I was a busy guy.
Between work, family, trying to keep fit, and fitting in a little relaxation, there never seemed to be enough hours in the day to get things done. I’d get to the office at 7am, wouldn’t leave until 6pm, ate lunch while processing email, and rushed home to eat dinner with my family so my son had at least a small chance to remember who I was.
That was life until I got serious about managing my time more effectively.
Like a lot of people, I was trapped in a mentality that equated more work with more productivity. I believed the more time I spent at my desk, the greater the rewards would be. I was also sure that sacrificing some things in the short-term — family time, fitness, even health in general — would pay off in the long-term with a higher salary and more free time to do the things I wanted to do instead of the things I had to do.
Boy, was I wrong.
I managed to break out of that mental state and today I am more relaxed than ever, fitter than ever, have a great work/life balance, and spend more time with my family.
How did I do it?
I got serious about my priorities in life, and the way I would manage my time to meet them.
Here are the four steps I took. These are my time management tips so you can do the same.
Getting Back to Basics with Time Management Tips
Before anything else, I reminded myself of something that I already knew but had never really appreciated: there were 24 hours in the day.
Not groundbreaking news, I know, but when you are trying to get your life back in balance it’s useful to start with the basics.
What’s more, not only were there 24 hours in my day, there were also only 24 hours in everybody else’s day.
If other people managed to have great work/life balance, spend time with their family, keep fit, and not fall apart at the seams doing it, then I could do that, too.
All I had to do was manage my time more effectively and efficiently.
And so I began my search for margin.
Step One: Do Less Work
The first step I took in managing my time more effectively was to commit to doing less work.
To be clear, I didn’t mean “complete fewer tasks” or “shirk my responsibilities”. What I really meant was “spend less time at work”.
I quickly found that my 11 hour days behind a desk were just as productive as a shorter, 8 hour day with a real lunch break. I set myself to work in two four-hour shifts (8-12 then 1-5) with a nice, leisurely lunch break in between. I found that I could get just as much done in those eight hours as I could in those 11 long hours before.
I started eating better as the hurried sandwich at the desk was replaced by a short stroll to a local park and some time in the sun. I could leave for work later and get home sooner, and that meant spending more time with the family.
By deciding to do more in less time, I was on my way to managing my time more effectively.
Step Two: Get More Rest
The second step I took in managing my time more effectively was to get serious about being rested.
Ever since I had left graduate school I had convinced myself that I could get by on very little sleep. After all, if I pulled all-nighters as a 25-year-old, surely I still had the stamina to do that at 30 or 35, right?
The older I got, the more I realized that I actually needed to rest more. Working all night on a project might be a great story to tell, but it didn’t say much about my time management skills – just the opposite, in fact.
So I set out to get seven hours sleep a night. If I wanted to get up at 7am, I needed to be in bed before midnight. The math was simple, and once I committed to actually getting some quality rest, the sleep came easy, too.
The result? I was better prepared for the morning that followed the night before, more effective when I got into work, and in a much better mood around the breakfast table.
Step Three: Get Up Earlier
The third step I took to manage my time more effectively was to get out of bed earlier.
I realized fairly quickly that if I was getting seven good hours of rest every night, then it really didn’t matter if the seven hours ended at 7am or at 5am. What’s more, if I was getting out of bed at 5am I would find myself another two hours in my day that I didn’t have before.
These two hours in the morning became my exercise time.
Starting out on this new course I wasn’t fit enough for that at first, but I did use those two hours to exercise my body — running, cycling, even yoga — and my mind, by writing and reading.
If I went running it was with a podcast or audiobook streaming through my headphones, and the cool morning air made for clear thinking if I was on my bike. I finally had time to start working my way through the dozens of books I had promised to read if only I had the time. Now I did have the time because I was using my time more effectively.
Those two hours in the morning became two of the most important in my day, and they set me up for a more productive morning at work.
Step Four: Just Say No
The fourth step I took to manage my time more effectively was to start saying no.
Just as I had wrongly assumed that 11 long hours in the office was better than 8 productive hours, I had also wrongly assumed that telling a colleague or even my boss ‘no’ when asked to do something was poor form. Hence, every time that someone came to me with a request, or a last-minute task, or just asking for a favor, I invariably said ‘yes’.
When I got up the courage to start saying ‘no’ instead, I quickly realized a couple of things.
First, most people didn’t mind at all.
Second, I found I had a lot less to do, and fast.
By saying no to tasks that were outside of my area of responsibility or outside of my interests, I didn’t waste energy working on things that were not important. While I am sure I disappointed a couple of people, I was able to stay focused and complete tasks that mattered instead of tasks that just arrived with a knock on my office door.
Back in Balance
I still only have 24 hours in a day, just like everyone else. But because I manage my time more effectively and set boundaries on what I am willing to do, I find myself more relaxed than ever.
Better managing my time has allowed me to spend more time with my family, re-find my fitness, learn and read more, write more (something I just love!), and get the work done that I need to get done every day. Along the way I even found a new, better job at DOZ where I’ve maintained my approach to time management and continued to keep the work/life balance I’ve grown to appreciate.
Can you do the same?
I’m convinced that most people can because it’s mainly a matter of forming new, more productive habits.
Most people can go to sleep a little earlier than they do now to wake up a little earlier, too. Most people can commit to getting more and better rest at night and would probably welcome the chance to do so.
With time and practice it becomes easier to say no to people — even a little bit empowering, if I am honest about it — and that almost always creates more time in your day. At that point, going from 11 hours in the office to 8 hours becomes a cinch.
My life got back in balance because I took time management seriously and if you’re feeling run off your feet now then these time management tips need to be part of your future, too.