Figuring out the right time management strategies and how to be more productive is a pressing issue most people struggle with. In fact, it’s a huge problem for most. Your ability to effectively manage your time affects every single thing in your life, not just your business.
Most people accept it as a fact that they’re just too busy and that outside circumstances, including their boss, kids, friends, and everyone else in the world, are also doomed to be eternally busy. The truth is that time is a human construct. We invented time and the concept of being busy. Busyness is not a fact.
For instance, I probably accomplish more in a week than most people, but I don’t think of myself as a busy person (though I definitely used to!). Deciding to think of yourself as busy (or not) is a choice that’s entirely up to you. Wearing busyness as a badge of honor is a clear sign to others that you don’t manage your mind well and that you don’t value their time or your relationship with them.
On the other hand, managing your time and mind well shows others you’re serious and trustworthy. The discipline of time management establishes a positive identity for yourself with others. The good news is that just because you’re not good at this yet doesn’t mean you can’t develop that skill. Feeling time slip through your fingers and like you’re organizing is defeating, but it doesn’t mean you’re a terrible person or incapable. Time management and understanding how to be more productive is something that can be learned!
Reevaluate Your Identity
Procrastination has become something people wear as a label. Many people think of themselves as procrastinators and that they’ve just always been like that and always will. This is entirely optional. You can choose to think of yourself this way, or you can choose to think and act differently. It’s entirely up to you.
Likewise, if you’ve always thought of yourself as a perfectionist, you’ve got to let this go. It will keep you stuck thinking that you need to continue working on a project (instead of finishing it) when, in fact, it’s good enough. Good enough is good enough (repeat after me!). Move on to the next task.
Get More Done in Less Time
Here’s the big secret. Working long hours doesn’t make you more productive. In fact, it just means you don’t know how to manage time effectively or productively (🤯).
These days, I generally work no more than 40 hours a week with the help of time management strategies. I could definitely work less if I wasn’t running two businesses and just focused on one. But that’s my choice. Despite everything on my schedule, I still take some time for myself every day, whether that’s by taking a nap, or exercising, or learning something new. Playing with my daughter when she gets home from daycare is part of our routine, and I’m also in the season where I’m breastfeeding her and pumping while she’s away. Still, I make time to decompress every day. I’m not special – I have the same number of hours in the day as you do. It’s possible to get more done in less time, but you have to choose it and show up and prioritize ruthlessly.
Working excessively and allowing your career to eat into your nights and weekends regularly causes severe burnout. I know because I burned out HARD while I was working at Google. I recall nights where I’d stay at the office until 1:00 am or longer (the overnight cleaning crew and I were on a first-name basis). The truth is I wasn’t managing my time nearly as effectively or efficiently as I do now, even though I’ve prided myself on being organized and efficient my whole life. And guess what? I was also diagnosed with ADHD as a child, and rediagnosed again at 18. Organization has always been a coping mechanism for me to focus and get things done.
When I started my own business, I had to retrain myself to get more done in less time and master my time management strategies. As a small business owner, you really have to focus in order to succeed.
Plan Your Week
Plan your week in advance. Period. This is absolutely the number one thing you can do each week to have an insanely productive week. Research also shows that if you spend 10-12 minutes planning your day, you’ll save up to 2 hours of time that would have otherwise gone to waste.
Every Monday, set aside an hour first thing in the morning, free from distractions when you’ll calendar out your entire week. This is a literal task, not something you just wrap your head around. Write it down and put it on your calendar. I’ve been doing this for years and have gotten even more refined with this practice in recent years.
When you get everything out of your brain and onto your calendar, you free up your brain to do its very best work. Instead of obsessing about what you need to do nonstop, you’ve already processed it all and given it structure. Now you have more control over what you’re going to do and can eliminate procrastination. It’s very freeing, calming, and totally relaxing.
Work-from-home mamas may have a more challenging time with this, and the answer may take some finessing. Ultimately you may need to schedule out your work time at the hours you have childcare or someone to pitch in for the unpredictable needs that arise. The goal is to stick to your plan as closely as possible to ensure the most productive time possible.
