Posts Tagged time managment

Battle the Busy Schedule: How to Simplify Your Life

Battle the Busy Schedule: How to Simplify Your Life


You’re late to work again. You forgot your niece’s birthday. You double booked yourself. You forgot three items at the grocery store…You’re fighting the battle of the busy schedule.

Here’s the deal: there are literally hundreds of decent time management tools out there to help you reclaim your time, get organized, and take back your schedule. And you know what? Not one of them will work if you don’t address the root of your busy schedule problem.

In fact, the advice you hear about time management (write a to-do list, download a scheduling app, buy a planner, set priorities) is completely WRONG if you don’t have control over your time in the first place. I mean, the tools aren’t exactly bad. In fact, many of them are quite effective (and I’ll tell you which ones are really worth it). But before you buy a time management tool, you need to address the real issue here.

The Root of the Busy Schedule: Saying Yes When You Should Say No

saying no to a busy schedule
In a given day, we all know we have 24 hours. Over an 80 year lifetime, you get 700,800 hours. That sounds like a lot of time, right?

Subtract out the time you spend sleeping. Figuring most of us get 7-8 hours ideally per night. We’re left with 16 hours, of which many people spend half at their jobs. 8 hours for work, an hour to get ready (prepare your breakfast and lunch for example), and an hour for commuting leaves you with 6 remaining hours in the day. For many people, the number is even smaller. Let’s say, 5 hours.

So, what do you do in those five remaining hours each day? If you exercise, cook dinner, watch a movie, or spend the average 2-4 hours on your phone…well, you’re left with precious little time. Becoming more productive and laser focused, is the answer, right? After all, if you only have a few hours of free time during the day, you must manage it carefully.

For many of us, myself included, the better time management solution didn’t work until I shifted my mindset. If you’re seeking a simple, minimalist lifestyle, chances are you’re trying to minimize clutter including the clutter on your schedule.

simplified life without a busy scheduleWhen I started to live more simply, my schedule underwent a big transition. To take back my schedule and simplify my calendar, I had to change my mindset and weed out the timewasters. This was long before I started using time management tools. First it was about getting into the right headspace and social practices.

We think if we had better tools, we could manage every second of our days. In reality, the answer is a little more complex. Going out and buying the latest planner, spending hours setting up a bullet journal, downloading and learning Trello or Asana, won’t help boost your productivity if you don’t address the root cause of your busy schedule. In fact, all these tools may leave you feeling overwhelmed and inclined to throw in the towel on your busy schedule (in other words, setting you right back to square one).

If you want to reclaim your time, you need to start saying no.

Getting Past the Fear of Saying No

get your time back and have a simplified schedule
For many of us, the thought of saying no grips us with fear. We don’t want to sound rude. We don’t want to miss out. Maybe we feel an obligation to our boss, our spouse, our friends, or our kids. We have a difficult time turning down the request to stay longer at the office, coach Little League, or attend a birthday party.

But realize every time you say yes, you are saying no to something else. Every time commitment you set is subtracting time from another commitment or activity.

  • Say yes to staying late at the office? You’re saying no to family time.
  • Say yes to happy hour with friends? You’re saying no to the gym.
  • Commit to helping your buddy out? You’re saying no to your personal time.

At first, this thought is jarring. Most of us don’t like choosing between, say, happy hours with friends or cooking dinner at home. But each day, and every time we commit to adding an item on our busy schedule, we’re making an either/or choice, inevitably. If you’ve never thought of saying no as a chance to reclaim your time, it’s an eye-opening realization.

If you want to take back your schedule and reclaim your time, you need to start viewing your time as a precious resource. Instead of focusing on the items you’re saying yes to, think about what you’re choosing NOT to do instead. Is it worth the extra commitment?

When we distill down our choice, not only are we tackling our busy schedule, but we’re regaining control over our time. Look at our time as a resource, we can start to figure out how we’re going to fit the necessities in and eliminate the unnecessary items. It’s not about saying “no” to your boss, your friends, or your kids, but about saying yes, to simplifying your schedule and finding time for the activities that are really important to you.

Understanding the Reason Makes it Easy to Say No

set priorities in your schedule to avoid being busy

Go through your commitments and start to separate them out into the yeses, and the noes. When you’re saying yes, what’s the flip side? What are you declining in the process?

When you change your mindset, it also helps ease the stress of saying no. You’re no longer saying no because you don’t “want” to do a task. You’re saying yes to another task instead. In fact, one of the best ways to say no easily, is to offer up a reason. If you’ve explored the yes/no question about a task, your reason becomes evident.

“I can’t stay because I’m doing something with my family.”

“I won’t be able to meet you tonight, I have an appointment at my gym.”

“My schedule’s full this week, and I can’t commit to another activity right now.”

