I WAS THE PERSON IN COLLEGE who had a major, minor, was contemplating a second major, sat in leadership of three student organizations (and was president of one), and worked about 10 hours a week.
Although some people would consider me an “over-achiever”, I considered myself a glutton for pain.
I always had too much to do and not enough hours in the day to get it done. I was trying to balance so much that the moment any little thing disrupted my flow I would get sick, have an emotional meltdown, or both.
Then one day a professor shared some wise words with the class:
I knew I didn’t want to give up any of the activities I loved, and I also knew I could not continue on my current course without significantly compromising my health, so I decided to increase my capacity.
Now there are a few ways to do this.
An important note here is that you need to find what works for you. I will share what worked for me and what did not, and other ideas I have heard but have not tried. It is important to try things out to see if they work for you and if not modify or find a different method.
1. Keep a planner, schedule, or calendar.
This is the #1 key to time management success. The less scheduling you keep in your head, the less you will be trying remember where you are supposed to be and what you are supposed to be doing, and the more space you will have for important things, like your patient’s name or that new therapy you were going to recommend.
There are several different ways to do this, including keeping a written planner (which I prefer), Google calendar, and other scheduling apps and software.
Again, it is important you find a method that works for you. “Works for you” means that you use it every day, it is easily accessible, and in the end leaves you feeling less stress (not more).
I recommend trying one method at a time to see which flows best with your lifestyle. For example, if you are rarely around a computer but already carry a small notebook, a written planner may work better for you (I personally like Moleskine®. I have no affiliation, I just think they make great products.)
If you never have a pen but are always by a computer or your phone, Google calendar or a scheduling app may work better. The important thing is WRITE EVERYTHING DOWN.
- Big ticket items like office time, classes, appointments, and meetings with friends.
- Date nights and anything going on with your partner or kids.
- Self-care and small tasks (see below for more on this).
By scheduling in this manner you will have a clear idea as when and how much time you have, and will reduce the amount of double bookings and forgotten events.
2. Write to-do lists with realistic tasks.
Another time management strategy is to write down everything I need to do.
Before adopting this I found myself constantly running through lists in my head in hopes that I would not forget anything. When I began writing things down, the stress dissipated.
There is an art to creating to-do lists, and the secret is to only write down realistic and manageable tasks. If you add tasks that are too large or too vague they start to seem unattainable and end up leading to more stress and more procrastination.
For example, writing “clean the house” or “touch up work around the office” are large and vague tasks. Instead, turn “clean the house” into “wipe down counters”, “clean the toilets”, and “sweep the floor”.
Although it seems that one task just became three, the reality is these tasks are actually do-able. And the added bonus is you get to cross more things off your list, which is an amazing feeling. (Sometimes I will add things I was going to do anything, like “cook dinner”, just so I can cross it off and feel productive!)
And please do literally cross things off, or check the box next to them, or whatever works for you. This helps you see which tasks you have accomplished (so you can feel productive) and which tasks still need to be completed.
The next step is to add tasks into your schedule where they fit appropriately. This will help you have a clear idea of when these tasks will be done and how much time you can allocate to doing them. If I only have 45 minutes to “cook dinner”, I will pick a recipe that fits the timeline.
3. It’s ok to say “No”.
Really, it is! And it may not be easy at first, especially if you are a people pleaser like myself, but I promise you it will get easier with time and it will feel amazing.
I used to say yes to almost everything because I either wanted to help someone or I didn’t want to miss an opportunity. But slowly I was draining myself of energy which prevented me from being fully present with anything I attempted to do.
I no longer felt obligated to do everything.
I used this new found time to dedicate to self-care, something I had truly been neglecting. And what was the result?
More energy to be present with the commitments I already had.
And you know what the most surprising thing was?
The activities and commitments I said “No” to went on just fine without me. The world kept turning, no one got mad at me (as long as I was clear with my communication), and best of all I felt better. It does take practice, and it will pay off.
We only get 24 hours in a day (and sleep is important). You can get everything done, but maybe not all of it today. It is important to prioritize what on your to-do list needs to be done as soon as possible and what can be put off until you are less busy. There are a few ways of doing this.
The first method I learned was rating items on your to do list with an “A”, “B”, or “C”;
- “A” being most important/get done today,
- “B” being get done this week, and
- “C” being get done at some point.
I tried this for a while but found this method did not work for me (although it might for you!).
What works for me is putting a ‘star’ next to the things that are most important on my to-do list. I often make lists in the order things come to my head, therefore adding a star to something reminds me that task is more important. And again, schedule tasks in. (I cannot stress this enough!)
5. Find a daily practice to create ME time.
A daily practice could be anything:
- Walking your dog
- Lighting a candle
- Singing a prayer or mantra
It is simply just something you do every day (or at least almost every day) to create ritual and a time that is just yours, to do that one activity.
My daily ritual is a half hour workout. This has been my ritual for the last 4 months and it has already had a huge impact of my life. Exercise aside, my workout is just ME time. It is time for me to not focus on work (or school) or the million other things I have to do that day. For that half hour I am entirely present with myself. This allows me to be present the rest of the day with more ease and calm.
6. Self-care is most important!
We all know this, so why don’t we do this? I know it’s hard to even think about self-care when there are a million other things to take care of, but it undeniably makes getting everything else done easier.
Or to put another way:
You have to take care of yourself before you can take care of anyone else. <– Tweet This if you agree.
And to tie this back into some previous points: Schedule self-care time into your planner/calendar/etc. Your self-care can also be your daily ritual, and voilà, you kill two birds with one stone.
Find something that works for YOU.
My self-care includes my morning workouts, cooking good nutritious food, and working my garden.
Your self-care may be…
- going to yoga
- playing a musical instrument
- taking and bath
- going dancing
- or simply lying on the floor and doing nothing
It doesn’t matter what you do as long as that time is dedicated solely to your rejuvenation and that you feel less stressed after the activity. Self-care gives you more energy and mental clarity to bring to the rest of your day, which will undeniably help you with time management and stress reduction.