Five Tips for Better Time Management in 2017

Last week I talked about some time management goals that I had for 2017 and some things that I still need to work on in that area. I said, “I’m pretty good at time management, but I want to be better,” and that “I’ve completed the entry level time management tips.”

I also said, while discussing my prioritization issues that I’ve read around 100 books this year, which was flagged in the comments as a lot of reading.

And it certainly is. There is no doubt that I did better with time management in 2016 than I had in previous years.

Today, I want to share with you five of the tips and tools that I used to get there.

Always Keep a To Do List

I keep one giant list of everything in my life that needs to be done at any point in the future. I then will pull things from that list for smaller lists broken down into weekly to dos and daily to dos, both for work and non-work tasks.

This may sound overwhelming, but actually has been quite the opposite. Because I have this giant list and everything gets added to it as soon as it comes to mind, I know that I am never forgetting a task. I don’t have any anxiety or worries about dropping the ball on anything.

The to do list also helps keep me from feeling aimless. There is always something to do and if I feel lost at any time I can review the list and get started on something new.

Everything Goes in the Calendar

Everything that requires any level of time commitment goes in my Google Calendar immediately. If an event or party or interview or anything else is not in my calendar, then it does not exist to me.

I follow this rule so strictly that my wife has made fun of me for it on more than one occasion. But it works!

Similar to the to do list, this allows me to get everything out of my brain and avoid the anxiety of worrying that I will forget about something I need to do or somewhere I need to be. My focus can stay on what I need to get done at any given time instead of wandering to events that I need to remember.

This also allows me to look at the week or month ahead and determine whether I can take on more commitments or if it is already looking a bit too busy. I want to be able to say yes to as many opportunities as possible, but I also know that if I try to do too much in too short of a time frame, my quality of work and my quality of life will suffer. The calendar helps a lot in this regard.

Create a Daily Plan

Creating a daily plan is an offshoot of my general to do list. Before leaving work each day I will review the to do list and plan the next day. I will usually include a few big-ticket items and some smaller filler tasks that can be done in spare time or when my concentration is waning.

I have toyed with a few different methods. I have tried a straight list, in which I just pick tasks off of it one at a time. I have tried listing the most important things first and going in order. I have tried scheduling blocks of time for each task or small group of tasks.

I have found that each of these works, but my own experience is that I need to change up my method every few months because my productivity under any one method will decline over time. I might just be weird. See what works for you.

Cut Back on Mindless Time

I used to watch a lot of television. I used to spend a lot of time on Facebook and Reddit. These were easy and mindless activities to fall back on when my brain felt fried. They also sucked up an inordinate amount of my time.

I understand the argument (I used to make it myself) that at the end of a long and draining day you need to unwind. You don’t have the energy to do anything else. I get it.

You probably don’t need all that much time to unwind, though. Try watching one show after work and then moving to another (pre-selected, so that you don’t waste willpower thinking about it) activity.

Plus, you probably enjoy watching television less than you think you do. As we learned when exploring the concept of flow, people are actually happier when they are at work than when they are watching television at home, despite the fact that they say that they prefer watching television. It is hard to feel real happiness without any sense of forward progress, growth, or development.

There are also plenty of activities that are not stressful but still exercise your brain a bit. Read a book. Even a mindless novel is better for your brain than a mindless television show. Play games. Strategy games and puzzle games (including video games) can help exercise your brain while still being a fun and non-stressful way to spend some down time.

Wake Up Earlier

Waking up earlier is a bit more controversial. Some people are night people, and I respect that.

I used to consider myself a night person as well. I also still get my most creative work done late at night when I should be sleeping. If I want to work on writing music or a novel, I try to adjust my schedule so that I can spend late nights working.

But for most days, waking up earlier is a key to being more productive. This is not due to my brain being sharper at 7am than it is at 9am or anything like that. Instead, it is just a matter of logistics.

When I used to stay up later and wake up later, I spent most of that late-night time surfing the web or watching television.

Now that I wake up earlier, I have a series of morning habits that I do. I exercise (most mornings), I meditate, I drink water, and I write morning pages, all before having to get ready to go into work.

I also get into the office before everyone else and have a really useful period of time where I can work without interruption from coworkers or emails.

Waking up earlier doesn’t actually buy me any extra time, but it does shift my waking hours into a setup that better lends itself to productivity.

How About You?

Have you tried any of these? How did they work for you? Do you have any habits, routines, or tricks that work really well for you? Let us know in the comments!

23 thoughts on “Five Tips for Better Time Management in 2017”

  1. Great tips! And yes, 100 books in a year is amazing!

    I think I do pretty good with time management and I follow some of the tips you outlined above, but I could do better. For instance, I’m not great at keeping a calendar. But I am great at making lists! If something makes it onto my to-do list, you can bet it’ll get done!

    The power of lists is amazing, I think anyway.

    Thanks, Matt!
    The Green Swan recently posted…2017 Goals for the SwansMy Profile

  2. I’ve had a daily planner since the age of 11 and it’s completely changed my productivity. I always had people ask how I manage to get so much done in a day–and the answer is my paper planner! Everyone is productive in different ways, but I’m definitely an old-fashioned paper person.

    Even though I keep a to-do list, it can get overwhelming sometimes to feel like I *have* to complete everything on my list before the end of the day. I’ve found I’m more productive when I apply focus to one activity at a time instead of frantically working to get everything done fast. Focus is key for true productivity.
    Mrs. Picky Pincher recently posted…What A Frugal Week!My Profile

    1. I wish I had discovered this at such a young age! I didn’t actually get any good at managing my productivity until after I finished law school. Before that my productivity was based on scrambling to complete tasks before their deadlines. Anything without a deadline probably never got done.

