With the emphasis on multitasking in modern society, it isn’t surprising that many men and women struggle with their packed schedules. The 16 hours allotted for the daily activities, from bathing and eating to delivering on work-related tasks, aren’t enough so many individuals actually sleep for less than eight hours every day. Many will even forego rest on weekends and holidays in favor of getting more done at work!
Do these sacrifices and compromises with time sound familiar to you? Do you feel extremely stressed because you’re not even halfway through your to-do list every day? Do you feel like your schedule is packed to the rafters that you’re in danger of collapsing in exhaustion, both physical and mental?
If your answer is a resounding “Yes!” then you will benefit from these 7 tips on clearing the clutter from your calendar of activities. Keep in mind that these are time management tips so you can customize it to your unique circumstances. If you want to maintain some semblance of work-life balance, your time management skills have to be on point. After all, there only 24 hours a day, so prioritization is paramount.
1. Track the Time Spent on Activities
The first step in good time management is decluttering your packed schedule is actually taking a closer look at what’s in it. How are you spending your day from the time you wake up in the morning until you hit the sack at night? What are the activities on your daily schedule – meetings with officemates, working on reports and other office-related documents, and dealing with clients? How many hours are you spending on each activity, whether mundane or mandatory?
These are questions that must be answered so you can decide which activities should be retained and which ones can be let go. You will likely spend a week or two on tracking your time but it’s worth the effort, especially when you have more free time and less stress. You can use a spreadsheet or an app or your calendar notes for this purpose but be objective when doing so.
You can ask yourself, “Does this activity bring me fulfillment, add to my happiness, or promote my career advancement? Does my physical presence and inputs add value to the meetings? Do the people appreciate my presence in the first place?” When an activity meets these criteria, then you’re likely in the right place; otherwise, you should look at ways that you can skip the activity or lessen your exposure to it.
For example, you may be watching reruns of a television show for lack of nothing better to do – or so it seems. But you must consider that the two hours spent on it could be used for other activities that actually stimulate your mind or bring fun into your life.
After a while, your calendar will not be so packed with activities that cause mental stress or emotional distress. Your life will be better for it, too, because you’re happier when you are in control of your time.
2. Reconsider Recurring Meetings and Redundant Reports
You should ask why certain activities are on your calendar, even when asking means getting out of your comfort zone or questioning the status quo. You may even be surprised that some of your workmates, for example, are also asking the same questions but are hesitant to do so for many reasons (e.g., fear of insubordination). You may be doing certain things because it’s been done that way for as long as everybody in the group can remember! These are time-wasters, avoid them.
The questions can include, “What’s the purpose of this meeting or report? Why is it still relevant, if it is, and why isn’t it so? How is it contributing to the group’s overall goal and to your personal goal?” These questions are necessary to determine which activities have to be changed, perhaps even abolished, and which ones should stay as is.
The best examples are recurring meetings and redundant reports, many of which are actually just duplications of each other. These are things that take up too much of everybody’s time without making significant contributions to the team’s goal, not to mention contribute to the stress levels and tension among workmates.
But it isn’t necessary to suddenly stop the meetings or stop asking for the reports. Keep in mind that you have to consider the inputs of your workmates so we suggest these time management strategies.
- Make recurring meetings less frequent or shorter in duration. And, ask for a specific time in the workday.
- Use email to communicate relevant information so face-to-face meetings can be reduced.
- Ask for a specific agenda or specific activities before each meeting so that the time can be maximized – and stick to the agenda.
- Suggest solutions to decrease the redundancy of the reports; this way, people can work on tasks that matter more.
- Suggest setting up smart goals for specific tasks.
3. Rank Things According to Their Urgency and Importance
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change, the bestselling book by Stephen Covey, contains useful tips on clearing your calendar – and we highly recommend it, too. In it, Covey suggested prioritizing your activities based on their urgency and importance by using four quadrants; think of the SWOT analysis and you will immediately get the point.
- Quadrant I: Urgent and important (e.g., last-minute meetings or reports for crucial deadlines, emergency crisis)
- Quadrant II: Not urgent but important (e.g., long-term goal setting and strategic planning)
- Quadrant III: Urgent but not important (e.g., meetings, emails and phone calls that must be attended to as soon as possible but otherwise will not cause a crisis if these aren’t acted on immediately)
- Quadrant IV: Not urgent and not important (e.g., binge-watching movies and shows, social media browsing)
But don’t stop there either. Your next step is to determine which ones you have to do more and what you have to do less so your day becomes more productive and enjoyable.
You will likely find that many of your daily activities and tasks are in Quadrants III and IV, which means you may want to engage in them less. You will then be able to do more activities falling in Quadrants I and II, which brings a sense of fulfillment and happiness.
