You could have a bath with a glass of wine, go to the gym after work, indulge in a hobby, write…the list is endless.
Related article: 7 Self-Care Tips for the Modern Woman
6. Create an ideal schedule
This is a time management trick that most people are unaware of. I learnt of it from Fredric Lehrman’s Prosperity Consciousness program.
In the program, Lehrman recommends that you create an imaginary calendar where you schedule in the things you want to do each day from the time you wake up to the time you go to sleep. Print this schedule and place it somewhere where you see it all the time.
Note that these are not necessarily the things you’re doing now, but what you want to happen in your ideal day. They include your work and personal roles.
Each day, from the moment you wake up, look at your ideal schedule periodically and then compare it to what you’re doing at that time, It doesn’t matter what you’re actually doing because in your mind, you’re living in the ideal schedule.
What will happen is that after a few months, you’ll notice that your real schedule will start matching the ideal one.
You can also use this when working on a project so that you complete the project within the time planned. For projects, you create an ideal schedule from start to end and allocate specific activities in the schedule.
The ideal schedule works by giving your subconscious mind things to prioritize and focus on, even as you go about your regular activities.
Having an ideal schedule helped me stop working weekends and after 5:00pm. I created an ideal schedule in Microsoft Outlook and posted what I want to do from 8:00am to 5:00pm.
Below is my ideal schedule which is fast matching what my real schedule looks like:
Before creating this schedule, I’d get people requesting for evening and Saturday coaching sessions. That is no longer the case.
Most of my clients now fit into my coaching hours between Tuesday and Thursday. For the few that request for afternoon sessions, I simply shift marketing to morning for that day.
7. Get control of your inbox
You’ll notice that my ideal schedule has no email planned. This is because I read my emails thrice a day: at 7:30am, 11:00am and 4:00pm.
At 7:30am, I check for emails from clients and respond to urgent emails. At 11:00am, I do a quick check to find what’s important and what’s not. I also clear my inbox and only leave important emails. I respond to the rest of the emails at 4:00pm.
An uncontrolled inbox will always leave you overwhelmed. There was a time when I had over 10,000 unread emails in my inbox and just seeing this figure daily would stress me. One day, as I was changing my email service provider, I lost all emails and started from zero. None of the unread emails have turned up urgent.
Implement a zero email inbox policy and set aside some time each day to clear your inbox until you’re down to zero. Create sub-folders for important emails. You can also save important emails in Evernote.
If you use Gmail or Yahoo, you can tame your inbox using Unroll Me. I was an email newsletter junkie and had signed up for over 300 newsletters. New emails filled my inbox each day and I couldn’t handle them all.
I didn’t know how bad my newsletter subscription mania was until I started using Unroll Me and in one day, I was able to unsubscribe from over 200 newsletters that I wasn’t reading.
The best thing about Unroll Me is that you can roll up updates from different senders and read them later from one email. This will leave your inbox clean and clutter free.
8. Set limits for distractions
While social media is important for growing my business and networking, it can also end up as a distraction. Once I open Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or simply go online…time just flies and I find that I’ve spent 3 hours doing nothing important.
I’m able to tame social media outside of working hours because I prefer interacting with people 1-1. So I’d rather call you or meet you in person than spend time on social media.
Other distractions include people walking into your office, unscheduled phone calls, and TV. Extended coffee and lunch breaks will also take up valuable time at the expense of important tasks.
Sometimes it’s easier to let the TV or games entertain children while you catch up with work, but this is not good for them at all.
I’ve visited people who have no quality family time because of addiction to TV, soaps and games. It’s sad when you visit people and then spend time in front of a box instead of connecting directly.
Set limits for all these distractions and stick to your limits.
For example, I use the Pomodoro technique when going online. With this technique, you set a timer for 25 minutes and then concentrate on your work. When the timer rings, you move on to something else or take a 5-minute break (you also set the timer for the break).
This technique also helps when I’m writing or conducting online research because I can end up sitting down for too long without taking a break.
