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12 Hours to Better Time Management

12 Hours to Better Time Management
12 Hours to Better Time Management

Work. Kids. School. Sports. Second job. Partner’s job. The next great American novel. Your knitting circle. Remodeling the guest bathroom. Taking your car in for its 30,000 mile tune-up. An on and on and on — it seems like we have things to do in abundance. What we don’t ever seem to have enough of is time.

I think we all know what we should do, but the prospect of sitting down and getting everything together, taking the time to set up a system that we trust to work for us (and that we trust ourselves to make work) is daunting. And, what’s more, it’s time consuming — and time’s exactly what we don’t have.

We’re too busy to manage our time!

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But, what if you could do it in 12 hours? Maybe not even all at once — a couple hours a day over the course of a week, maybe, or even a half-hour a day over course of a few weeks? That seems a lot more doable, doesn’t it? Like something you might be able to get yourself to do?

Here, then, is the backbone of a good system you can implement in 12 hours (or less). Give yourself a week or three to get it up and running, and see if the time you invest in it now isn’t returned to you several times over down the line.

1. Set up your calendars (4-6 hours)

Use an online calendar like Google Calendar or 30 Boxes to set reminders for every conceivable event in your life, particularly recurring events like bill payment dates, your kids’ soccer games, and your shopping trips. I recommend a calendar rather than a reminder service like Sandy because you are going to want to look at your upcoming events once in a while, and a calendar is a format we’re all familiar with.

I recommend you put these into a calendar other than your main calendar. If you like the idea of looking at everything in, say, Outlook, most of the online calendars offer a iCal feed that you can subscribe to in Outlook. Call it “Reminders” and open it as a second calendar. If you put the al into your main calendar, you may find that it becomes too cluttered to be of any use — especially in the month view where most calendars only show the first few items per day.

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Put all of these events into your calendar:

  • Gas bill due date
  • Electric bill due date
  • Mortgage/rent due date
  • Phone bill due dates (landline and mobile)
  • Cable/satellite bill due date
  • Insurance premium due dates
  • Backup computer (daily, weekly, or monthly, depending on your usage and level of paranoia — automate this if you can)
  • Trash pickup (set reminder for the night before)
  • One day every three months for oil changes
  • One day every year for auto tune-ups
  • One day every three years for major auto tune-ups
  • One day every 6 months for dentist appointments
  • One day every year for doctor, eye doctor
  • Any other recurring medical appointments
  • One day very month for prescription refilling (two reminders — one to call in refill, one to pick up)
  • Netflix/Tivo/XM/other service billing dates
  • Write grocery list (one day before your regular shopping day)
  • The day the exterminator comes
  • The time and day of any TV show you watch regularly
  • The last day of January (to check for tax paperwork)
  • One or more days at the beginning of the year to do your taxes and.or contact your tax preparer
  • April 15 (or whatever day taxes are due in your country)
  • Start and end of the school year, start and end of school vacations
  • Birthdays, Anniversaries, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, other important holidays (set two reminders — one on the day itself to remind you to call or take some other action and one two weeks earlier to buy a gift, if needed, or plan a party)
  • Monthly, quarterly, and annual home maintenance (see checklists below)
  • Any other date which requires a concrete action at specific times every week, month, or year

Also add these dates, without reminders:

  • The end date for all of the above billing cycles
  • The pay dates for any automatic payments (and it’s a good idea, while you’re at it, to set up automatic payments for as many bills as you can)
  • Direct deposit dates
  • Automatic bank transfer dates
  • Stock dividend payment/reinvestment dates
  • Any other date it’s important for you to know about but which does not require any immediate action on your part

In your main calendar, the one you use for keeping track of your schedule day to day, schedule blocks of time for the following:

  • Grocery shopping (weekly)
  • Laundry (weekly)
  • Family meals
  • Bill paying (bi-monthly — the first and third weekend of the month might be good. List in the note section all of the bills that come due in the half month after each bill-paying day)
  • Any weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly meeting
  • Kids’ sports events (e.g. weekly football games every Saturday from September 15 through December 15)
  • Other kids’ activities (art classes, piano lessons, every 3rd weekend at grandparents’, etc.)
  • Weekend chores/cleaning
  • Commute time
  • Gym sessions
  • Golf/bicycling/other sports
  • Weekly review (schedule 2 hours whenever you’re least likely to be interrupted) — make sure you use your weekly review to add any new reminders you might need!
  • Writing time (if you want to write an hour a day, schedule an hour a day — don’t assume you’ll just “find” a spare hour each day.)
  • Other hobbies (same as with writing)
  • Any classes you’re taking
  • Goofing off time (I schedule at least an hour a day for whatever strikes my fancy)
  • Any other regular blocks of time you know you need to be at a specific place or doing a specific thing. The only exception is your regular 9-to-5 job, if you have one — schedule the activities you’ll do at your job, not the job itself.

