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When Does Time Management Matter Most?

When Does Time Management Matter Most?
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In every part of life, time management is a valuable skill, but it’s far more important in some situations than others.

Even when you’re kicking back with a book, you can’t forget about the clock entirely. At some point that afternoon, you’ll need to start on dinner. If you want to make it through a certain number of chapters before then, you have to think through the amount of time you can afford to spend on each.

It’s not the end of the world if you struggle with time management while reading. However, once you understand why time management matters, you’ll start to spot situations where it’s critical to get it right.

Why Is Time Management Important?

Time management isn’t a hard concept

, but it is hard to practice well. Psychologists define it[1] as “the ability to plan and control how [one] spends the hours in a day to effectively accomplish their goals.”

People who manage their time well are planners. They look at their goals, and they decide how much time to devote to each in a given hour, day, week, or month.

That might sound easy, but all too often, life gets in the way. A client calls while you’re in the middle of deep work. In the middle of your reading hour, your son or daughter spills food all over the floor. Despite having set aside the time for something else, you get up and deal with the distraction.

In most contexts, it won’t do much harm to take a detour from the task at hand. However, if you do it in the wrong circumstances, you might come to regret it.

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What Are the Consequences of Poor Time Management?

Poor time management can come back to bite you. If you can’t seem to get a grip on how you spend your time, you may struggle with:

Tardiness

One sign that you aren’t good at time management is that you’re always late to your appointments. If you’re late to one appointment, chances are good that you’ll have to push later ones back by a few minutes as well.

Consistently being late has all sorts of side effects. It can hamper your ability to work on a team, cause you to rush through your own work, and upset others who rely on you.

Poor Performance at Work or School

When you do not budget your time well, your time management issues may show up as poor performance at work or school.

If you spend too much time writing the perfect email, you may not have time to tackle that budget analysis your boss asked you to do. If you can’t tear yourself away from the television to study for a test, you probably won’t do very well on the exam itself.

Procrastination

Procrastinators — such as the student who can’t bring herself to study — know where they should be spending their time. The root of their time management issues is simply that they don’t follow through on their plans.

In some ways, procrastination is worse than not budgeting your time at all. Procrastinators make commitments they struggle to honor. When that happens repeatedly, the procrastinator’s relationships tend to suffer.

If you want to learn about the types of procrastination and how to fix them, this article may help: Types of Procrastination (And How To Fix Procrastination And Start Doing)

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Damaged Relationships

Your boss might get upset if you struggle to turn projects in on time, but the effects of poor time management on your relationships go deeper than that.

People want to know that they can count on you to do what you say you’re going to do, when you say you’re going to do it. If that is not the case, family members may hesitate to ask you for help, and friends might think twice before inviting you out.

When Time Management Matters Most

You might not face those consequences if you manage your reading time poorly, but you will if you let bad time management bleed into other areas of your life. At home and at work, there are a few situations when time management is critical:

When Others Are Counting on You 

Time management is something you should want for yourself. Managing your time well can make you more productive and keep your stress levels low. With that said, it’s particularly important when you’re on a team.

Say you’re a sales development representative. Your job is to nurture sales through the sales pipeline, allowing the senior salespeople on your team to focus on closing deals.

If you spend too much time on certain leads, you may have a high close rate but a low volume. If you give lots of leads little attention, your volume might grow — but the leads you pass on probably won’t close. Good time management means giving just the right amount of time to each lead on your list.

Even when you aren’t at work, you still have to work on teams. If you’re making a meal with your family, you could throw the whole timetable off if the veggies you agreed to chop aren’t ready to cook alongside the roast.

In the end, coming through for others builds personal connections.

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When Your Schedule Is Full

The reason time management matters during crunches is obvious: When you’re busy, you’ll struggle to get it all done if you don’t manage your time effectively.

People who manage their time well know exactly how much they can get done in a given timeframe. They use both structure and technique to accomplish as much as possible.

Structurally speaking, they do things like book appointments back to back. They carve out time on their calendar for deep work. If an interruption happens, they either ignore it or gently explain when they’ll be able to address it.

What time management techniques can you use to make more of your time? We recommend the Pomodoro Technique. Named after the timer used by the system’s inventor, pomodoros are cycles of rest and work. A pomodoro might consist of a 30-minute sprint followed by a 10-minute rest, repeated until the person is ready for a longer rest.

Other techniques, such as time blocking [2], are also effective. Time blocking involves segmenting one’s schedule into 15-minute chunks and assigning something specific to each of them. Every minute of the day is accounted for, so there’s no question of what task the time-blocker should be working on.

When You’re Learning Something New

Learning new things takes time, so it requires time management. If you want to master a foreign language, for example, you’ll need a long-term plan. Language learning experts suggest it takes up to 44 weeks [3] of practice just to reach intermediate proficiency.

Few, if any, valuable skills can be learned in a day. Developing them means setting aside a small amount of time each day to practice, realizing that the fruit of your labor will not be ripe for months into the future.

The solution is to set milestones. You might plan, for example, to know how to conjugate present-tense verbs after your first week. But it might not be until the fourth week when you learn past-perfect conjugations.

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To stay on track, give yourself small rewards. If you’re learning Spanish, you might go out to a Mexican restaurant once you’ve learned common words associated with cooking and eating. Once you’ve mastered the past, present, and future tenses, you could reward yourself with a trip to Spain.

When You’re Stressed

Stress has a way of making problems seem bigger than they truly are. If you’re stressed out about a task, get serious about time management. The best way to calm yourself is to put together a plan.

Say you’re worried about whether the first conversation with a new client will go well. You know that preparation is essential to a positive client experience.

What does that mean in terms of time management? Go ahead and block off time to research the account. Schedule a meeting to talk to the account’s salesperson. Give yourself a half-hour or more to sketch out a strategy.

Occupational psychologist Cary Cooper suggests[4] stress often stems from situations you can’t control. Before you get to that point, be proactive. Think about how time management can help you avoid a bad outcome, and adjust your schedule to help you get there.

When the Chances of Failure are High

If you’ve ever found yourself in a situation where you’re likely to fail, you might have heard the maxim, “Do your best, and forget the rest.”

Doing your best is really a euphemism for effective time management. If you craft a plan of action and stick tightly to it, you can forget the rest. Failure happens, and some things are simply out of your control.

With that said, it’s also important to manage time well in the face of failure. Set aside time to do a post-mortem: What did you do well? Where did you let time get away from you? If you find yourself in a similar situation again, what would you do differently?

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Time management is like water conservation: Water may seem plentiful, but you know better than to waste it. Practice being a good steward of your time. When crunch time comes, you’ll be glad you did.

More Tips on Handling Time

Featured photo credit: Andrea Natali via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

John Hall

John Hall is the co-founder and president of Calendar, a leading scheduling and productivity app that will change how we manage and invest our time.

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Last Updated on July 21, 2021

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)
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No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to Make a Reminder Works for You

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

More on Building Habits

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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