When someone brings up essential skills for independent living, time management might not be at the top of your list.
It’s probably not one you would think of until your to do list has gotten out of control.
This post is the 2nd in a multi-part series on helping your child to succeed at moving out on their own or how to "help your kid move out and stay out."
This post covers how to help (ahem) "your child" establish good time management skills. I'll help you get the basics of good time management by sharing
Maybe you don't feel like you have time to manage your time. Making time for time management is like using a wish to ask for more wishes. It pays off in spades.
"You will never find time for anything. If you want time you must make it.” - Charles Buxton
So what is time management exactly?
The Cambridge Dictionary defines time management as “the practice of using the time that you have available in a useful and effective way, especially in your work: He's intelligent, but poor time management is limiting his success.”
Time management skills are most often addressed as productivity. You’ve probably heard of some of the top experts in this field, like Tim Ferriss, Craig Jarrow, or David Allen. These guys are next level, high performance advisers to the most successful people in the business world. Definitely worth investigating, but a little intense for the beginner.
In this article we'll hit the basics – effective, easy tasks and methods that even a kid can start doing now. For the purposes of this article I’ll articulate the definition of being good at time management as such:
Being good at time management means organizing your time intentionally and prioritizing activities that efficiently advance you towards your goals and honor your values.
Why are good time management skills important?
Good time management is essential to success. And it's not limited to success in the workplace. Success as a friend, parent, spouse, fitness, anything… requires good time management skills. Success in any endeavor requires giving it the proper amount of time at the right time.
Motivational public speaker and self-development author Brian Tracy says,
“Time management is not a peripheral activity or skill. It is the core skill upon which everything else in life depends.“
It’s easy to let the seemingly urgent tasks of life crowd out the more precious and lasting priorities such as faith and family.
Living out your priorities and achieving your goals require being intentional and disciplined.
Time management is a particular challenge for young adults just launching out on their own. According to this article about half of the college kids surveyed felt like they were under-performing due to poor organizational skills and 88 percent of the college students said they want to improve their ability to manage their time.
"Until we can manage time, we can manage nothing else." - Peter F. Drucker
For most kids, their schedules and priorities have been managed for them. Independence means unprecedented freedom and responsibility. Not knowing how to manage their time well can lead to missed deadlines, increased stress, and poorer performance at school or in the workplace.
It has been said that time is money, but the argument can be made that time is more valuable than money.
As founder and CEO of Life Hack, Leon Ho put it
“If you lose money, you might get a chance to make it back; but a wasted hour is irreplaceable.”
The crux of the problem
Being busy doesn't mean you're being productive. You can be very busy, without living out your priorities or moving closer to your goals. It's a frustrating and disappointing place to be.
As you probably know we are living in an age of unprecedented speed and volume of information. This has led many of us to feel like we are dealing with an information overload. But according to David Allen, creator of the “GTD” (get things done) method, when we get stuck, it’s not due to an issue of information overload, but a decision-making overload.
It’s the unplanned in-the-moment decision making that most often kills productivity.
As with all things parenting, I recommend practicing what you preach. So you may want to try the following before or while helping a child do the same.
Step 1. Define your goals and priorities
If you aren’t clear about your goals, values, and priorities, it’s hard to make a plan and hard to make a good decision on the fly. Get specific, write them down.
Good time management requires planning and conscious decision making. It requires defining your priorities and choosing to put them first. It requires being aware of how you spend your time.
When your friends invite you out to a party the night before a big test, and you haven’t established that you want to get an A in chemistry, then you probably aren’t going to prioritize staying home and studying
Since this isn’t a given, especially for teens, I’ll do a follow-up post on helping you define your goals.
Step 2. Make a list of everything you need to do, add everything you actually do to that list.
While this may sound burdensome, it’s more important than it appears because it:
Not only that, but it’s valuable to write everything down because
your brain can't operate at its best when you try to keep your entire to-do’s in your head.
Rather than solving problems, it’s repeating your to-do list.
As a mom / house manager, this article really spoke to me on this point.
Let me give you another example.
Let’s say your brain is a smart phone. You’ve been taking pictures and your phone storage is full. It’s operating slow and refusing to take more photos. What do you do? Upload.
You get those photos off of your phone so that your phone can continue operating as a phone, not a photo warehouse.
An efficient mind works the same. At some point you can become overloaded with things to do. In order to clear some working space you need upload so that your brain has space to think and create, not just store repeated meaningless information “I gotta clean that closet.”
