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. But learning how to manage your time wisely is an essential life skill that most young adults don’t “leave the nest” doing well.
Knowing how to manage your time wisely is essential to climbing the ladder of success. The more successful you get, the less time you have. We hope this information will equip you in mentoring a young adult as they grow more independent and hopefully you’ll learn some useful tips too!
What Is Time Management?
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, 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.Being good at time management means organizing your time intentionally and prioritizing activities that efficiently advance you towards your goals and honor your values. #timemanagement #productivity Click To Tweet
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.
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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. This is a particular struggle for youth who came out of the foster care system.
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.”Leon Ho
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.
This can be a particular challenge for the youth we help who are often in a “get through this moment” mindset. Time management skills are not something most people do well at without specific guidance. Aging out foster youth have the added challenge of trauma, which inhibits executive functioning in the brain (where you plan, prioritize, and do other tasks necessary to time management). Without learning time management skills, these youth often fail in the workplace and school.
Five Steps to Get on Top of Your Schedule
Step 1. Define your goals and priorities
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.
Step 2. Make a list of everything you need to do and add anything else you usually do.
While this may sound burdensome, it’s more important than it appears because it:
- Lightens your mental load
- Reveals nonproductive activity
- Helps you get a picture of your current workload
- Helps you identify which tasks you may need to work into your schedule
There may be goals you are supporting that you don’t realize for better or worse. For instance, perhaps you may realize that you spend time doing the dishes, washing your laundry, and taking a shower.
Individually, these may not end up on your goal list, but they reveal something you probably value – being clean. Those activities need to be accounted for if you don’t want to find yourself out of clean underwear.
It’s important to write down your to do list because your brain can’t operate at its best when you try to keep track of all your 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.
How Making a List Helps Your Mind Work Better
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.
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
“There is no faster way to do something than not doing it at all.”James Clear
Step 4. Make a prioritized 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 application.
- 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.
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Five Great Time Management Strategies
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
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.
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.
In addition, I find it helpful to have a list of most important tasks written out 1-3 months in advance. I pick one thing each day as my most important task – that one thing that is the priority over all else for that day. This bird’s eye view helps me see & plot out movement forward towards my goals more effectively.
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
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.” Others, myself included, find that combining low importance tasks works well. So go head and listen to that audio book while taking your morning walk.
Five Tools To Help You Be More Productive
The most productive people leverage their time by using tools to help them optimize their time. Here are few helpful tools worth investigating as you seek to become more productive.
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
Air Tasker connects people who need to outsource tasks with people who are looking to earn money and ready to work. You can get just about anything done from local tasks like deliveries, cleaning, and gardening to remote tasks like writing, web development, and design. Delegate!
Google Calendar might seem obvious, but I’m surprised how few people I know use it. You can use google calendar to sync across your devices, so appointment reminders pop up. It’s also very helpful for family scheduling. You can create a calendar for each person in the family and sync them together. Instead of asking mom if we have anything planned, the whole family can look at the shared calendar to see what’s on the schedule.
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Some Final Thoughts on How to Manage Your Time Wisely
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
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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