If you don’t manage your time, somebody else will.
That is one of the most important learnings in life, you and only you are responsible about allocating your time.
I believe that to effectively managing your time comes down to three simple principles.
1 - Avoid TODO lists, keep a calendar instead
I believe that TODO lists give a false sense of control and planning since you just have a lists of things that you eventually want to do but you haven’t decided yet when to do them. Often you will find yourself adding stuff somewhere in the list and forgetting it.
I believe instead that as soon as you know you want/have to do something you should allocate time on your calendar.
Allocating time makes the task more real since you are forced to think a suitable time in the future when you will be able to accomplish the task and in this imagination exercise you’ll actually figure yourself doing it (imagination is very powerful).
You are also forced to estimate how much time you’ll need: will you need 15 minutes? 1 hour? 4 hours? This constraint will have an effect on the decision about when to allocate the slot since you may not have a 4 hours slot for the next two weeks.
It’s a great exercise that forces you to prioritize the task and allocate time right away.
If possible keep personal and professional tasks in one single calendar, since you can’t do two things at the same time there’s not point of keeping multiple calendars.
A good tip is to use different colors for personal and professional tasks and also for different kind of tasks (things to do, meetings to attend), this gives you a better understanding of your time.
If you have to keep separate calendars (e.g. you have you personal gmail and company gmail calendars) you can use the google calendar import feature to import all your calendars into one.
2 - Reschedule
Life is full of unexpected events, so even if you allocated time on your calendar it may happen that you’ll miss a task or a meeting. Sometimes you may not even be in the mood for a task that you scheduled.
Whenever you miss an event, don’t let it slip away, just reschedule it right away as you would do with a lunch with an old friend. Perhaps you will have time later, tomorrow or next week?
I sometime reschedule a task many times (even 10+ times), by keeping miss it and moving it again and again in the future (procrastination anyone?), I build a kind of tension associated to the task, up to a certain point when I either find unbearable to reschedule it again or I finally decided that I really don’t want to do it and I just delete it from my calendar.
I find this process an incredible mind trick that let me associate frustration for not doing things that I don’t like but that I have to do anyway. It’s so liberating when I finally complete the task and I delete it from you calendar.
3 - Say no
Your time (and thus the space on your calendar) is limited. You’ve put so much energy in managing what goes in there and where. So it’s important to protect your time as much as possible from being hijacked by other people.
Most people are not able to properly manage their time so they find themselves with a lot of things to do and little time to do them. What they do is to ask other people for help or delegate things that they should have done because they value their time but they don’t value other people time.
Don’t be afraid to say no to those people, unless helping them is a choice coming from you. If they’re honest and respectful of your time, they will understand.