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The Schedule that Saved my Sanity! Time management tips and tools

Picture of planner and coffee cup on blanket. Text overlay says the schedule that saved my sanity

How can I improve my time management?

Time management is a struggle for us all.  We all have competing priorities, tasks that must be accomplished, and goals that we want to meet.  Until recently, I have always used my volumes of time to get everything done.  I’ve never been afraid of hard work or sacrificing personal time to accomplish my goals. But at some point, that stops working.  There is no more personal time left to sacrifice, and still more to be done. So, I hope these techniques and my story help you with time management. 

Parkinson’s Law. 

"Work expands so as to fill the time available for completion" – Cyril Northcote Parkinson

I can’t help myself. I have to start with a history lesson. So in 1955, Cyril Northcote Parkinson, a British author, wrote an essay titled Parkinson’s Law that stated that “work expands so as to fill the time available for completion.” Conceptualizing time management according to this “law” is really what has helped me.  This has always been my struggle.  If I have a Saturday to do a home improvement project, I take the whole Saturday.  If I have a few hours one morning, I can typically prioritize and get the same amount of work done. This is why components of time blocking, block scheduling, and time boxing are really helpful for me both personally and professionally. 

Prioritization and Delegation.

All time management strategies start with prioritization and delegation. What needs to be done and who is going to do it. None of the strategies really work very well if you don’t prioritize what is important or essential first, and have a plan for who or how it will be accomplished.

Eat that frog! is a time management strategy that says go ahead and do the hardest, most important, most intimidating or least fun tasks first. This is a great strategy that can be incorporated when the order of tasks or activities is entirely up to you. It’s a huge psychological boost to get that dreaded task or activity out of the way and then focus on more pleasurable tasks rather than dreading the task or activity all day.

Delegation is a strategy where you assign tasks or activities to someone else. I typically really and truly WANT to do everything myself. No one is going to do it exactly like I do it. But I can’t. Not if I want to be as happy, healthy, and successful as I want my family and myself to be. Think about what you can delegate and who you can delegate it to. What can your kids, spouse or partner, other family and friends, or paid help do for you or with you? Sometimes it is as easy as taking someone up on their offer to help you. But more often it is reciprocal. Can you carpool with a friend’s family?

Time Blocking, Block Scheduling and Time Boxing.

Some may disagree with me here, but I lump all of these together in my head. Reserving a certain amount of time for a given activity, and setting time limits on a given activity are two sides of the same coin. But the mental distinction is important for some activities so we’ll discuss them all. 

Time blocking, also called block scheduling, is a time-management strategy where you block schedule your day in advance like a high-school schedule.  You prioritize all of your tasks and activities and reserve times in your schedule for that task or activity. 

Time boxing is a time-management strategy where you limit or put boundaries on the time that you alot for a given activity. This can improve productivity by forcing you to focus and work smarter or harder during that box of time. It’s like setting frequent mini-deadlines throughout your day. 

What’s the difference? Whereas time blocking is reserving time, time boxing is limiting time for a given activity. Again, in my head, they are similar, but I typically think about reserving or blocking time for things that are important to me that I might otherwise not do. For example, a date night with my husband or a non-essential but important project at work.  And the concept of limiting or boxing time is helpful for creative tasks that could get out of hand if I let them.   For example, making a school costume or creating a how-to tutorial for work.  I tend to be a bit of a perfectionist, and have to constantly remind myself that everything will not get done if I get too caught up in one task.

My recommendation?  Pick out the type of strategy that fits you and your specific time management needs or even specific tasks. Maybe you need to block schedule some activities and time box others. 

Stress management through time management woman sprawled on chair

The schedule that saved my sanity.

I am not a natural early riser. And I am definitely not a night owl.  I like to sleep.  I like to go to bed early and wake up just in time to get ready for work.  But as a mom with young kids that has always had one and a half jobs and extended family and community obligations, I started feeling like I was constantly fraying at the seams. Month after month, bleeding into years. I was a former athlete that felt like I had zero time to exercise. I was a creative that hadn’t consistently made time for arts or crafts in years.  I had all of these things that I wanted to do and try for myself and my family, but I had zero time for it, ever. 