      I agree completely that focus is the key to true productivity. I recently finished reading Deep Work by Cal Newport and he really drills that point home. I have made my daily to do lists smaller and smaller as I have gotten more and more focused on successfully completing big things that require more focus.

      Thanks for stopping by!
      Matt recently posted…Saving Money Better – Focus on the Big Wins FirstMy Profile

  3. At one time in my life, I was reading up to 4 books a week, which included books on CD while driving, walking, cleaning, etc… I used to read books while doing squats. I used to read for hours and hours on weekends, and generally at least 2 hours while in bed at night during the week. I got to a point where I felt I was ‘reading’ too much, and I needed to start ‘doing’. 🙂

    I still love to read, but now I incorporate more reading, creating and pondering.
    Primal Prosperity recently posted…Stuffed and StarvedMy Profile

    1. I actually came to the same conclusion looking back on my reading habits at the end of 2015. I planned to read less and do more in 2016. Instead, I ended up reading a bit more, but also doing a lot more. Instead of cutting time out of reading, I cut out a lot of time from television, Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit. That said, I do want to spend more time creating and thinking deeper on issues this year, and if I have to cut some reading time out to do that, then I am okay with that.
      Matt recently posted…Saving Money Better – Focus on the Big Wins FirstMy Profile

  4. I have to say that keeping a list at work has been key to staying on top of things. On top of that like you everything goes on the calendar. Having Microsoft Office pop up with a reminder for a meeting or whatever I have planned for the day is so nice.

    With that said I still never feel like I have enough time to devote towards the things I want family, exercise and time developing the blog but I’m getting better 🙂
    Mustard Seed Money recently posted…How Empathy Can Make You A Better InvestorMy Profile

  5. I am obsessed with my analogue calendar and to do lists. It is the only thing tethering me to the world of sanity. But oh, if only I could wake up earlier. I am good in the daylight, but I just can’t do it in the darkness of winter. No matter how early I go to bed. I just don’t know how to get myself to do it!

    1. I used to be a heavy user of the snooze button, especially in the winter. The first thing that changed that was getting up earlier than my wife. If I used the snooze button and had my alarm going off multiple times while she could have been sleeping I would have felt badly. Recently I’ve been using the alarm on my Fitbit, which doesn’t really have a snooze. (It does go off again 9 minutes later if you don’t actually hit the button to stop it from buzzing, but there’s no snooze button.) Once you shut it off you are stuck. I have to get up now, knowing that if I fall back asleep there will be no alarm to wake me up in time for work.

      Thanks for the comment, Linda!
      Matt recently posted…Saving Money Better – Focus on the Big Wins FirstMy Profile

  6. I like your method of using the large to do list. This is a method I’m going to try out going forward. I tend to put too much on my daily to do lists. Sometimes, it’s just not humanly possible to accomplish what I write down. And then, if I don’t cross off items, I feel like I’m “behind”. I’m working on making my daily to do list more do-able.

    It’s interesting to me that people feel happier at work than watching tv. You’re right – it’s just that human drive to be productive and have purpose. TV rarely makes us feel productive.
    Amanda @ centsiblyrich recently posted…December grocery spending updateMy Profile

    1. The mix of large global to do list and a small daily to do list can be really helpful in fighting that feeling that you are behind. For an easy emotional win you can even choose to put only the important tasks on your daily to do list and have a collection of non-time sensitive tasks on the global list that you can pick from once you are done with your daily list. Then you get the feeling of finishing everything for the day and then also tackling extra work. In reality you are probably finishing the same amount of tasks as you would have with a large daily to do list, but it feels like a lot more of a win rather than feeling like you can never complete everything that you need to complete.

      Thanks for the comment, Amanda!
      Matt recently posted…Saving Money Better – Focus on the Big Wins FirstMy Profile

  7. Great tips! The only thing I don’t agree with is waking up early. 🙂
    I try to put more things on my Google Calendar now. It helps remind me of the things I need to do. I don’t like getting the reminder emails, but they are effective. Hopefully, next year I will be more productive. It’s tough with a kid around, though.
    Happy New Year!

  8. I’m a big fan of to-do lists. I use a list app on my phone, Google Calendar, and I have a real date book planner (believe me, I’m not that busy, I just forget things).

    Mr. Groovy is like you with getting up early. He started out after reading “Miracle Morning”. For both of us, getting rid of cable was the best decision for reducing meaningless time-suckers. Now that we really have more time on our hands we need to be careful not to squander it.
    Mrs. Groovy recently posted…Groovy Blog Stuff from Our Groovy Year 2016My Profile

    1. Miracle Morning has been on my “To Read” list for a long time. I keep hearing people raving about how it changed their life and I put it back at the top of my list. My library doesn’t have it, though, so I keep skipping over it to books that I can read for free. I may have to just suck it up and buy a copy. It sounds like a really useful read.

      Thanks for the comment, Mrs. Groovy!
      Matt recently posted…Saving Money Better – Focus on the Big Wins FirstMy Profile

  9. This post totally lives up to “optimizing our lives”. Time management is indeed a very important factor that contributes to success and we should definitely start doing it today itself. And you are right, to get a positive result, planning is important. With so many smartphone apps helping us with to-do lists and tasks, we just have to jot down our plans and slot them into the time intervals. Your tips are excellent, especially for a person who struggles with time management and is not very good at multi-tasking. I hope I can really draw an inspiration from your post and manage my time better this year.

  10. Time management is of the essence for everyone and anyone. I feel like I don’t manage my time well and that results in many personal and works problems. I often feel like my personal and work life overlap because I don’t draw the line between the two things. Your article was very helpful, especially the idea of creating a list on a phone or paper. Keep doing what you are doing!

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