Dump everything from your brain that relates to anything you need to do over the course of several hours. Don’t worry about forgetting something important, you can always add or adjust as more comes to mind. And it will. Also, don’t be concerned about repeating yourself. This will help you see how you have thoughts cycling through because they are unresolved. Record every little “I need to / want to” that passes through your mind.
As I filled out my list I found I repeated myself - those to-do's were indeed on repeat mode.
Step 3 Apply the Eisenhower Matrix
The Eisenhower matrix is one of the most popular tools for helping set priorities.
And yes, it’s named after our 34th President Dwight D. Eisenhower!
Advice from the two term President, 5 Star General, and the first Supreme Commander of NATO is worth listening to!
Oh, and did you know this guy squeezed in over 800 rounds of golf during his Presidency?
Productivity expert, James Clear goes in depth on the Eiesnhower Box or Matrix in his article,
“How to be More Productive and Eliminate Time Wasting Activities by Using the ‘Eisenhower Box.”
According to Clear, the first step is to organize all of your tasks into one of four categories
Urgent and important (tasks you will do immediately - high deadline cost)
Important, but not urgent (tasks you will schedule to do later)
Urgent, but not important (tasks to delegate to someone else or automate)
Neither urgent nor important - Do Last or Not at All
Honestly, I find this a little too overwhelming to figure out. As a beginner I recommend a little more specific path.
Like climbing a mountain - you can scale the steep part or take the longer, less steep trail.
Here's the slightly longer, but less challenging path to figuring out your Eisenhower Matrix
Step 4. Make plan
You now should have all the information that you need to make a solid plan.
Set up a blank calendar. It can be a spreadsheet, paper, or calendar app.
- Schedule your time inflexible, high priority activities first
- Schedule your deep or hard work around your highest energy levels.
- Figure out when your brain is most engaged & schedule your hardest studying or most challenging and important tasks then, in 15 – 45 minute chunks of time
- Schedule 15 minute breaks around your deep work
- Fill in your schedule with your lower priority activities
- Remove the lowest priority items altogether or set them aside as “schedule treats” (more on that below).
Step 5. Stick to the plan
Perhaps this is stating the obvious, but I want to underscore it because as I said earlier –
It’s the unplanned in-the-moment decision making that most often kills productivity.
The purpose of the plan is to have the decisions made so that you can confidently focus your energy towards actions that are worth your time at the right time.
This doesn’t mean your schedule won’t require some tweaking and flexibility, especially as you get started; but as a default, stick to the schedule.
1 - Set artificial deadlines to create space and structure.
Do you need to be there at 3?
Make it 2:45
Do you need to get through your emails?
Set a deadline to empty your in-box by Friday noon.
Blog post taking too long to write?
Set a timer to finish the first draft by.
2- Give yourself “schedule treats.”
Schedule treats are low value, but fun or relaxing indulgences
- this might be something like scrolling through social media, listening to music, meditating, reading, etc
Did you get there early?
Spend your waiting time catching up on instagram
Did you empty your email inbox early?
Spend your extra time reading a favorite book.
3 - Pick your top 3 activities for each day.
You can either choose the night before or the morning of.
Maybe you make the list the night before and re-evaluate in the morning.
Whatever the case, start your day being clear on your priorities.
4 - Do similar little tasks together.
Batch task the little things 2-5 minute tasks
For example, do all your tasks that require driving together
Or tack them on to your routine for 2 minutes or less
Wipe your bathroom sink when you finish getting ready in the morning
Take out the trash as you head out the door
5 -Mulit-task judiciously.
Honestly, most experts recommend ditching multi-tasking all together.
They say multi-tasking often only feels more productive.
Some studies indicate it does more damage than good.
According to this article in Forbes, it “kills your performance and even damages your brain”
However, I find that combining low importance tasks works well for me.
- Evernote is great to-do list app! It's a mobile app designed for note taking, organizing, task lists, and archiving. It’s also great for tracking goals and has a free option.
- Instapaper is like an online file cabinet for saving and organizing anything you want to read later. You can pull it up across devices and it will pick up any article where you left it off. If you are like me, and leave up to 50 windows at a time open so you don’t forget a link, you need Instapaper. There are other options, but the latest reviews seem to agree this is the favorite and it has a free option
It's a good idea to start teaching these skills early on and to have your kid fully managing their own time before they move out on their own. It will give them an added edge, no matter what they pursue in life!
I hope you've found some useful tips to help your family improve at time management.
What other apps, tips, or tricks have you found most useful for helping you manage your time well?
One purpose of this blog is to help parents of teens navigate the challenges of preparing their children to be successful independent adults. The mission of Finally Family Homes is to provide the same kind of support for those teens who don't have a family or home to help them transition into adulthood.
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