The Trick You Need to Start Mastering Time Management is a simple equation designed to help you break down your day. This equation works for 9-5 workers, students, retail/food service workers, stay-at-home parents, and even you. Using this trick will help you understand how you’re spending your time so you can do more of what you want instead of watching your life pass you by.
Time Management: the practice of using the time that you have available in a useful and effective way, especially in your work
When I conducted my reader survey, the overwhelming need you all expressed was a need for better time management. Some of you feel like your lives are consumed by these other “more important” tasks and obligations to the point you have no time for what you actually want.
I’ll admit it scared me a bit because I feel exactly the same.
Y’all know I want to spend my time writing content and doing the cheesy, most basic, stereotypical blogger/female entrepreneur activities, but I have my day job and commute like the rest of society. I’ve struggled with the necessities of real life while in pursuit of my dream life, but I feel like I’m gradually making progress. I knew I had to get a grip on how I managed my time and set to work on how to do something about it.
I don’t have the perfect recipe for time management, but I do have a secret ingredient.
The Trick You Need to Start Mastering Time Management
There is one mental trick I always employ when I’m feeling overwhelmed, out of touch, or like I’m in a rush. This trick has helped me totally rethink my days and change the way I do things. Bare with me here, but it’s math – time math. You take the 24 hours you get in a day and you do lots of subtraction.
24 hours – sleep – work – commute – prep times – [time blocks of choice] = your free time
It sounds a little too easy and simple, but it opens your eyes to how you’re spending your time. Let me give you an example using my typical work.
I have my base 24 hours in a day.
I wake up for work at 6 a.m.. This means six hours of my day are gone right off the bat.
I’m now have 18 hours.
I spend one hour getting ready for work and one hour getting to work.
I now have 16 hours.
My work day is 8 hours: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. with an hour lunch tucked in, making my time at work 9 hours.
I now have 7 hours.
My drive home is 40 minutes, but let’s call it an hour for the sake of round numbers. It is 6 p.m. when I get home.
I now have 6 hours.
But remember, I have to get up at 6 a.m., so if I want to get 7-8 hours of sleep, I need to be asleep by 10 p.m.. That’s another two hours gone.
I now have 4 hours.
I’m not a Sim who can lay down and magically fall asleep, so the hour of 9 p.m. – 10 p.m. needs to be spent on any bedtime prep and relaxing so I can be asleep by 10 p.m..
In the end, I have 3 hours of free time.
Out of the 24 hours in a day, I get three. THREE. Three hours is a fantastic block of time for activities, but when you consider fitting in a half hour workout, post-workout shower, cooking and eating dinner, watching a show, reading a book, working on a personal project, indulging a hobby or interest, spending time with loved ones, going out with friends, and being a vegetable while scrolling through Instagram with all your chins out, those three hours cause a lot of anxiety. I can’t fit everything into three hours – none of us can.
As much as we want to find a way to optimize our time and try to make things perfect, we can’t make more time magically happen in a day.
I don’t plan on this being my life forever. I plan on being my own boss and not having to slave away most of my day on passionless work, but I’m not there yet.
A lot of us aren’t at our there yet. We’re in this moment, this reality where we have to accept having X amount of hours. It’s frustrating and disappointing, but it’s a pill we all need to swallow. Mastering time management isn’t about having the perfect schedule – it’s about working best with what you have.
This sounds super dark, but I don’t mean it to be. I’m not trying to upset you about how little time you may have in a day or crush your soul. Alternatively, you might have a lot of time you discover you’re wasting, which is its own disappointment. The fact of the matter is you cannot make the most of your work-school-life balance until you accept the realities of your time in this moment.
The point of this exercise is to find your starting line.
You can’t implement strategies and time saving methods if you don’t know how much time you have. It makes sense when I put it like that, right?
This exercise will clarify to you what you’re working with and set you on your path to being able to plan, strategize, and optimize your time in a work/school day. It turns the magical time of after work and after school from this falsely infinite or too narrow concept (depending on your outlook) into something more manageable and precise.
Elements to Consider
This math only works if you factor in every element that takes up your time and cannot be avoided. We all have to get ready for, go to, and be at work. We also have to sleep. These absolutely cannot be avoided, so they should be in your breakdown.
After that, it’s up to you. You don’t want to become so specific it comes off as scheduling your day, but you don’t want to be so broad you overestimate your time.
You’ll notice in my breakdown I didn’t factor in exercise or cooking as essential blocks of time. I’m pretty mentally drained after working and commuting, so sometimes I’ll pass on on doing them. I consider these activities important and do them regularly, but they can be avoided. It’s easier to sort them as personal time instead of a finite time block.
This breakdown is about helping you navigate your time, so do what’s best for you. If you wake up at 4 a.m. everyday to go to the gym before work, definitely go ahead and include it. Same if you do a full-face of makeup or participate in a softball league or absolutely need an afternoon nap. I’m not the gatekeeper of what you can and cannot include. Whatever is important to you and your daily routine, put it in there.
Ideas you may need to factor in:
- dropping off/picking up kids
- getting kids ready
- caring for your child(ren) and spending time with them
- drives over 20 minutes
- obligations you split with a significant other
- your gym schedule
- daily beauty and hygiene routines
- walking your dog
- extracurricular activities
- naps on naps on naps
For Variable Schedules
This math is pretty easy if you’re like me and have a static schedule, but I know everyone’s life isn’t so conveniently sectioned off.
If you’re a student, this is something you’ll have to continue to do as semesters/quarters change. You’ll also have to practice awareness of how long your homework takes you.
For my brothers and sisters in food service and retail, I know the ever changing work schedule is brutal on making plans or having any organization in life – brutal. You might want to do a few different versions of this math for different schedules you have. If you have two or three shifts you typically work, I think you’re safe doing those versions to start and adding new breakdowns as your work schedule is released.
If you’re a student and work in those areas, I feel you on such a deep level. Your math is going to be much harder than mine, but it’s possible.
If you’re a stay-at-home parent (and parent in general), you might have to take the student route and continually update your equation as your children move to different schools and participate in extracurriculars.
You probably won’t be able to think of it in such a linear way as I do if your schedule is variable, but it’s possible. If it were me, I’d probably do my math for worst case scenario. You don’t want to budget yourself 3, 4, 5 hours and actually only have 2. That’ll cause disappointment, frustration, and stress. It’s better to prepare for your smallest amount and breath a sigh of relief when you have more time. I recommend keeping a back up list of If I Have Time activities and tasks you’d like to do if you can.
This trick isn’t a method for using your time most efficiently or for how to optimize it, but it is a critical first step to setting yourself up for happiness and success. This trick will allow you to ground yourself in your own routine and have a grip on your schedule.
Mastering time management is going to be an ever-changing and complex journey, but if you follow this trick, you’re on the right path. I truly believe it’s only when you have perspective on your time you can start to properly manage it.
Let me know in the comments below what you have in your equation or how this trick has helped you out!