Do you struggle with time management?
If you often find yourself scrambling to get out the door in the morning, arriving late for almost everything, missing meals, forgetting important dates; you most likely are bad at time management.
Being bad at managing our time can not only hurt our productivity, but also our relationships and quality of life— it can even lead to us disappointing the people we care about most.
I don’t often miss my bus, but when I do it puts a damper on my day because the next one won’t come for 30 minutes, making me late.
What if this happened every day?
I would be miserable. I would dread catching the bus every day because I would always miss it. Rather than missing my bus, I just give myself way more time to catch it.
I don’t have a special routine. I don’t have to wake up at 5am (you can’t get me out of bed until at least 8am, if you’re lucky).
So what’s my secret?
My day planner… That’s it!
Even though it’s one of the first things (and arguably the only things) we learn in elementary school, time management escapes us.
If you remember your school timetable—or maybe you still have one in the form of a calendar planner—it was or is the thing that rules your life. It tells you where to be and what you’re doing at every hour of the (school/work) day.
As adults of a planning-mindset, we usually adopt a day-planner to manage our lives.
But did you know you’re probably using it wrong?
What your daily planner IS NOT FOR:
- To do lists of what to do each day—this isn’t useful because it doesn’t tell you WHEN and HOW LONG you’re doing those things on your list.
- Items without dedicated time intervals. If you don’t know how long something will take, set an amount of time (i.e. 2 hours) to work on it—try setting a timer and don’t break your concentration until it goes off.
- Items that are not actionable: they have to be broken down into smaller tasks in order to be completed.
These things are what make us realize at the end of the day that we only got through half of what we planned to accomplish; we always plan too much in one day when we fall into these ‘productivity traps’.
‘Productivity traps’ are what make us feel busy all day, but leave us disappointed by what we finished (or didn’t) that day.
Things like chasing ‘vanity metrics’, we’re pouring our energy into things that don’t reward us the most when we don’t plan our days.
So what’s the big secret that’s transformed how I think about my time and productivity?
Two words my friend: time-blocking. Or is that two words? Whatever.
Learning about time-blocking is what started to totally change how I work. I never feel like I’m wasting my time.
It’s given me the freedom as a freelancer to be more present; I don’t feel like I have to be glued to my phone because I know when I need to be… I scheduled it.
So how can you get better at time management right now?
If you haven’t already, you should really read my Part 1 of this post before going any further! If you haven’t done any time-tracking, time-blocking will be a failure.
Because you need to know what you do with your time first.
So go read that post right now if you need to learn what time-tracking is along with my tips and favourite apps to get started!
Now I’ve been raving for a while, but what’s the big deal?
You might be thinking “I’m self-employed and don’t need a schedule”, but that would be a huge mistake!
Our minds tend to segment things — to break them off into smaller chunks, so they’re easier for our brains to digest. This can naturally make it difficult to accurately track your time.
We sit down and draw for an hour, but it feels like it’s been minutes. Or, you’ll be at work for an hour and feel like you’ve been there all day.
Our animal brains have no real concept of time.
That’s why I find time-blocking so important.
Time-blocking is the act of delegating set amounts of time for the tasks you need to complete, but in as much detail and specific as possible.
Whether, it’s my work life or the activities I do in my free time, I like to keep track of the time I’m doing anything because it forces me to be present.
Applying time-blocking to my entire life — rather than just my work life — is what really kicked my productivity into gear this year. Extending this philosophy past the common conception of a ‘work day’, I found is where I starting seeing the most returns.
I force myself to take a moment to asses (or reassess) what I’m doing, how long I’ve been doing it, and if it’s a thing I should be doing.
Spending 3 hours drafting a comic is great, but three hours of ‘drafting a comic’ with nothing to show but a queue of watched Youtube videos is not.
Tracking your time alongside time-blocking will force to be in the present moment and will hold you accountable for how you use your time.
See how it all comes together?
I know this sounds totally neurotic and overkill, but I wouldn’t talk about it so much if it didn’t totally change my workflow.
Tracking all of my time has shown me a lot about how I work. It’s shown me:
- What hours are my most productive
- How long the regular tasks I do take
- How much time I’m making for family and friends
- What foods I like to eat and when
I’ve even figured out the best times of day to work on different projects.
I wouldn’t talk about it this much if it were no big deal.
I really want you try this too!
So, I’m going to break down how I effectively use my day planner so you can get better at time-management and get more time out of your day with time-blocking!
First off, I use colours to segment my day into the blocks I want. This is what my planner looks like before I even write in it:
I’ve been doing this for a while, so I know when I’m most productive and when I need to take breaks. I use the different colours to show that here!
Having these blocks determined already really helps later in the week when I’m trying to remember when is the best times to pencil in clients, collaborate with others, and carve out time for intense ‘deep-work’ sessions.
When you time-block your entire day, make it look like a school time table, with clear hour blocks of time to write in. The acceptation here is it begins when you wake up, and stops when you go to sleep. This can even be done on plain notebook paper.
Things to include when doing this (including how long it takes to do it):
- Wake up, get clean and dressed
- Make and eat Breakfast
- Buying Groceries on your way home
- Walking the dog after dinner
- Binging YouTube tutorials, all of it
Everything you do doesn’t need to be productive, it shouldn’t be; it should just be what you want to accomplish.
Whether you want to bake yourself cake and eat the whole thing, or go to the movies with an old friend — your time should be spent on things you’ve set out to do and not letting yourself go idle, losing hours to Netflix.
This is about what my day planner looks like after filling it out:
I give myself extra cushions of time to be sure I’m not late for things while still having time for regular tasks. When I have extra time I usually have a book on hand or an article I wanted to read online.
I leave some of my regular tasks out because I have notification reminders for them on my phone, or they’re already a part of my natural routine; things like watering my plants, doing dishes while I start dinner, and other household chores that take less than 30 minutes.
I suggest only planning 2-3 days in advance in this sort of detail, unless you have a regular job where you work a set amount of hours at the same time every day.
Now that I’m better at journalling and planning my days, I find myself planning in detail 4-5 days in advance. Any more than that is overwhelming for me — my queue can’t get too long or I get very stressed out.
I’m sure you can relate to that feeling of overwhelm, having so many things to do you can’t remember them all. That’s why writing it out is great.
I do a brain dump at the end of every week of things I didn’t get done and things I need to finish the next week. I also think about new tasks I want to accomplish for the next week.
I do this by referencing actionable items in my ‘brain dump’, allowing me to let go of my mental to-do list.
This allows me to concentrate on the task at hand, because I intentionally planned time to do it. Whether that’s enjoying playing video games or writing for my blog until my iPad dies, I no longer feel any guilt or weight on my shoulders because I know I’m doing what I set out to.
Planning my days this way has totally changed how I work and how I accomplish more of the things I want to do, faster.
I’m hoping this in-depth walk-through of my day planner has convinced you the impact of time-blocking to improve your productivity and quality of work, and life.
If you found this article helpful I would love to hear what you have to say in the comments! This is a much longer piece than I usually write and I would love to know what you think, or what you would like to see more of in the future.
Until next time,
Joey Dean is an illustrator and artist lifestyle blogger. Since starting his online art-based business in 2016, Joey has been writing educational articles to help other artists learn essential solo-preneur skills like time management and productivity and is best known for his ability to translate left-brained concepts for right-brained people. Share his passion for art business and creative lifestyle on his blog, The Artist Journal, and catch him at @_joeywrites on Twitter.