Sometimes, you have to be ruthless with your time and schedule in order to truly be able to manage it effectively.
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If you’ve created a time management plan and still failed to reach your goals, it’s likely because you’re too flexible and easy on yourself and others when it comes to the schedule. You only have 24 hours to work with, and giving up sleep is not a good way to make sure you can get things done.
Time management is difficult for many people, but it’s especially true if you struggle with executive functioning. People who have ADHD or depression or anxiety are often scattered in their attempts to get everything done that they need to do. Sometimes, that’s because they focus on the wrong things, or they try to get too much done in an effort to be more efficient. As I’ve said before, being effective is more important than being efficient. Once you are in the habit of being effective—reaching your goals—then you can focus on getting more efficient with how you do things.
When you’re just starting to implement a new schedule that will allow you to get your tasks done, you need to be a little ruthless with your time. Follow these tips to make time management easier.
Just Say No
The biggest factor in being ruthless with your time is learning to say no. Hear that, people pleasers? If you really do not want to do something, you must say no. There is no sin in saying no. It’s hard, and sometimes people might get mad at you, especially if they’re used to you always agreeing. You shouldn’t feel bad. You have to protect your time and your goals. If you always say yes to others, when are you going to accomplish your tasks? It’s not healthy to give up what you need or want to do for others. I’m not saying you should never adjust your schedule to help someone; just don’t feel like you have to.
Rise and Shine
This is a hard one for many but it doesn’t have to be hard as you think. This is a huge part of building a routine. Even on the weekends, when it’s tempting to sleep extra late, you should still try to keep to the same schedule. You’re training your body. If you get used to waking at 7 am every morning and then sleep until 11 on Saturday, it will throw your body off and you will have to retrain it. Sleeping in a little might be okay once your habit is established, but don’t mess with it too much early on.
If you have a hard time getting up, make sure you’re getting enough sleep. That means going to bed early enough to get the hours you need. If you still struggle, try setting an alarm and putting it out of your reach. An alarm that has worked really well for many of my clients is Alarmy. If Alarmy isn't for you, here's an article that reviews many different alarm apps.
Convince Yourself that Early is on Time
For many people, this goes against their nature. And it’s not like they enjoy being late; they just often are. Mostly, it’s because they don’t have a good handle on how long things take.
My husband is a perfect example of this. He’ll be talking on the phone, and I’ll remind him he has an appointment in 30 minutes. In his mind, he has plenty of time, but he’s not thinking about getting his stuff together, walking to the car, and driving to the location. Even if it’s only a 5-minute drive, it’s not 5 minutes from now. He forgets about all of those negligible amounts of time—the few minutes to put on shoes, another few to find his car keys, don’t forget about the few to wrap up the phone call. All of those few minutes add up to being late.
If you need to drive places or you have deadlines for work, schedule your time so that you are going to be early. This is one of the ways to eliminate urgency from your life. You know that constant dread of being overwhelmed and running late, which causes stress. In addition, if you automatically plan to be early, if something does happen out of the ordinary, you will still be able to meet a deadline and get to the location on time.
I’m not saying you should abandon technology. For many people, tech is the way they can manage their time. The important thing here is that you are using technology; it’s not taking over your life.
While technology can make our time more productive, it can have the opposite effect. The constant stream of notifications for emails and social media can get out of hand. Turn it off. You’ll gain so much more time. Schedule time to check the things that are important to you, and only go there during those times.
Know Your Peak Productivity Time
Everyone has an internal time clock. It’s important not to fight against that and be aware of what it is. Some people are early risers and some people are night owls and others are in between. It’s important for you to determine for yourself what your own internal clock is and then work with it.
What does that mean? Figure out when you are most productive and can have the most focus and plan your most difficult tasks for that time. I am not a morning person. While I am able to wake up early (kids have that effect on you), I don’t do my best work early. I know late morning and evening are my best times to focus. Obviously, you can’t control other things, like your job, but do what you can to help your productivity.
You need to determine what kind of list(s) work best for you. For people who have a hard time turning off their brains to sleep or be able to focus on the task at hand, a brain dump might be the way to go. For others, it’s a massive To-Do list that has everything—and I mean EVERYTHING—on it. They like the feeling of accomplishment for scratching things off, even if it’s as simple as “Take a shower.” For people who have a hard time with task initiation, their list might be all the little steps needed to complete a larger task.
The most important thing to know is that you need to write it down.
Make Your Planner Your Best Friend
Put everything in your calendar including everyday tasks, small steps for a project due in the future, and time with family, friends, and yourself. If you don’t have everything written in your planner, you will forget it or double-book yourself. But, as I’ve said before, you need to find a planner that you actually like so that you use it. If you track everything in your planner, it makes being ruthless with your time easier because you can tell people no.
Just Do It
Another way to be ruthless with your time is to not allow yourself to wait to do things later. Once-and-done is the way to look at tasks. If you get an email that requires a response, do it now. When you open your snail mail and a bill needs to be paid, schedule it now. If you get junk mail, delete it now.
This works when you have everything scheduled and planned. You don’t need to check your email twelve times (or more) a day. Set specific times to do so, and when it’s email time, handle it. Don’t leave it for later.
The once and done process works for most things, as long as you have a plan. When unexpected things pop up, you might need to evaluate and reassess. In doing so, you might decide the task will take more time than you have available. So then you plan and schedule it, so when you come back to it, it’s once and done.
Finally, part of being ruthless with your time and schedule is so that you don’t forget to take care of yourself. Plan self-care time. You need to relax and unwind so that you can continue to be productive with the rest of your time. When you struggle with executive functioning, self-care is often the last thing to make the list. If you always feel rushed and overwhelmed because you don’t know how to get everything done, you don't worry about self-care.
The point of having a schedule is to reduce the stress in your life and give you more freedom to enjoy the things that are important to you without giving up productivity and success.
What can you do today to start taking control of your time?