4. Learn to Say No
While there’s merit in being nice and accommodating toward others, there’s also the risk of stretching yourself too thinly until you’re at breaking point. You will be at a disadvantage here for many reasons, such as being extremely stressed to the point of collapse and being seen as a non-team player – and it likely won’t even matter that you’ve been accommodating many times before.
What’s the best thing to do then? For the sake of your sanity, you have to learn to say no to certain things, particularly those that add to your stress or add to your already packed schedule! You must, of course, discern between what’s necessary and unnecessary before saying no, a process that can be done by looking at your schedule and considering whether you can pack in one more thing.
Better yet, you can delegate the task or outsource a job, if it isn’t possible to say no to a task or an activity because it’s crucial to your job. This is a great piece of advice when you’re the manager or supervisor since, indeed, many tasks can be delegated to others.
But even when you aren’t in a supervisory position, you can still outsource a task, so to speak, without it seeming like you’re being bossy or overbearing. For instance, you can partner with a computer engineer when you’re looking for a more automated process.
If you can’t delegate or outsource certain tasks, you can try another tack. You can minimize the amount of time and energy required to finish these tasks, such as giving quick sales snapshots on a monthly basis but providing more in-depth sales analysis every quarter.
5. Block Off Chunks of Time
Of course, you won’t always be looking at your calendar and decluttering it because it’s impractical. But keep in mind, too, that it’s so easy to be complacent about it and then be surprised that your calendar is, once again, back to being packed full with many redundant meetings and the like.
Don’t let it happen to you! You can block off chunks of time wherein you will not be available for other activities aside from what’s on your calendar. You won’t be answering emails, text messages, and phone calls, for example, unless these fall under Quadrant I because you will be focusing on an all-important report for the Board of Directors.
You can use the blocks of time for Quadrant II activities, too, or for high-level strategic activities. This way, your calendar won’t be invaded, so to speak, with Quadrant IV activities. Soon enough, other people will respect your block of time reserved for more important tasks and activities.
6. Ensure Downtime
As with most things in life, effective time management is about balance. You neither want to be a workaholic who doesn’t have the time for other non-work activities nor a slacker who doesn’t work at all. You have to balance between work and play because, as the adage says, all work and no play makes Johnny a dull boy.
There’s also the matter of allowing your mind and body to rest and rejuvenate, not just from sleeping well every night but also from enjoying activities that you actually enjoy. You must then consciously make the decision to enjoy downtime on a regular basis – and by regular, we mean on a daily basis, not just a grand vacation every year.
When you let your mind and body rest from the pressures of work and life every day, you’re allowing yourself the opportunity to actually be in the moment. You can take a short nap during the day, go for a brisk walk on your lunch break, or put your feet up on your coffee break – little things that add up to big things for your physical and mental health over the long run.
On non-working days, you should think twice about bringing work to your home. Besides, if you were already effective at time management in your work sphere, then you wouldn’t have to bring your work to your home! You will then be able to enjoy activities that recharge your batteries, so to speak, whether it’s a hobby or a weekend getaway on your own or with family or friends.
The keyword here is “deliberate” since you have to make the conscious decision to put “rest and relaxation” into your calendar, even if it’s just a 15-minute break at the office or an hour-long warm bath.
7. Consider Your Future Enthusiasm
When you’re planning your calendar for the month, many people will ask for appointments and dates with you, oftentimes several days or a few weeks ahead. You’re likely to say yes to most of these requests because you don’t want to disappoint others or you do want to meet them, among other reasons.
But here’s the thing about saying yes in the present to future commitments: You may or may not feel the same way you do at present in the future when the appointment comes up. But you may be unable to skip the appointment lest you disappoint the others, especially when these have a significant impact on their lives.
Here’s what you can do: Before saying yes to a future appointment, ask yourself whether you’re enthusiastic about it and your level of enthusiasm. If you are keen on it, then you’re likely to be keen about it still in three weeks’ time. If you aren’t feeling too good about it, then your attitude won’t likely change in three weeks.
But when you have said yes to an appointment, you should make the effort to actually do your end. Keep in mind that it’s your personal and professional reputation at stake so it’s best to follow through. You may or may not like it when it’s there but at least you honored your commitment; just treat it as a learning experience if you weren’t too keen about the activity.
Cleaning up your schedule of unnecessary and unpleasant things isn’t easy, far from it, particularly when you’re first starting out. But once you get the hang of it, it’s easier and faster to do so and you will find that these time management techniques very helpful; getting things done is easy. Remember to do these: Set goals you can achieve at the end of the day.
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Also, check out these 3 Creative Ways You Can Find Work-Life Balance As An Entrepreneur