You have 151 emails in your inbox. It took you two weeks to complete something that takes most people a couple of hours. You don’t carry around a planner and your phone’s calendar app rarely gets used. You even—gasp!—multitask by watching TV while scrolling through Instagram while kinda sorta working on that creative project you always say you’re too busy to get to.
Hello, time management!
The good news is that there are a shit ton of time management and productivity methods out there to help you get your act together and maximize your time. I wrote about some of them here.
The not-so-good news is also that there are a shit ton of time management and productivity methods out there. Some of them with a cult-like following. Sometimes it’s a little overwhelming, right?
How do you know which time management tools and techniques are best for you?
Which ones are worth the hype and which ones will really help you get shit done?
And, a question that is not asked often enough: how do you prevent these tips and methods—which are supposed to be helpful—from taking over your life? Are you measuring your worth and life in terms of your productivity?
After trying a bunch of different time management and productivity “hacks”, I’ve come to the realization that while most of us delve into them with the best of intentions, it can all lead to a slippery slope of wasted hours, skewed priorities, and feeling even more behind and stressed out. Ironically, these are often the very reasons we seek advice, tools, and resources to help us productively manage our time.
No, I’m not going to tell you to abandon all your systems and methods. If you’re clutching your bullet journal to your chest with white knuckles, whoa. You can relax.
Here’s what else we can all do: Be mindful about how we use our time management systems just like we should be mindful about how we use our time.
In this spirit, I give you the only time management tips you’ll ever need.
Do what you like and know why you do it.
Since how we spend our days is how we spend our lives, it makes sense that in order for us to like our lives, we should like what we do. The more we like it, the more likely we are to see value in it and want to succeed at it. And bonus! Focus comes easier when we enjoy what we’re doing.
Knowing why we do the thing we do gives us clarity into our actions and the level of priority they should get. Not everything deserves our full time and attention. That’s a precious resource, yo. Only so much of it to go around.
Take some time for yourself.
The goal shouldn’t be to cram as much productivity into your day. You’re not a robot. You’re a human being. Constant productivity should not be the goal, living life as you desire should be the goal. If you want to live a meaningful and happy life, you’ve got to take some “me” (you) time.
Set aside time in your life to do the stuff you love to do. That could include spending time with family and friends (because strong social ties and relationships are a big part of happiness), hobbies that help you reach a state of flow (more about flow here), and heck yeah, you could even set aside some time to do nothing. I’ll take my nothing in the form of daydreaming and napping thankyouverymuch.
Know that there’s a big difference between being productive and feeling productive.
Did you actually get shit done or did you just waste an hour of your life getting your inbox to zero? I know that would take me way more than an hour. While I do enjoy a clutter free inbox, I’ve given up on trying to maintain it. That couple hours it would take me to wade through all those messages is not the best use of my time. Let’s be real: the vast majority of emails in the personal inbox can be ignored anyway.
Similarly, it takes me over an hour each week to plan out my schedule and goals for the coming week. Sometimes this feels like it’s just too much, but I notice that having a strategy in place for the week gives me a sense of calm and control. I can then be more deliberate about what I have to do and I have a plan to do it.
If you’re spending more time tracking, logging, scheduling, etc. than you are actually doing the work, then that’s a sign that you’re more into the feeling of being productive than you are actually being productive. A more minimal approach to time management and productivity might do you some good. Maybe just planting your ass in the seat and getting to getting so you can go out and do that fun/relaxing/joyful/interesting thing you’ve been wanting to do.
You can’t have everything all at once.
There will be times in your life when you want, nay, need to focus on one thing at the expense of other things. I’m working on my goal getting which involves helping other people with their goal getting which means my social life is suffering. Waking up hella early to get in a workout before your day begins means prioritizing fitness over sleep or TV or book-reading time.
Your prioritized life looks different than my prioritized life. Maybe you prioritize family at the expense of time with friends or time spent knitting doggy sweaters.
This romanticized myth of “balance” is doing more to make people (especially women) feel bad about themselves. In the day in and day out of our lives, there’s not enough hours in the day for everything. It’s more realistic that there’s a season for everything, though.
Remember: you can do anything, but not everything. And you can probably delegate a lot more than you think you can.
Rule the hacks, tips, and techniques–don’t let them rule you.
They’re a means to an end, not the end. Try out what interests you and use what works when it works. Be mindful about your time management habits just like you should be with all your habits.
- Do you enjoy your productivity and time management systems?
- Is it actually helping you achieve and make progress toward your most important things?
- How does it make you feel?
- Do you feel pressure to be doing something productive all the time? (Danger! Danger!)
- What would happen if you didn’t do it?
Know that you have control over how you spend your time
Ever had one of those days that just seems to get away from you? You had the best laid plans and then shit happened. Oh dudes, I hate it when this happens. I much prefer it when things go according to my plan, ha.
While it may feel like you totally became the victim of circumstances, the truth is that you chose to respond to circumstances. That’s still a choice. Often times choosing to be reactive and respond right away is a good thing—even if it doesn’t feel like it. When literal and figurative fires need to be put out, priorities change in an instant. (So don’t beat yourself up for abandoning your plans, goal-getters. Sometimes that’s wise!)
Whether you delegate, ignore, procrastinate, delay, etc. you’re making a choice, and it’s all yours. Hopefully it’s influenced by your own special priorities and goals. Whatever you choose, own it.
Do you have any time management or productivity hacks or habits that just aren’t serving you anymore?
I still like the Pomodoro Technique when I need to buckle down but inbox zero and a lot of the habit trackers I used to use are no longer a part of my repertoire.
Take some time (but not too much!) to consider your habits and examine if they’re truly adding value to your life. Which ones get to stay and which ones need to step off? Tell us in the comments!