Self-care has been a hot topic for years now, especially during the heart of the pandemic. You’ve probably heard about journaling, getting outside, exercising, meditation, yoga, and bubble baths.
All of these ideas and suggestions are good and well – but who has the time?
If you can’t balance your time, you won’t have time for self-care.
So, here’s a thought: Time management is the ultimate form of self care.
But how do you do it? The better question: How do you find a method that works for you?
What Is Time Management?
Time management is, quite simply, how you go about organizing activities throughout your day. Optimal time management allows you to get the maximum return from the energy you put in.
Beware: It’s easy to fall in the trap of adding more to work to your plate before you actually start getting things done. For example, I love paper planners. I am guilty of spending countless hours trying to find the “perfect” planner – one that meets all my needs, is user-friendly, portable, and nice to look at (I ultimately ended up designing one of my own via Plum Paper, though I may go back to a smaller Moleskine for 2023). In an ideal world with countless hours, I’d like to make my planners into works of art, complete with washi tape, color-coded categories, and personalized doodles. But, alas, I don’t have time for that.
Before Anything Else, Audit Your Time and Set Goals
Before anything else, my advice: Know your priorities. Eliminate any distractions or “nice-to-haves” so you can focus on the “need-to-haves.” As you get more adept at managing your time, you’ll find more room for other types of self-care (and maybe for you that looks like a colorful planner).
To help with this process, do an audit of your time. What are you doing now that you could eliminate? Perhaps it’s the countless hours doomscrolling when you could be – let’s face it, should be – sleeping. Or maybe you have fallen into the trap of too much TV when you should be exercising. Where can you pair activities? A classic example is exercising while you watch television (for more such suggestions, I recommend James Clear’s book Atomic Habits and Charles Duhigg’s book The Power of Habit.
Once you know where your time is currently going, you can set goals. Do you want to make more time for meditation and journaling in the mornings? How can you make space for that? Maybe you need to implement tactics that will allow you to do that and eliminate other distractions. For example, get the phone out of the bedroom and use an old-school alarm clock so that you don’t fall into the trap of checking emails or scrolling social media first thing (see below for a list of digital tools that can help you manage your time in fun ways).
Write down your goals and refer back to them regularly. And use a habit tracker – it will literally show you where you where you are falling short.
5 Time Management Techniques to Try
Once you know where your time is going, what your goals are, and what you want to change, it’s time to try some time management techniques. Here are five options I like:
1. Eat the Frog
Yes, this method has a quirky name, but that name speaks directly to what you’ll be doing with this method. I’d say most of us would find the idea of eating a frog unappetizing. But if you struggle with procrastination and tend to fixate on the terrible things you must do on any given day, try this method.
It boils down to this: Tackle the task you are least looking forward to first thing each day. Just one. Identify it and get it out of the way. It could be the hardest thing you have to do in a day, making the rest of the day that much easier.
For me, my frog is exercise. I’m not an athlete by any stretch, so I try to get physical activity out of the way first thing (and I try to make it playful and enjoyable).
One note here: Sometimes the frog you have on a particular day may be a difficult conversation with another person. Be sure to be mindful of the other person’s schedule and needs, too. If waiting until the end of the day is a better option for a tough talk, wait until the end of the day. Show kindness and empathy for others.
2. Time Blocking
This method is another of my personal favorites, though I find it challenging to stick to sometimes. Honestly, the further up the ladder you go at work, the more challenging this will be for you, too, as other’s needs may truncate your own and emergencies have to be dealt with.
Time blocking involves carving out windows of time to tackle particular types of tasks. Todoist has a great gaphic illustrating what this looks like. Set aside time each day for emails, for meetings, for fueling yourself, and – this part is really important – preparing for the next day (doing so also can involve a review of what you did today to help clear your mind and prioritize for later).
Time blocking is a great method because it helps you manage your energy instead of your time. If you are like me, and you do deep work better in the mornings, use that time to create and focus. I then leave like to have client calls in the late morning and early afternoons, and other types of meetings in the late afternoon.
Note that you can also choose to have themed days – this is particularly helpful for entrepreneurs or people with a lot of autonomy in their schedules. Maybe Mondays are for meetings, Tuesdays are for deep work, Wednesday are for new business networking, Thursdays are a structured catch-all, and Fridays are for administrative work. Find a system that works for you.
3. Pomodoro Technique
The Pomodoro Technique, developed by Francisco Cirillo,involves setting a timer for 25 minute to accomplish specific, concrete tasks. Having a goal in mind is very important here, as is making a commitment not to interrupt progress. After each 25-minute session, you can take a 5-minute break, and after several pomodoros (typically four or five), you take a longer break.
This method is great for people who work best with a sense of urgency and who tend to scatter their energy by multitasking. There are several apps that help keep track of your time using this technique, including Focus Keeper (iPhone) and Pomodoro Timer Lite (Android).
4. 4D Method
This method involves sorting tasks into one of four categories: Delete, Delegate, Delay, Do. You can imagine that setting goals and prioritizing each day is useful in using this technique. Note that you could make a list of tasks the night before and find that you need to reprioritize in the morning – that’s OK!
Note that you can combine this method easily with Eat the Frog – once you know what you have to “Do,” find the biggest frog and eat it.
5. The Glass Jar: Rocks, Pebbles, Sand
This method is similar to the 4D method but is more visual and playful. Here’s what the different elements represent:
- ROCKS: The big tasks that need to be tackled most urgently
- PEBBLES: The less urgent but still important tasks
- SAND: Whatever can be put off or eliminated
Consider how you could also use this method for identifying what you value in life: Write the people and things you are most committed to on the rocks, write the next most important on the pebbles, and TRY to write whatever is left on the sand – of course, you won’t be able to, making those things inconsequential, tiny blips (at best) in your life.
A Final Noted: Remember to Say No
Setting boundaries is a skillset in itself, but saying “No” is a huge time saver. Remember to be diligent in how you do it, and be kind to others in the process. But first and foremost, be kind to yourself, as time management truly is the ultimate form of self care.