3 time management rules I wish I’d learned 10 years ago.

3 time management rules I wish I’d learned 10 years ago.

I hate to say it, but when I manage my time well, it’s because I’m paying attention to the obvious. Sadly, I haven’t always been very good at noticing the obvious.

No doubt some of you mastered these time management tricks years ago. But I’m pretty sure some of you are right where I am–struggling to pay attention to the things right in front of your face. For you, I’m sharing my own personal time management reminders today.

They may be obvious to some, but it took me a whole decade to figure out these 3 rules. Hopefully, that means someone will find a shortcut today.

1. Do a reality check.

I believe in hoping for the best. But I’ve learned the hard way that I may want to stay up till 2 a.m. to finish my big project, or for my kids to skip their naps for fun plans, or to visit 5 different relatives on Christmas Day.

But I know from experience that I can’t stay up till 2; that no plans are fun with sleep-deprived kids, and that if I’m not exhausted by the second Christmas Day get-together, then I certainly will be by the third.

I’m trying to train myself to do a reality check before making plans. How are things really gonna shake out? I can’t always know, but I can come pretty close if I stop to think about it.

2. Time management is energy management.

For years, I thought time management was about time. So when I planned how to spend my time, I would look at my calendar and book up the vacant hours.

Those plans worked on paper–but I couldn’t follow through in real life. Because time management isn’t just about time: it’s also about energy.

These days, I’m paying attention to not only how much time events take up on my calendar, but how much–and what type of–energy they demand from me. I’m asking myself, how does this event affect me? Do I have the time I need to recharge? Can I maintain this schedule? If I can, will I even enjoy it? 

I’m especially guilty of ignoring the Energy component during the holidays. I’ll pack in the activities–only to find myself too exhausted by the living of them to actually enjoy them.

What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast

3. Think 3 steps ahead.

Laura Vanderkam compares time management to chess. Master chess players don’t just think about their next move; they’re always looking three–or more–moves ahead. They anticipate outcomes and make contingency plans. That’s the only way to win.

I’ve been training myself to think ahead when I schedule my time. I’ve been deliberately thinking through possibilities and making contingency plans. Not for everything, of course. But I have been taking Laura’s words to heart: “if the stakes are high, it’s good to be in the habit.”

When it comes to logistics, I don’t think well on my feet. It’s enormously helpful for me to think through contingencies beforehand, instead of when I’m in the midst of a crisis.

Can you relate to my personal rules? What rules shape your personal time management?

3 time management rules I wish I'd learned 10 years ago

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65 comments

  1. Mukkove says:

    Thank you for posting this. The idea of scheduling energy and not just time is a piece I have been missing. I’m excited to begin working that into my thinking and planning.

  2. CHSmile says:

    You are spot on about energy levels in relation to time management. I’m one of the oldest among the parents at school and one of the oldest in several circles where I put in my time. While it is frustrating, I’m sure, for some of those around me, I can’t keep up and continue stay healthy and happy the way I once did. I have to keep a bit of cushion in my day and assess as I go along if I should fill up that blank square or simply slow down for that time. Thanks, MMD!

  3. There’s a great book on managing your energy by Tony Schwartz called the Power of Full Engagement that makes the point we have FOUR types of energy: physical, emotional,mental, and spiritual. Think of them as a pyramid with physical at the bottom and spiritual at the top. Physical energy is the foundation and bedrock for the rest. It helps me figure out which energy needs renewing when I’m struggling to move forward.

  4. Victoria says:

    I’m going to comment as someone who has lived by these principles for years after learning the hard way that saying “Yes” to everything and everyone just DOES NOT WORK…Let me tell you, when I stepped back and took stock and made it a point to do this regularly, my life changed! Not only was I getting things done and feeling energized, I was doing them all WELL.

    These three rules are ones I live by and they’ve taught me that I’m completely replaceable. Knowing that gives me the freedom to say “No” when I need to with absolutely zero guilt.

  5. Kristen says:

    My whole entire life changed the day I learned how to say, “No, I am sorry, but I cannot do that.” No explanations, just no. Best time and energy management secret known to man (or woman).

  6. Abby says:

    The thing I most need to keep in mind is a variation on #1: I need to be more flexible about my plans because a lot depends on how my young kids (ages 1 & 3) are doing. There are days when doing X number of things is realistic, and days when the exact same plans aren’t realistic at all. Things change day to day with them, and if I have made plans it’s hard for me to drop them even if one of them is teething and needy, or if we all have colds, or it’s going to be nightmare to go to story time because we’re in the middle of a major defiant stage. Once I’ve written down my plans to reorganize the office, I tend to feel extra upset when I spend the day carrying a fussy baby on my hip instead….

    • Jenny says:

      Steven Covey talks about this. We all have times in our lives (mothers of young children or caring for elderly parents) where our roles aren’t balanced. For you at this stage being a Mom should be #1 of your Top 3 goals of the day.