You’ll have to use your own judgment about which of these scheduled events needs reminders and which don’t. I don’t set reminders for commuting time, for example, since it’s enough for me to be able to look at my calendar and see that those times are blocked off. On the other hand, I have reminders 15 minutes before all the classes I teach, so I know when I need to start heading to my classrooms when I’m on campus.

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2. Set up password system (2-3 hours)

Use a program like KeePass, or a password protected spreadsheet, or whatever system you feel most comfortable with, but use one — if you have a lot of passwords and no system, you’ll waste a lot of time either trying every possible password you can remember or searching frantically though your emails, files, or scraps of paper on your desk for wherever you recorded your password. In one or two sessions, record every login and password you have. Make sure you get information for all of these:

  • Bank accounts (including debit card PIN)
  • Credit cards
  • Stock accounts
  • Email
  • Internet service
  • Online payment services
  • Phone service
  • Utilities
  • Website memberships (Yahoo, Google, YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace, flickr, WordPress.com, Digg, Reddit, Blogger, OpenID, etc.)
  • Your site’s login, FTP, and admin panel info
  • Any MySQL or other databases your site uses
  • Work accounts
  • Parking permit services
  • DMV online/other government services
  • Web applications
  • Software registration keys (not technically passwords, but many password managers include sections for registration keys — useful if [when] you need to reinstall Windows)
  • Any other account you have a password to

3. Create checklists (2-3 hours)

Make a new folder on your computer called “AAAAA Checklists” (or “@Checklists” for you David Allen fans), so it sorts to the top of your Documents folder.  Create a set of checklists for recurring tasks and save them to at folder, so you can easily print them off whenever you need one. Some checklists to think about creating include:

  • Grocery list (with everything you commonly buy and space for additions; my list is organized by aisle in the store we shop at, so I can move quickly from back to front with minimal interruptions)
  • Monthly home maintenance (e.g. change air filters, test smoke detectors, etc.)
  • Quarterly of semi-annual home maintenance (e.g. clean gutters, replace smoke detector batteries, check fire extinguishers, etc.)
  • Winter/Summer car preparation (e.g. check coolant, flush radiator, add chains/snow tires, etc.)
  • Trip/vacation packing
  • Christmas decorating

4. Keep up to date with a weekly review

You scheduled a weekly review in part 1 — make sure you keep that appointment. During your weekly review, take 10 minutes to set up reminders for any recurring events you might have missed in your initial setup, as well as any new commitments you’ve taken on. Check your schedule and make sure that you’ve left adequate time for any new tasks that you need to take care of in the coming week If necessary, move some of those blocks of scheduled time around. Check, too, what’s coming up that you’ll need to add to your schedule — for example, if your child’s birthday is coming up, you’ll need to schedule a block of time to pick up a gift, and another block of time to plan a party, etc.

Better, not perfect

There’s plenty of room for improvement, of course. This is meant as a backbone to a system; you will find that other ways to make yourself more efficient occur to you. Password management, for example, is just one kind of reference system that will save you time on a pretty regular basis — you will probably think of others that fit your own particular situation. In my home, keeping the mail sorted and in some semblance of order is a big task, so I set up a mail management center, with trays for my partner’s and my personal mail, a tray for bills, and a tray for coupons and flyers (it took about 30 minutes, in case you want to add that to your 12-hour commitment). You might not have a problem with mail, but you might need to work on keeping track of magazines.

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Having a solid structure in place will help you wrangle with the other, smaller “time sinks” in your life. Once you start looking at your time in a “big picture” view, you’ll start seeing everything that falls outside of your existing system in a new way, and solutions will suggest themselves. Instead of fretting about it, just schedule an hour or two to take care of it — for bigger projects break it into three or four 2-hour sections.

Once you’ve started getting a grip on your schedule, you’ll find that not only are you more on top of your schedule (instead of it being on top of you!) but your mind will be more at ease. Instead of worrying about what’s coming up, or even what you should be doing right now, you’ll just check your schedule and know. The energy you used to use for worrying and occasionally freaking out, you can put to better use pursuing your dreams.

What about you? What 1-2 hour activities do you recommend to help get a grip on time?

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Last Updated on January 13, 2020

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

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

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.

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Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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