Time is a finite resource. We all have 24 hours in a day. No more, no less. It’s what we do with that time that matters. Fortunately, good time management isn’t an innate talent you’re born with; it’s a skill that can be developed. If you look at the most successful people in the world, you’ll see individuals who have figured out how to maximize their time each day. That’s good news! Why? Because time levels the playing field. Believe it or not, you have the same number of available hours each day as Oprah Winfrey, Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, and Beyoncé. If you want to improve your life (and potentially improve your finances too, since good time management often leads to better money management), all you have to do is find a system that works for you.
1. Know your starting point.
We spend most of our days rushing around, juggling family, work, friends, and all the responsibilities that come with being an adult. But just because we’re busy doesn’t mean we’re productive. You’d be surprised how much time gets wasted. Take the time to do a personal time audit. For a few days, track how you spend each hour. Recording your activity — or lack thereof — can help you pinpoint unproductive time and identify changes that will provide the most benefit.
2. Establish daily routines.
When you think about it, most days are essentially the same. You wake up at the same time, go to the same job, follow the same schedule, and on and on it goes. Why not plan ahead and automate as much of your daily life as possible? Lay out the next day’s outfit the night before. Pack your lunch the night before. Develop a regular morning routine. Check and respond to email at set times each day. When you do essential tasks the same way each day, your brain identifies the pattern and locks it in. This leads to greater efficiency, which leads to improved time management.
3. Prioritize tasks.
It’s easy to get distracted with menial tasks, especially when you have an incredibly important objective to accomplish. Responding to every email that comes in. Texting friends to make plans for later. Making to-do lists that start with “Make a to-do list.” When it comes to procrastination, most of us are experts. Rather than letting your big projects loom over you as you occupy yourself with busywork, try tackling the most important things first in your day. Not only will you miss fewer deadlines, you’ll gain momentum that will help you get smaller tasks completed with ease.
4. Focus at work.
In the world of workplace productivity, multitasking is generally viewed as a valuable skill. But in his book, Deep Work, Georgetown professor Cal Newport makes the case that multitasking may not be the best use of your time. By focusing your attention on one task at a time instead of juggling multiple things at once, you may find that you can turn out higher quality work in less time. (It’s worth noting that it takes time to develop this kind of focus. Don’t be discouraged if it feels awkward at first. Trust the process.)
5. Multitask at home.
Just because multitasking isn’t ideal for professional pursuits doesn’t mean there’s not a time and place to do more than one thing at a time. When you’re working around the house, it can be the perfect time to get creative and double up on your to-do list. Clean the sink while washing your hands. Fold laundry while catching up on your favorite shows. Return phone calls or emails while waiting in the car line. When you start thinking about all the potential task pairings, you’ll be surprised how much time you can save.
6. Give yourself a cushion.
Nothing wastes time like plans gone awry. If your daily calendar is booked down to the minute, your entire day can be ruined by a meeting that runs long or a cup of coffee that spills just before you walk out the door. When you’re setting up your schedule, try to build in breaks and allow “life” to happen. Little inconveniences will still be frustrating, but they won’t threaten to derail all of your plans for the day — which, in turn, means you’ll be able to be more relaxed and efficient.
7. Just say no.
If you’re a people pleaser, just the thought of saying no is probably enough to make you uneasy. But no matter how much you want to help everyone that asks, your time is still limited. When you overextend yourself, it’s only a matter of time before you feel overwhelmed and anxious, which makes you less effective at whatever you’re trying to do. Simple tasks take longer than planned, challenging projects go unfinished, and you wind up wasting time just thinking about all you have to do. Learn to prioritize your time and set boundaries. And if somebody asks you to do something that doesn’t fit your schedule, give yourself permission to politely — but firmly — say no.
8. Turn off the electronics.
Screen-time limits aren’t just for kids. If you’ve ever started watching one episode of a show and wound up binging an entire season, you know how easy it is to lose track of time when you’re in front of the TV, tablet, or smartphone. We’re not suggesting you never kick back with a little mindless entertainment — your brain needs that break from time to time. But setting limits ahead of time is a great way to unwind without wasting more time than expected. Do you have a hard time not clicking “watch next episode”? You can always set time limits on your device or by using a home network control device.
9. Get enough sleep.
Want to get more done during the day? Go to bed! Even though you’re not actively checking things off your task list, proper rest is not wasted time. Quality sleep allows you to be more effective and focused, which, in turn, reduces mistakes and lost productivity. The trick to getting a solid night’s sleep is finding out how much you need. Sleep requirements are different for everyone. The one thing sleep experts agree on is the need to establish a sleep routine. Try to go to bed at the same time every night and wake up at the same time every morning. Once you find your ideal sleep schedule, stick with it. When you wake feeling rested, you’ll find that it’s easier to focus throughout the day.
10. Set a timer.
Ever said or thought, “I’ll get to it when I get to it”? This easy-going, laid-back approach can cost you a lot of time — at home and in the office. If you want to get more accomplished in less time (a key to optimal time saving), give yourself a sense of urgency. Folding laundry? Set a timer for 15 minutes. Responding to email? Allow yourself 20 minutes. And if you constantly find yourself buried under an avalanche of pesky tasks at the end of the day, try following the Two-minute Rule: If something can be done in less than two minutes, do it immediately. By giving yourself time limits for everyday responsibilities, you can increase your focus, decrease potential distractions, and save time in the process.
As the old saying goes, “Time is money.” When you become a better time manager, you free yourself to be more productive in other areas of your life as well — financial management included. Our hope is that by offering these creative time-saving ideas, our Spero team is doing our part to make your life easier and your finances stronger.