Time management has always been a passion of mine. Like the smell of an expensive cup of coffee, or the empowerment I feel after a full-fledged sweat session. I crave the release of endorphins that good time management gives me. Without it, every little thing in my life starts to fall apart piece by piece.
Last year I got lazy.
I started letting paperwork pile up on my desk, instead of filing it right away like I used to. I put things off until the last-minute. Eventually I was scrambling just to keep my head afloat with daily tasks. Checking e-mails, scheduling bills, calling companies about XYZ… I just didn’t care.
Part of it was a delayed response to my mom’s death. Since she died suddenly, I didn’t really have a chance to grasp it at the time. I had to withdraw from school, figure out what to do with the house, figure out what to do with my apartment, keep track of her bills, keep track of my bills, keep track of my boss’s bills… it was utterly exhausting.
When my mother-in-law committed suicide six months later, I just checked out. Not physically, but mentally. I was still very present in life, but I was numb. I didn’t enjoy things anymore and everything felt like work. Even the fun things.
I let everything build up around me.
Literally and figuratively. I constructed these walls of paper surrounding me at work, and kept things inside when all I really wanted to do was scream. I stopped loving the things that used to inspire me.
I needed to take a step back, and when I did I saw a mess.
Then I remembered something my mom told me when I had gone to treatment years ago. She showed me a picture of my room at the time, which was in complete disarray. Clumps of clothes in disheveled piles, garbage and junk littering the open surfaces. She said, “When you live in a disordered environment, how can you expect your life not to be the same?”
Now, it was happening again.
I was living in a mess, and my surroundings were holding me captive in my current lifestyle.
The difference this time was that I didn’t have someone to help pull me out of it. If I was going to make a change, I knew I had to do it on my own.
In January I started making small changes every day.
Instead of the usual New Year’s resolution. The first step was to get my shit together. So I spent 30 minutes at the beginning of each work day filing away every single paper that was sitting on my desk.
The key takeaway? Gaining back 10 seconds of time by being lazy was NOT worth an hour and a half of a work day. Ever. Once I got through that first pile, it felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders, which made it that much easier to file the other two away.
Now the walls were down.
And I was determined to keep it that way. To avoid reverting back to old habits, I started using stackable plastic desk organizers to keep my “active” (i.e. I use them on a regular basis) files easily accessible. I like that I can get at them quickly when I need them, but they’re still out-of-the-way so I don’t get distracted looking at them all day.
Feeling physically clutter-free was enlightening. Then I realized how cluttered my digital space was.
The next step was getting myself digitally organized.
The Best Free Time Management Resources
Google automatically separates your emails into tabs that help keep similar types of emails together. Which is wonderful if you get hundreds of emails a day and want to make sure you don’t miss the important stuff. I use the Primary tab for personal communications and the Social tab for updates from social media networks. I store emails from retailers with coupon codes and discounts in the Promotions tab so that I can easily find them when I need them. (And get rid of them after they’ve expired.) I put important messages from utility companies, school, etc. in the Updates tab, and any miscellaneous newsletter subscriptions are filed under the Forums tab.
Gmail and Google Calendar sync with just about everything. Actually, the reason I switched to Gmail was because my fiancé bought me an Alexa for Christmas. Microsoft Outlook didn’t sync directly with Alexa, so I wasn’t able to use the full functionality. I ended up creating a new Gmail account and forwarding all of my Microsoft emails to Gmail. That way I can still use the old email address and everything syncs up nice with Alexa.
Speaking of Alexa…
She’s one of the time management tools that I never thought I needed. And I suppose I don’t need it, but it makes my life a whole lot easier. Case in point, when my daughter has my phone (which is all the time), I can still add things to my grocery shopping list or to-do list by asking Alexa. She automatically adds whatever I ask her to do inside the Alexa app on my phone. (At the same time that my daughter is watching YouTube for kids.) It’s wonderful. She also syncs to I Heart Radio and Pandora, so I can listen to music while I’m putting my shopping list together and my kid is occupied. It’s heavenly.
Other tools I use to stay organized
2. OneTab Internet Browser Extension
During the day I use a host of digital tools to help keep me focused and on task. Specifically, I use OneTab internet browser extension to compile all of my open tabs into one neat tab with links to each, as well as options to send or save for later.
Speaking of open tabs, part of the reason I used to do this was because I would find something I wanted to read, but didn’t have time to do it at that exact moment. So I just left the tab open for later. Eventually I would have so many tabs open that my browser would freeze and I would have to re-start the whole computer. This is where the Pocket app has forever changed my level of productivity.
3. Pocket App
The Pocket app was basically created to solve that exact problem. I use the internet browser extension to save articles during the day at work, and then when I get home and finally have a chance to sit down, I use the mobile app to read the articles I saved. This is amazing because I never used to remember where I saved “that thing” I read “the other day”. Now all of the things I’m already interested in are saved and waiting for me, and I never have to search for something to read.
I love experimenting with smart phone apps for productivity because they’re mobile. But I also use the super simple clock app that comes on every smart phone with the standard alarm and timer. Actually, these are the tools I use most frequently when I’m at home.
4. Smart phone alarm
I have alarms set for everything from waking up to going to bed. From leaving the house in the morning to taking my medication in the afternoon. There is so much going on in my life that I often forget trivial things. But those trivial things add up, as I demonstrated with my laziness in the beginning of this blog post. Setting an alarm on my phone keeps me alert, and I make a point not to dismiss the alarm until I’ve done what it says, otherwise it’s a fruitless effort.
I use the timer on my phone less often, but I always use it in the morning so that I don’t end up wasting half of my time in the shower. I’ve found that my body has naturally adjusted to the ten minute window I give myself because I’m always getting out of the shower around the time the alarm goes off. Pretty soon, I’m hoping that I won’t need it at all.
5. Bullet Journal
I can’t live without mine. I’m fairly new to the whole “bullet journaling” thing. What I like about it is that it’s much more flexible than your standard planner. For some reason I just never found a way to make those work for me. There was either never enough space, or there was too much space where I didn’t need it and it just didn’t work.
Bullet journaling is completely flexible. You design the pages that you need, and you get to designate how much space you need and for what. I use my journal mainly for school, because that was the area I was having trouble keeping track of. I have a section for monthly due dates, so I can look at a glance and see what’s coming up. Then I have a daily section where I list my tasks and events in order of priority. As I complete each task I mark it with an X, and if I don’t complete it I migrate it to the next day.
Time management is not something I take lightly.
I like knowing what I need to do and when it needs to be done. I get anxious when I don’t know what to do with my time. There are so many things that need to get done, but I never fail to forget every single one of them when I actually have time to do them. These tools make it easier to think less and still get the important stuff done.
Until next time,
Let’s chat! What tools and/or resources do you use to stay focused and on task? Let me know in the section below. 👇🏼