If the purchase of books made one an expert, I could teach courses in time management. I have been reading time management books since the early years of our marriage. Do I have it all together? Nope. Have I learned some helpful methods for managing my time? Yes, I have. Take a look. Maybe there will be an idea or two that you will find helpful, too.
1.Plan it backwards
One of the first books about time management I remember reading as a young wife and mother was:
The author shared many helpful time management tips for homemakers but one of my favorites is to “plan it backwards”. This technique is really helpful on those days I have an appointment, meeting or other specific time by which I need to have things done. You start with the time you need to leave the house, or start another project, or have things done before dinner, or whatever. Then you plan backwards from there.
Let’s use a common scenario around my house. I’ve been *trying* to take a break in my day for tea at 4 p.m. David usually comes home around 5 or 5:30. I then cook dinner, we eat, clean up the kitchen and then I usually work another couple of hours after that. Because I tend to work late I think it’s good for me to take that 4 p.m. break.
So I use 4 p.m. as the time by which I want to finish certain things. I usually wear yoga clothes during the day in the hopes it will remove at least one excuse from exercising. If I want to be showered, dressed, hair and makeup done when David gets home that means I need to allow 30-45 minutes. So I get in the shower at 3:15. If my list of household chores for the day is going to take 30 minutes, I need to start those at 2:45. And I just keep working backwards from there. This helps me get a realistic picture of what I can accomplish in the allotted time and when I need to start each item on my to-do list.
Another tip I learned from the same book is the Ivy Lee Method which you may have heard of. Back in 1918, Charles M. Schwab, the President of the Bethlehem Steel Company, met with a productivity consultant named Ivy Lee. Schwab asked Lee how he could increase productivity in his company. Lee asked for 15 minutes with each executive to explain his method. Schwab asked how much Ivy would charge for this. Ivy said to try it for three months and then decide what it was worth. At the end of those three months, Schwab wrote him a check for $25,000 (which was the equivalent of $400,000 in 2015). What was this method?
- At the end of each work day, write down the six most important things you need to accomplish tomorrow. Do not write down more than six tasks.
- Prioritize those six items in order of their true importance.
- When you arrive tomorrow, concentrate only on the first task. Work until the first task is finished before moving on to the second task.
- Approach the rest of your list in the same fashion. At the end of the day, move any unfinished items to a new list of six tasks for the following day.
- Repeat this process every working day.
By limiting the number of things on your to-do list and prioritizing them, you get the most important things done even if you don’t finish your list. It also eliminates time spent trying to decide what to do next.
This is the one I need to implement more often. I tend to put way too much on my daily list and then am frustrated when I can’t get it all done.
One of the things I liked about the Pat King book is that she utilized different methods on different days of the week. She would use the “plan it backwards” method a couple of days of the week and the Ivy Lee Method every Tuesday. The beauty of this is that at least one day a week the important is taking precedence over the merely routine tasks of managing a home, and in my case, business and volunteer work.
This technique is a bit newer to me. I have used a timer for tasks for years but this is a more structured method. You pick a task, set a timer for 25 minutes, and then devote yourself to that task without interruption. When the timer goes off you take a 5 minute break and then come back for another 25 minutes. Each 25 minute work period is called a “pomodoro”. After four pomodoros you take a longer break, say 20 or 30 minutes.
I wrote a bit about this in my post, 9 Steps to Take Control of Your Day. Since I first read of this method I’ve been using it pretty regularly. I don’t always take a true 20-30 minute break after 4 “pomodoros” but I really do find those 25 minute focused work sessions to be really helpful.
What I often do is use those short breaks between sessions to do a household task. Five minutes is just about the right length of time to throw in a load of laundry, empty the dishwasher, scrub a toilet, water plants, and many other routine household chores. Or sometimes I’ll walk Shiloh during my break. It’s also just right for making myself another cup of tea. 😉
4. Minimum Maintenance
This is probably the best advice I have ever read for keeping up with housework. The tip comes from the book, Totally Organized the Bonnie McCullough Way by Bonne McCullough. Each day you go through the house and spend 5 minutes in each room restoring order. You set a timer and work fast. This isn’t the time for deep cleaning. In bedrooms it means making the bed and putting away items like clothing and shoes. In the bathroom you put away grooming items, wipe down the sink, counter and mirror, and put out fresh towels. The living room gets tidied up, pillows fluffed, perhaps a quick dusting of the coffee table. You’ll need to give the kitchen a bit more time – maybe 15-20 minutes.
