Each day we are gifted with 24 hours. What we do with that time is completely up to us. Consider each hour of the 24 hours a unique opportunity to optimise not just our careers, but our entire life. The standard argument against time management techniques goes something like this:
‘Well, I’m asleep for 8 hours. Then I work for, like, 10. Then the rest of the time is just filled with stuff.’
That ‘rest of time’ can be utilised to include a variety of productive ‘stuff’, to greatly bring us serious results in all aspects of life. Defining our time and allocating activities to each hour means that we no longer have to think about our next move, we merely move forward – one foot in front of the other. Have one successful day consecutively for months – or even years – and the benefits of time management techniques will increase exponentially.
Discipline Equals Freedom
We’re not all strict disciplinarians and, personally, I’ve grown hostile to any reference of ‘hustle’ or ‘grind.’ These words belong and should remain in the vocabulary of the countless Instagram e-marketing flogs. But to follow a schedule and to get things done is at the core of successful time management techniques. For ex-Navy Seal and bestselling author Jocko Willink, discipline equals freedom:
‘Don’t expect to be motivated every day to get out there and make things happen. You won’t be. Don’t count on motivation. Count on Discipline.’
This is the trap many of us fall in to, especially coming into the new year. We expect ourselves to be driven by passion or the desire of a noble pursuit. But humans are comfort creatures and motivation dwindles. Instead, time management techniques rely on your ability to determine where time in your day is wasted, allocating productive activities within that open time, and then merely following the plan laid out before you.
Out with the old and in with the new. This requires a bit of self-audit and daily analysing. Firstly, notice where you are already utilising your time to your best of your ability. Are you throwing down your bag after a long day of work and then just wandering aimlessly for three hours until bed, before repeating the same thing the next day? Are you replaying that same 10-year-old album on the train every morning? Is your obsession with The Office getting a little out of hand? Being brave and calling yourself out on wasted time is a key time management technique.
Defining Your North Star
Before you can fully utilise other time management techniques, a simple question must be asked: What is important to you?
Are you a heartless, senselessly-driven man of work? Or a pleasure-seeking minimalist? Either of these is fine, but most of us will land somewhere in the middle. We need to determine our ultimate end goal, lest we walk aimlessly into the future. For many of us, this may be the desire to start and maintain our own business or to have a loving, wholesome family. It’s the thing that gets us out of bed in the morning. It’s hope.
This is the nitty-gritty. Once you have determined how much time and effort you want to place within each activity, you can begin constructing a schedule – perhaps the most vital time management technique. For monthly/yearly goals, a physical on-the-wall calendar will do the trick. As you progress through the month you can see upcoming important events or must-dos. Upon the conclusion of the month, before you rip the page, a short reflection on your successful time management technique is a useful tool heading forward.
Society breaks time into work weeks – Monday to Friday, Saturday to Sunday. Therefore there’s a steady flood of apps and websites that can help you plan your day to the minute. Pick one (Google Calendar springs to mind), stick to it, and just move through it. Don’t forget to plan your weekends, too. Optimising downtime can quickly improve on your working week.
Finally, a daily to-do list is a handy, physical ally in getting things done and maximising time management techniques. Groceries, car service, general errands etc. the list goes on indefinitely. But there’s nothing quite as satisfying as steadily working through your sizeable to-do list. You’ll sleep easier at night.
Working Smarter, Not Harder
One hour of smart work is infinitely better than 4 hours of aimless hard work. Once you’ve scheduled your time, devote the entirety of that scheduled time to the task at hand. This may require some further, more defined pockets of time throughout the day.
For example, work isn’t just an 8-hour block of whatever the work day brings. Work is half an hour of checking emails in the morning, followed by a one-hour team meeting, followed by an hour and forty-five minutes of intense work focus, followed by a 15-minute coffee break and so on. The initial half hour isn’t for chatting to a co-worker halfway across the office about weekend plans. Just as your intense focus on your work isn’t set aside to check and respond to useless emails. Walk away from the day knowing you achieved something.
Tim Ferriss, the author of The 4-Hour Work Week (among countless other books), says it best:
‘Focus on being productive instead of busy’
Allow Room For Failure
Of course, your time management techniques won’t be dead on every day. And that’s ok. By simply planning out your ideal day, week, month, year, you’re already putting yourself in a position to win.
Furthermore, your schedule isn’t set in stone – things come up, priorities change. In the below clip, billionaires Bill Gates and Warren Buffett discuss the benefits of a more open schedule. Once you know your priorities and know what matters, you can begin to open up your schedule and freely move your time around. Time management techniques become a natural byproduct of schedules, discipline, and repetition.
I’m not talking about work or exercise. Although, these activities will require the most mental and physical energy. I’m talking about your leisure time, the time you owe yourself to relax and recalibrate. This includes maintaining the crucial relationships we have with our friends and families as well as ensuring we give ourselves time to sit back, relax, and chill. For many, this might include 1-2 hours every night of dedicated family time. You can hustle all want to get to the top but there’s no point in being lonely once you get there. This is one of the essential time management techniques.
‘Trying to squeeze a little more work out of your evenings might reduce your effectiveness the next day enough that you end up getting less done than if you had instead respected a shutdown.’ – Cal Newport
A healthy work-life balance ensures you won’t burn out. Or lose your mind. Another vital part of your schedule is sleep – this should go without saying. If you need 9 hours, take it. No point being pestered by brain fog for the whole day and getting nothing done. Once again, productivity over merely just being busy.
These time management techniques are an excellent step in the right direction for the new year. Finding your own, unique life-work balance is essential to ensuring future success. Good luck.