As the new year unveils in many parts of the world, it’s a natural time to evaluate the past year and make goals or resolutions for the coming one. However, for many of us, almost inevitably, life starts up again, and we find ourselves six months down the road spinning in the same wheel.
If you want to make time for what’s important to you, not just what you have to do, read on. We’ve gathered tips from time-management experts and narrowed down some techniques to help you find a little extra time to use as you wish.
- Create a time audit. For a week or two, record every 30/60 minutes of your day to see where time goes. Are you spending more time than you thought on certain tasks? It’s often very enlightening to see how much time you’re on your phone or watching TV. (For more on this, including a time log spreadsheet, visit Laura Vanderkam’s website, specifically, www.lauravanderkam.com/manage-your-time.)
- Try a power hour. Author Gretchen Rubin suggests making a list of small tasks that are easily procrastinated and taking an hour to knock through them. For instance, cleaning out a cluttered drawer, answering old emails, sorting a teetering pile of papers.
- Batch similar tasks together. Set a time to just answer emails or make phone calls. Combine errands so you’re not going out more than you need to.
- Rate your tasks based on importance or difficulty and organize your day accordingly. Many people recommend doing your most important or most dreaded task first to gain momentum and give you a sense of accomplishment even if the rest of the day is unproductive. (Mark Twain is alleged to have said: “If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And if it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.”)
- Create routines. You gain freedom by establishing structure to your day—such as having morning, evening, and end-of-day routines (where you take 15 minutes to plan out your next day). Knowing what you’re going to do when means you’re less apt to forget something and better able to plan.
- Set time limits to get things done. Give yourself a chunk of time with no distractions. Or use the Pomodoro technique where you set a timer and break down tasks into 25-minute intervals followed by a short break. Each interval is known as a pomodoro (the Italian word for tomato) after the tomato-shaped timer the technique’s creator developed.
- Similarly, challenge yourself to put a time limit on tasks. Give yourself 10 minutes to write a memo at work or 15 minutes to clean the kitchen after dinner. Often, a task ends up taking however much time you have, rather than how long it should take.
If you’re having trouble prioritizing your life, or you want to challenge yourself to try something new, here are two techniques to try.
Write a list of things you want to try in the coming year. You could rank it based on your age or the year (20 for 2020!). The ideas can be as big or small as you want, such as run a 5K, host a dinner party, take a writing class, go camping, make your bed every day, find a great pair of black pants. Post the list in a place where you can see it often and look for opportunities to tackle your list throughout the year.
Write your obituary. Although it may seem morbid, it’s an effective exercise to help you think through what you want to be known for. Similarly, you could write a toast you imagine someone giving you in five years. What do you want people to say about you? What will you have accomplished? What do you want to be most proud of? A similar task is to write next year’s work performance review or write your family’s holiday newsletter. Any of these exercises are a good way to analyze your priorities and think about not only how you want to live your life, but what you want to accomplish.
Laura Amann is associate editor for the Toastmaster magazine.