Below are other tools that have helped me manage distractions during working hours:
- Rescue Time: This app keeps track of what you do and gives you an accurate report of how you’ve spent your time, including internet use. The premium version allows you to block certain websites during working hours. At the end of the day, you can check your productivity report to see how productive or unproductive you were that day. I’ve used Rescue Time for two weeks now and just knowing that it’s there has helped me reduce time wastage.
- Buffer: This helps me schedule social media updates without having to go to the social media accounts. It’s a useful tool if you have an online presence for your business or if you’re an online marketer.
- Kills News Feed: This app hides Facebook updates during certain hours of the day. Google it and download the appropriate app for you (Chrome, Safari or Firefox).
- Microsoft Outlook: Outlook manages my weekly schedule and daily to-do lists. I also download my work emails to Outlook, read/reply to them offline then schedule them for sending later.
- Evernote: This app captures everything that you want to save for later. I save important emails, ideas, research, draft articles in Evernote.It syncs across all devices so you can update your folders from the phone, tab, or computer.
All these apps have free and premium versions depending on your requirements. The free versions are good enough for most people’s workloads.
Related article: Powerful Tools to Reduce Time Spent on Facebook MarketingTime management is not so much about managing time as it is about managing yourself. Click To Tweet
9. Batch your tasks
When you look through your schedule, you’ll notice there are tasks that you can complete in big chunks or batch together.
For example, I do most of my writing on Monday and create new programs or products on Friday. When I batch these tasks, I get more done because I’m highly focused on only one thing at a time.
I used to break these tasks into an hour of work each day until I noticed that I was wasting a lot of time daily. This was because each day, I’d practically have to go back and remind myself of what I had done the previous day before moving on.
Batching has also helped me become strategic in what I do. I’m highly creative and used to waste time coming up with new things all the time. Today, I only work on one new thing per quarter and that new thing goes into my Friday schedule.
I also used to write half-complete articles and leave them hanging. With the focus on writing a blog post each Monday, I’m now working with a blog editorial calendar that lays out all the posts I’m going to create each quarter…and they are highly focused on the coaching program or product I’m promoting that quarter.
This system works for me because I’m in control of my schedule. If you’re employed or have other people who interrupt your schedule, then identify the times when you’re in control of the schedule or the tasks that you can batch and take control of that.
10. Be flexible
I’m the kind of person that works from a strict schedule and rarely deviate from it. However, working for myself and having children have taught me that being rigid doesn’t always work.
What is more important in time management is being able to go with the flow when your schedule gets interrupted and then get back to your work as soon as you can.
If you’re a working mum, sometimes you have to stop everything and give all your attention to your children. Other times you may have to put your work or business first as you complete important and urgent tasks.
By being flexible, I’ve managed to coach clients even when I’m not in my ‘normal’ workspace. And it’s also helped me attend to my own needs and my family’s needs during working hours.
Over the years, I’ve found that flexibility beats trying to create balance. It’s more realistic and keeps you from feeling as if you’re neglecting important things when life throws you curveballs.
No one can make the changes you need to make in your life. It’s only you who can decide to change your time habits and then take the necessary actions to achieve this change.
Change is never easy and when you change you will affect the people around you. Some of them may not take your new habits positively and they will resist. So don’t an easy time with your colleagues, friends, and family when you’re starting off.
However, with time, people will get used to your new way of doing things and they’ll start modelling what you’re doing. There’s no timeline for when this change will take place, but you should start seeing results within 3-6 months.
These books will help you manage your time effectively.
- The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey
That’s it for now. In the next article, I’ll give more strategies on how to reduce overwhelm and lighten your workload.
Over to you now…
Which of these 10 strategies appeals to you the most?
What action will you take within the next week?
Please leave a comment below and share with us.
(Image credit: jesadaphorn at Free Digital Photos)
Disclaimer: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. This means that when you click on the links and buy from the vendor, I will receive an affiliate commission. However, I only recommend resources that I have used and that I believe will benefit you.