Having the reason and rationale behind the “no” makes saying it much simpler. No guilt. Remember, your time is a resource, if there’s not enough to go around, there’s simply not enough.

Never Waste Your Precious Time

don't waste time and free up your schedule
When we’re too busy and frazzled, we often cease making practical deliberate decisions about our time. If you’ve ever felt you’re running around, or find you’re forgetting the purpose of an errand, you’re probably not deliberately managing your time resource. In fact, the more we multitask and take on too much, the higher the likelihood we’ll miss something, make a mistake, or run late for an appointment. If you want to boost your productivity and free up your busy schedule, stop packing in extra tasks.

When we narrow our focus to the activities that truly matter, we’re able to become much more efficient. It’s about eliminating the extra steps and processes that don’t make sense. For example, when I started a new job a few years ago, I was training and noticed we were running the same report over and over. I spoke up and asked why we were running a report that seemed redundant.

The woman training me stopped dead in her tracks, and said, “I have no idea. No one’s ever asked before.”

focus your life and your calendar on what matters

After an exploration, they determined the report was truly superfluous and a waste of time. There were many other tasks like that on the to do list. Whether it’s simplifying your work life and office, or deciding to take back your time at home, always explore the reasons why you’re doing something. If it doesn’t make sense, or seems unnecessary, don’t be afraid to ask!

If You Say Yes to This, What Are You Saying No To?

Eventually, it will become habitual to ask, rather than simply perform a job or do an activity. Each time you’re presented with something to complete, ask yourself:

  • If I say yes to this, what am I saying no to?
  • Is this worth using my time resource?
  • Could this be done more efficiently?
  • What is the reason for this task? (the reason may simply be fun!)

Once you’ve really clarified the necessity of a task and deemed it worthy of your schedule, mindfully commit! Block out time, to dedicate solely to the task at hand. This will help you really simplify and pare down to the job in front of you. You’ll complete the task faster and more efficiently.

If you’re fighting the battle of the busy schedule, adopting this strategic approach will help you parse your schedule down to the items you really want to do. You will feel at peace when you say no, and you’ll get the items on your to do list down faster and more efficiently.

The Best Time Management Tools For You

best time managment tools for you to master a busy schedule
If you purchase a planner, adopt the Pomodoro method, or download an app like Asana, before you’ve simplified your schedule, the tool becomes more of a distraction and an excuse. That’s why it’s so important we understand our priorities first.

We may spend hours writing items down, organizing our to do lists and planning out our tasks without really achieving anything. When we’re unproductive, we place blame on the tool. It’s important to remember each tool is only as good as the user. If you’re prepared and narrow down the items you need to tackle to what’s really important, any tool is useful. If you haven’t addressed the underlying mentality that comes with a jam-packed schedule, then any tool, no matter how great, becomes a procrastination excuse.

In reality, almost every commercial tool out there is pretty useful. They’re intuitive and user-friendly. It’s really about finding a tool you love and will stick to using. As long as you’re committed, a paper planner is as good as a robust program like Trello.

Here are a few of the better time management tools I’ve found:

Paper Planner

What it is: A paper planner may seem a bit old school, but for many people they’re easy to carry and give a nice, clear overview. Typical paper planners include a calendar and a daily/weekly/monthly agenda where you block out your time. A planner may also include goal setting tools and other helpful pages.

Who it’s best for: Those who are comfortable with paper, but like structure. If you love having something tangible to refer to, then a paper planner is a great place to start. The drawbacks of a paper planner is that it’s bulky and it’s harder to erase/change/move appointments. Paper planners to check out: Panda Planner, Erin Condren LifePlanner, Franklin Covey Classic Original.

Journal

What it is: Journaling is a different style of planning—more free-form and customizable. Some journals offer prompts or grids you fill in to track a variety of habits and activities. Journals are as simple as a notebook, or much more involved.

Who it’s best for: Goal-setters, creative planners and those who prefer a visual interpretation of planning. If you’re artistic, paper and list-oriented, and plan using mind mapping, then a journal planner could be a good fit for you. Look at resources on Pinterest for bullet journals, goal-setting journals and daily journals. A few journals to check out: The Habit Journal, The Mastery Journal, The Morning Sidekick Journal, The 6-Minute Diary.

Electronic Calendar

What it is: Google Calendar is available through Gmail. MS Outlook also uses a Calendar program. These calendar programs sync with the respective email programs and are accessible from nearly any handheld device or desktop. Both calendars offer multiple calendar options, automatic scheduling, and are very user-friendly.

Who it’s best for: People on the go, who don’t like carrying paper, and those who need a relatively simple calendar planning program to manage their schedule. If you always carry your phone with you and are comfortable with an electronic calendar, then these are two very easy-to-use programs. Outlook is available as part of the Microsoft Office Suite, and Google Calendar is free for Gmail users.

