5 Practical Time Management Tips for the Chronically Time-Poor
In 2009, I chucked my marketing job to become a freelance copywriter.
I worked from home each day. I had a waitlist of clients and my business grew. Life was good.
With a consistent stream of projects to complete, I thought I was under pressure, but looking back, I knew nothing.
Ten years and two kids later, I know what it means to have constraints on my time.
These days, I still write copy for clients. I also open my copywriting course twice a year.
I have a private coaching membership program and regular one-on-one sessions. I publish a daily email about copywriting and co-host a copywriting podcast.
Sounds like a lot, right? And I do it all with less than 12 hours of child-free time a week.
Whether you’re running a business around family commitments or you want to do more in less time, so maybe (gasp) you don’t have to work as many hours, this process will help you make the most of the time you have available.
Ugh. Another post about time management?
Yes, but hear me out.
What if I told you that time management is actually the secret to happiness?
It’s true. Or at least, poor time management is a shortcut to hell.
When we’re the boss of how we spend our time and we fight busyness for the sake of it, we achieve our goals without burnout.
We finish each day with a sense of fulfillment and a clear vision of tomorrow.
When I don’t manage my time well, I don’t make progress. And I can’t afford not to make progress. How about you?
It all starts with some analysis.
#1: Know your work zones
Your work zones are the times of the day you can be productive.
I’m not talking about when you’re most creative, although that’s good to know too. I mean the times you can sit down and punch out some work.
For you, that might be 9–5 p.m. every weekday. For others, like me, it will be a little less regular.
One of the reasons I became a freelance copywriter was to have a more family-friendly career. I love it, but it’s an ongoing challenge to manage my workload — a challenge that led me to develop this time management system.
For each day of the week, I know whether I have five hours of quiet time thanks to childcare, two hours in a noisy play center, or one hour spread out in 10-minute intervals.
On the days I have childcare, I can record videos, plan campaigns, write launch email sequences, and chat with clients.
On the other days, I have short bursts of time to engage with my communities and manage my inbox.
When you know your work zones, you can schedule the tasks best suited to each zone.
#2: Be clear about your priorities
I find it easy to be busy. I can go to my inbox at any moment and lose a few hours.
And don’t get me started on social media. I’m marketing my business, so it’s okay. Right?
The harsh truth is that many of the tasks we spend time on don’t make us any money or get us closer to our goals.
To make sure I can accomplish some productive work on my big child-free Monday, I prioritize my weekly workload on Sunday.
I consider my weekly and daily goals, and create a plan that sets me up to achieve them.
I don’t need to do all the things. I only need to do the important things.
What will further my goals?
What absolutely must get done?
What can wait?
I create my daily lists before I check my inbox.
Because email is like a grenade to your well-thought-out list.
It’s easy to go from a sense of calm and focus to a list that requires three of you and 37 hours in the day.
That kind of to-do list will leave you feeling like a failure, even if you don’t stop working for lunch.
For each day, I aim to have one task that furthers my big goals, such as working on the product I want to launch later this year.
Then, I have one task that needs to be completed quite soon. It could be some client copy or an online event I’m running.
Then, I have tasks that need a response, like messages from clients or notifications from social media. These usually spring from my inbox.
I aim to have no more than five things on my to-do list for the day.
What about all of the other, less important things?
I put them on an Other Things list.
More often than not, I forget about them … And nothing happens. Literally. The world keeps turning. Clients keep coming. Life goes on.
That’s a clue that they weren’t worth an entry on my list in the first place.
#3: Create a time map
Now that you have a clear understanding of your priorities (and what can wait), the next step is to map out your tasks with the amount of time you want to spend on each.
I use the Pomodoro Technique to create my time map.
The Pomodoro Technique was developed by Francesco Cirillo.
You choose a task you want to get done and set a timer for 25 minutes. You work without distractions until the timer goes off, and then you take a five-minute break.
Each day has a list of tasks and an estimated time map that adds up to the work zone for that day, minus drift (I’ll get to that).
This process keeps me from planning more work than I have time for.
It’s deceptively straightforward, but this is the heart of more intentional time management and the key to feeling like the boss of your work at the end of each day.
Because you will be.
#4: Use calendar blocking to level up
I love calendars and I have a few.
I have my family calendar and my work calendar, plus a calendar for the various coaching calls I host. Everything is compiled in my Google calendar.
Each entry is color-coded so I can instantly see whether a time slot is for work, coaching, an appointment, podcasting, or fun. Pink is for fun, in case you’re wondering.
To level up my work-zone productivity, I create calendar entries for my tasks.
The benefit of doing this is that your desktop will remind you when it’s time to stop creating slides for your keynote presentation and start your client project.
It also helps you see when you have time available so you don’t have to do mental gymnastics when a client asks if you can fit them in.
#5: Allow time to drift
Being a ninja about how you spend your time will allow you to get a lot more done.
But, I’ll be honest: It’s exhausting.
After all, we’re not machines. I want to get the most out of the limited time I have, but I don’t want my brain to be slush when I’m done for the day.
Taking breaks helps, but I also give myself permission to drift … to give my brain time to relax, to daydream, to just do its own thing. That’s often when the magic happens.
I plan for drift by leaving 30 minutes unaccounted for. I can stare out the window. Make my 10th cup of tea. Take the dog for a walk to unclog my creative juices. Or use that time to catch up on work that is taking longer than I expected.
It’s a zone of forgiveness when the days don’t go according to plan. And they happen.
What will you finish next?
“You only get today once. Your team does too. How will you spend it?” – Seth Godin
Now that you know how to squeeze out so much more from your available time, it’s time for you to decide which big goal to work on next.