This minimum maintenance keeps your home in basic order so that it’s easier to do the weekly cleaning tasks like vacuuming, mopping, scrubbing, polishing, etc. Perhaps even more important, your cleaning efforts last longer. And if you have “one of those weeks” when you just can’t get to the regular cleaning your house will still be neat and livable.
5. Pretend someone is coming over
This is something I’ve done since I was a little girl cleaning my own bedroom. Sometimes you just need a little motivation. You can take this a step further and actually invite someone over or plan a party.
6. Phone apps
There are a lot of productivity and time management apps for computers and phones these days. Here are some popular ones:
And so many, many others. If digital planning is your thing you might want to give one or more of these a try. I’ve looked at a few but the truth of the matter is that, as much as I love computers and smart phones, I’m still a pen and paper girl. Which brings me to my own system:
7. A clipboard and daily to-do list
Back when I was a hospice nurse I tried several systems for dealing with daily paperwork, task lists and nursing notes. I eventually discovered that a simple clipboard works well for me. At one time I designed daily to-do sheets personalized for my life and I keep meaning to do that again one of these days. But for now I just start each day with a blank sheet of computer paper on my clipboard. I did buy a cute aqua clipboard with white polka dots.
At the top of the page I write “Creating a Beautiful Life” and the date underneath. I record my weight in the upper right corner and often track my water intake with a series of check marks under the weight.
On the left side of the paper I write the categories “Home” and “Work”. I list all the household tasks for the day under “Home” and under “Work” I list blog tasks, volunteer work and things I do for our business/non-profit.
On the right side I have sections for dinner plans, things I need to purchase, calls to make, appointments and a section I label, “Personal”. That’s where I list things like meditation, exercise, piano, teatime, reading or whatever else I want to do that day for myself.
Finally, I have two sticky notes which I place on the bottom of the paper:
- One has a list of blog-related tasks. These are not time-sensitive but are things I want to work on as time allows. Instead of writing these out every day, knowing full well I can’t get to all of them, I keep them on this sticky note which I transfer each day to the new daily sheet. As several get crossed off I can write a new one.
- The other is a series of questions and reminders for myself to help me be mindful of my goal to “Create a Beautiful Life”. As I place this on a new day’s sheet, I read them over and remind myself of how I want to live my life.
I check off each item as I do it. When I make the next day’s list I transfer things I didn’t get done. Sometimes I make this list the night before but more often I do it first thing in the morning while drinking my tea.
I also have a paper planner where I can note appointments, meetings, birthdays, and other such things. I do use the calendar function on my phone for putting in dates for upcoming events but I also transfer these to the paper planner. I’m just such a visual person that I prefer to see it all laid on a monthly planner page.
I have one final “method” that I wasn’t sure I would share because it doesn’t sound very organized. But the thing is, it actually works for me. Want to know what it is?
Sticky notes on my computer. That’s right. When I have little reminders or think of something I need to deal with, I write it on a sticky note and put it on the bottom edge of my computer.
If I’m making the week’s menu and think of a few items I need from the grocery store, I write them on a sticky note. Over the course of a few days I may add more items. I can then transfer these to the notes app on my phone or just take the note with me.
Sometimes I think of a blog post idea and will write it on a note. Or David will ask me to make a call or do something so it goes on a note. Some of these things will get transferred to another system while others will be taken care of and the note thrown away in short order.
I spend a lot of time at my computer so these highly visual reminders work for me. And that’s the important thing when selecting time management tools. It doesn’t matter if a fancy app sounds really cool and comes highly recommended. If it doesn’t work with your personal lifestyle and preferences, there’s no point in trying to make yourself use it. It’s worth trying a variety of methods but once you understand how you work best, don’t worry about the “cool factor”. I really wanted to love OmniFocus. It came highly recommended by a very organized (male) friend. But the truth is, my clipboard and sticky notes work for me. Planning backwards, Pomodoro, the Ivy Lee Method, and Minimum Maintenance work for me.
I will no doubt continue to read productivity books and articles. I may even try some phone apps occasionally. But I already have a collection of time management tools in my “toolbox” which work pretty well (when I use them!).
So tell me, what productivity and time management tools or methods do you use? Any recommendations? Leave me a comment ~ I’d love to hear your thoughts.