The Pomodoro Technique

What it is: The Pomodoro Method or Pomodoro Technique has been around for decades. This productivity method uses time blocks (typically 25 minutes) to work on a task. You decide on a task, set a time, work for 25 minutes, and then take a five minute break when complete (and a longer break when the full task is complete).

Who it’s best for: Procrastinators and those who struggle with distraction. If you enjoy working in short bursts and feel more focused “under pressure” then the timer is a big productivity booster. You will still need a calendar or a paper to track your tasks and block out your time. The method is explained in Francesco Cirillo’s book, Pomodoro Technique; there are Pomodoro apps and online tools as well, such as: Tomato timer and Focus Booster.

List Making Apps

What it is: When it comes to list making apps there are a huge variety out there. Most list making apps offer an opportunity to manage your to-dos, sync with your calendar and set follow up reminders. Certain apps are collaborative, allowing you to share tasks and projects with a team, while others are best for a single user. While, all list making apps aren’t created equal, at the end of the day, they all do a similar task: help you manage your lists.

Who it’s best for: If you’re a list maker, you may find any of the list making apps quite helpful. From the palm of your hand you’re able to access to do lists, receive reminders and keep track of all the tasks on your plate. Many of the list making apps are great for helping you break down goals into small, manageable steps. A few list making apps to check out: Wunderlist, Todoist, Remember The Milk.

Productivity Apps/Project Management Programs

What it is: A more robust and work-friendly project management tool, these apps are great for teams. For personal use, they’re helpful for families and for big projects with a lot of moving pieces (like building a tiny house). Some users simply prefer the interface and find project management tools help them really set goals and keep track of many different parts at once.

Who it’s best for: Those who use project management software at work, have large projects to manage, or really enjoy digging in. There are plenty of comparisons online between project management programs, but two of the most popular are Trello and Asana. Both have pros and cons but are worth checking out. One word of caution with project management software—if you’re new to planning, and simply hoping to manage a busy schedule and take back your time, the software is often too robust. Remember, you don’t want to use the project management software as another excuse to procrastinate (“I’ll get a handle on my schedule as soon as I figure out how to use this software.”)

At the end of the day, the tool you use is really about finding the best fit for your lifestyle. If you prefer an app, paper, or a timer, it really doesn’t matter. What does matter is that you stick with it and apply it to your time management.

Taking back your time and getting a handle on your busy schedule, doesn’t need to be a battle, but it does mean shifting your mindset. Remember, if you only have 24 hours in the day, you need to use them wisely. Once you decide to prioritize and take back control of your time, you’ll find yourself more relaxed.

If you want the peace that comes with a simple schedule, start saying no to the extra tasks and commitments weighing you down!

How To Organize Your Life With Trello

Trying to keep on top of things in life is sometimes daunting.  If you’re like me, I’ve tried a lot of different things over the years, but finally I have found something that works for me.  It’s called Trello and it’s a free web app and also has a really good iphone app for free too.

how to organize life and keep organized

Before I get into Trello, I wanted to share a little bit about my philosophy of use and then also a break down of other things I’ve tried over the years.

Applying a philosophy of use to productivity tools

A tool is only as good as the skill of the user.  The truth is that most tools work really well, it’s when you bring a human in the mix that things go awry.  We have a plethora of tools at our disposal, what we need to do is bring in a way of thinking on how we use them and form habits around them.

Start with your goals

know where you want to go

The biggest thing I see people failing on is not having goes.  If we don’t know where we are going, how can we figure out which direction to even go?  How can we validate that the things we do are even the right things?  What if we are doing things that are actually working against us!?

Take big goals and break them down to bite sized pieces

When you are setting out on a ambitious journey it’s very helpful to think about the first step you need to take.  If you focus too much on the entire goal it can be overwhelming, it can seem impossible, but when we break it down into smaller parts, we then realize all we have to do is this one thing today.

Understand you can only work on a few things at any given time

focus on one thing at a time

In many cases it’s better to focus on one thing at a time, tackle that head-on.  I will often work on a few things at once because there is often time when I’m waiting on someone else (email response, contractor to finish work, etc).  Have a select few things means I can work until I have to stop, then transition to work on that other thing.

Understand you’ll get to the other things later

This is something many people struggle with a lot.  I see it time and time again.  When you set your goal, you must understand that trying to do all of them at once will get you nowhere.  Like I said above, focus on 2 or 3 things at once and put the rest to the side.  This is where people falter; putting things aside for now, isn’t the same as putting them aside forever.  We need to get over the emotions that

The Tiny Life guide to using Trello to manage your life

 

Your Turn!

  • What do you use to organize your life?
  • What tricks work for you?