Before my kids started school, I had the luxury of having family help me with childcare in my own home. I rolled out of bed, handed my infants and young children to my family, and went to work. There were other things that were stressful about that time in my life, but mornings were not one of them. When the kids started school, more often than not, I felt stressed, rushed, and irritated every day before my day even got started. I loved my children and all of the “new things'' that came with going to school, but I was not prepared for the schedule. The never ending process of laundering and setting out uniforms, packing lunches, breakfast on a schedule, fixing hair, matching socks, matching shoes, school folders and forms, nap mats, extracurriculars, and all of the “stuff” for the extracurricular, and on and on.  I actually like making school lunches and packing backpacks, but it’s time consuming.  I LOVED taking my child to dance, soccer, and cheer, but it’s time consuming. It’s all just so much more time consuming than I was prepared for.

So, very reluctantly, I had to change my schedule. Staying up late to get anything done has never been very productive for me.  At the end of the day, I am tired and do not concentrate well.  In high school, I fell asleep over my books for years. By college, I had learned that if things were not done by about 10pm, I just had to set an alarm (or 3) to get up early. Sometimes that alarm was 530am and sometimes it was 330am.  So, I made a deal with myself to try to see if I could get up 30 minutes earlier, an hour earlier, and I settled on one and a half hours earlier.  This is really the sweet spot for me to feel like a human being.

0500 Wake-up and drink coffee finish any laundry left over from the night before

0515 Check work email and put out fires

0530-0600  Me time! Read, paint, work on my blog, 

0600 Exercise

0630 Wake kids up and morning routine (breakfast, pack lunches, dress and groom small children)

0730 Leave for school and work 

0800-1700 Work

1730 Cook or prepare dinner

1800-1930 Family time (eat, baths, homework, books or TV)

1930-2000 Bedtime routine

2000-2130 Prepare for tomorrow and spend time with my husband

2130 or so Lights out

Now, there is a LOT of variation to this schedule.  The children’s extracurriculars change the afternoon and evening schedule quite a bit throughout the week. If I am working on a project at work, I may leave early and my husband does the morning routine by himself. But this gives me a framework or a little bit more control over my life. 

Picture of hourglass with text overlay manage time effectively

How to Time block? Or how to time box?

  1. Make a list of things that must be done every week. I keep two separate lists.  A home list, and a work list.  You might have others like a social, church, or community list.  We all know that these lists can look daunting. So, see #2.

  2. Make a list of tasks or activities that make you happy, grateful, or just less stressed. It’s ok if this list includes some items from #1. Hopefully, it does!

  3. Then, write out all of the things that must be done on a time block schedule. Try to schedule the more cognitively difficult tasks during your productive times. There is a FREE copy of the time blocking Schedule that Saved my Sanity Weekly Planner below. 

  4. Then, schedule some time for the things that make you happy, grateful, or less stressed. 

  5. Finally, look critically at your schedule. Does it make sense? Is it feasible? How much time do you have for those happy activities?

If you physically can’t write all of the required tasks on a schedule that makes sense, you’ve got too much on your plate. You are going to have to find ways to delegate or give some things up. This is hard, but ultimately best for you and your family.

More often than not, you will see that there is a lot that must be done at certain times of the day or week, and then there are blocks of time that are more open. Look for ways to delegate one or more things in the busy times. And “Schedule” that open time with your activities on your happy list

Time Management Tips

There are lots of time management tips and frameworks that you can read about and try. Here are some ideas.

  • Reserve time to schedule and organize your time!  

  • Schedule some “me time” and breaks in your schedule.  Mental health and downtime are important for everyone.  

  • Avoid distractions especially during your productive time. “Schedule” that distraction for a specific time.

  • Practice setting time limits or setting deadlines. Even small ones like a pomodoro timer.

  • Practice saying no. We all want to do it all, and maybe suffer from a bit of FOMO, but it is not reasonable. Prioritize and say no to everything else.

  • Find tools or applications that help you. 

I hope this article, the tips, or the Weekly Planner tool below help you reclaim a bit of your life, help you become more time efficient, or just a little less stressed!

Want to stay up to date with my latest articles and get a time blocking version of The Schedule that Saved my Sanity: The Weekly Planner free digital download? Consider subscribing below!


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