      In a very small way I do this with my work. One of every 6 weeks I am the programmer on call and have to fix problems & answer questions. Instead of letting myself get stressed about not accomplishing something from my to do list, I have learned to put on call as #1 on my Top 3 of the day. Then I can respond free of my self-imposed guilt, knowing that when I am interrupted by the on call issue I’m doing my #1 goal of the day.

      I’m saying caring for fussy babies and teaching that defiance isn’t acceptable are way more important right now for you than an organized office. The first two can’t be scheduled but when you make them the priority for your time/energy suddenly the other tasks will assume there proper importance in the scheme of things.

      That’s why doing the work to figure out your roles as Steven Covey suggests and doing the same with values as suggested by Hyrum Smith are very necessary steps. Knowing your roles/values makes reducing the list of nearly infinite tasks we could spend time & energy on much simpler down to what is really doable possible. It frees your mind and emotions to concentrate your mind on the tasks you want to accomplish not the shoulds/coulds/ought-to-haves. Its something we should all every few years as roles/values/goals change over our lifetimes.

      2015 was a non-productive year because my life had a major role switch and I failed to process that into my life; instead I just have been waiting around for someone else to take care of everything and then tell me what I need to do next. It doesn’t matter how deep I bury my head in the sand, after a while I realize that to move forward I have to pull my head out, shake off the sand, and figure out where to go from here. No one else can ever do that for us no matter how hard we might wish they would.

      Reading this blog and reflecting on your comment and others has been a help for me. My #1 for today and until the process is complete is to shake off the sand, look around, and then get on with the rest of my life.

  7. Anna says:

    All of these are things I use. I tend to have lots of great plans and ideas floating around in my head. For examples, at holidays, my tendency is to want to fit EVERYTHING into our schedules. But I’ve realized that if we take things slowly, we will enjoy the things we are doing more than rushing through things while everyone is tired and overdone. I also used to fill almost every minute on my schedule. If I have the time, I should be doing something. But from an energy standpoint, that is not realistic. I can pull off occasional days like that, but not every day. If I feel like I need an hour by hour schedule, I know to plan in breaks for myself and time to spend with the kids. And thinking ahead is important in so many areas. If you are in a crisis, it’s not the time to make decisions. It’s better to have a general plan, and then just make decisions about the things the plan doesn’t cover or the things that change. And in other areas, a little planning ahead goes a long way, too. Planning homeschool times around a vacation is one example. 🙂

  8. Kim says:

    These are SO true! I like your book in the first pic. I need something simple for a to do list and I think that might be just basic enough to make it work. Keeps me from making a list a mile long. 🙂 And then feeling overwhelmed and never starting. Awesome post!

  9. Laura says:

    Love the suggestions here, I am going to try to work these into my daily routines, one at a time. I’ve already had my ‘Reality Check’, and it was a rough ride. What has helped me the most recently is figuring out how much time each task takes. How long do I really want to take/spend on myself to get ready for the day in the morning without looking like a hippie straight from the festival circuit? How long is it really going to take to make a lovely, fresh, local meal for my family? How long do I truly need to spend tending to our finances? I gave up on figuring out how long it will take to get the laundry done, somethings just never finish! lol I am always in a rush, always hurrying to the next task before the first task has finished. Then I have trouble remembering to even go back to the first task that I started…in the end, nothing gets done. It is an ugly cycle. These things seem like easy stuff to accomplish, but for me right now, it’s not. I am starting from the ground up, fresh from crisis. I’ve told my doctors for 20 years that I thought I still had ADHD, not one of them would listen, until recently. Knowing I was struggling, but not truly knowing what with has eaten up years of my life, has been very difficult, and even shameful to me. Getting my crap together finally is HARD! The biggest thing this article has helped me to see is that time management = energy management. What a huge light bulb that is to me, thank you so much for that! Thinking 3 Steps ahead is useful too, intimidating right now, but useful. It fits right in with figuring out how much time each task takes. I can flesh those out with your advice from there. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

  10. Rose says:

    The part about thinking 3 steps ahead made me cringe because it reminded me of someone I don’t particularly like as a person but admire their ethic. She once told me she plans weeks, months even a quarter ahead for things. I always shrugged it off like… that is too much pressure. But now I realize I have slowly been doing that. I have been trying to be more organized and part of what has worked for me is breaking big tasks into little, measurable ones. I have things on my todo list app scheduled out for a year in advance and it has really helped me with school projects and work projects as well. Great tips!!

  11. Oh my goodness I love this – It’s like you’re speaking right to me – so guilty of all of this. I have terrible time management due to optimism – I always think I can fit more in than I can but then I hate being late but almost always am! eeek! This really is fab and sound advice and I love how you have laid it out in 3 simple steps – I’m going to take heed going forward – THANK YOU 😀

  12. Stephanee Grace Chittum says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this! I know it’s an old post, but even now, it’s still helping people like me!! Those tips don’t come as common sense to me! So as simple as the concepts are, they are incredibly helpful nonetheless! And if it were truly “common knowledge”, I would have heard it by now! Thanks again! =)

  13. Tracy says:

    I would just like to say that I really liked your post and I love your blog page. The layout, the simplicity, I was compelled to read more posts just so that I could enjoy your blog more. Very elegant.

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