I’m not about tips and tricks and quick hacks when learning how to be more productive. Time management is a practice and something you need to do intentionally and thoughtfully. Plan out your week on Monday mornings when your mind is fresh, and you’re able to use your human brain and prefrontal cortex, which contributes to attention and motivation and helps you control impulses and ignore distractions, to make the best decisions. Don’t tackle this when you’re tired or stressed or when your brain will operate at a primitive (animal) level.
Human beings are the only creatures that plan our lives and obsess over how to manage time. This is one of your superpowers as a human being, but your brain will naturally resist this because it wants to keep you safe and comfortable. Planning and following through can be uncomfortable, so your brain will resist. But actually doing it – making a plan and following through – is one of the most powerful, uniquely-human gifts you have.
When you plan your week ahead of time, you’re able to honor your future self. You can bring your future life to fruition and make your dreams come true. You’re deciding who you want to be and on purpose instead of just reactively letting life ‘happen to you,’ which incidentally is also a choice you’re making, just a less-optimal one.
Plan Your Free Time
You may think that planning your full week out will mean that you can never be ‘spontaneous.’ But the fact is that when you actually plan out your free time and your fun time, you get to do and have more of it. Most of us aren’t that ‘spontaneous’ anyway. Unless you mean spontaneously binging on Netflix while feeling guilty, you’re not doing something more productive. Why not just plan when you want to watch Netflix, so you can thoroughly enjoy it and not feel any guilt?
You’re also going to plan your rest time and personal time and build the rest of your week around that. This time management strategy sounds crazy, right? But you want to make a fulfilling plan for your life that makes you excited to get out of bed every day.
You’re going to finish more projects using this time management method than you ever thought possible. And chances are, you’ve started a lot of tasks that you’ve left unfinished. Think about how good it will feel to actually finish them and accomplish the things you’ve promised yourself you’ll do? It will feel amazing.
It will completely change your relationship with yourself. You’ll start to trust yourself more, have higher self-esteem, and learn that you can rely on yourself to do what you say you’re going to do, which will allow you to dream bigger and better. This is the secret to building the life you’ve been dreaming about. Imagine how your life would be different if you did every single thing you said you were going to do when you said you were going to do it?
Try These Time Management Strategies
Focus yourself. Don’t try to accomplish more than one big work project and one personal project at the same time. You have to constrain yourself and hone your time management strategies.
Know that when things become challenging, your brain will naturally want to go work on something else. Or it will start telling you that the project you’re working on isn’t the right one and other nonsense. This is normal, and it’s part of the process. You have to plan on executing anyway, even though it’s not fun at the moment. You can’t rely on excitement because it will disappear when the project becomes tedious at some point. Be willing to feel all of your feelings from fear to anxiety, boredom, and frustration and do the thing anyway, at the time you said you’d do it.
It doesn’t matter what project you pick to do first. Just pick one. You can only make changes to your weekly plan during the planning hour on Mondays. After that, no changes are allowed, except in the case of a bonafide 911 emergency. Planning has to be taken seriously. And don’t get crazy with your planning – be realistic about what you can accomplish. Start with three tasks a day. Plan for fun. Plan for rest. Be kind to yourself. And remember: prioritize ruthlessly!
Decide how long something will take you, and stick to that. When time is up, you have to stop working. So the idea is not to turn in A++ perfectionist work. The idea is to complete the work on time, make sure it’s good enough – and move forward.
Set aside two hours of distraction-free time every day to do your best, highest-brain work. This is typically creative work, and it should have a clear result associated with it — a clear start and a clear finish. This could be recording a podcast (or three), writing a few blog posts, creating a proposal for a new potential client, etc. Schedule this at the time of the day when you do your best work (for me, that’s typically in the morning or the early afternoon).
Don’t give up on learning how to be more productive, it can change your entire life. And once you get the hang of time management by implementing strategies, you’ll find that you have more time than you ever thought possible to chase your dreams. It’s worth it.