Time management is a hard skill to master — especially for adults trying to manage multiple responsibilities. Between work, kids, and potentially caring for aging parents, there’s a lot to juggle. But effective time management can help you stay on top of your responsibilities. Here are some ways you can leverage time management to get the most out of each day.
1. Use a Calendar
Calendars are a secret weapon of time management. They can help you keep track of what you need to get done in a single place. Calendars are also quite visual, so you can see at-a-glance when your busy times are. For a calendar to be effective, you need to keep it up-to-date and refer to it often, so you know what you have going on.
And there are many ways to approach a calendar. You can have a whiteboard on the fridge, a daily planner, or a digital app. Calendars can be color-coded with activities for different family members or just contain your activities. Find a calendar format that works for you and start scheduling.
2. Create Time Limits
As you create your calendar, it can be helpful to set time limits on tasks. This can help you remain more focused and efficient. Think about a task like cleaning the house, which can be quite daunting. You might start in the bathroom and then end up cleaning something in the living room. After a few hours, you might find that you haven’t made much progress. But if you set a time limit and work on a specific task, you can stay laser focused. For example, I’m going to clean the kitchen for 15 minutes — no distractions!
These short bursts of productivity can help you feel more efficient while also keeping you from getting burned out on a specific task. You can use a timer with an alarm to help you keep track of time and know when it’s time to stop and move on to the next task.
3. Set Reasonable Goals
A big part of time management is knowing what you can feasibly accomplish in a day. Set reasonable goals to help you get things done at home and at work. A good framework for setting goals is the SMART method. SMART goals are: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely. You can set SMART goals for the day or for the week to help keep you focused.
4. Prioritize Tasks
Along with setting goals, it’s important to prioritize your tasks. A good way to determine the priority of your tasks is to evaluate the importance and urgency, a principle established by President Dwight Eisenhower.
- Important and urgent: You should do this task right away. An example could be preparing a report for a work meeting in two hours.
- Important but not urgent: You can schedule this task for later in the day or week. An example could be picking up your mom’s heart medication refill — knowing that she still has a week’s supply left.
- Urgent but not important: You can delegate this task to someone else. For example, you receive a call from your father asking that you help him remove a bee’s nest from the porch.
- Not important and not urgent: Remove this task from your to-do list. You can do it later in your spare time. An example could be catching up on your favorite YouTube channel.
As you evaluate different tasks throughout the day, you can prioritize your time to make sure the most important responsibilities are taken care of.
5. Say No
As you carry out your responsibilities, it’s inevitable that other tasks will pop up. Maybe your son needs the wheel on his bicycle pumped up or someone at work needs help printing a report. It’s okay to say no, or not right now if you have other priorities.
You can also try and delegate tasks so that you can continue to work on your priorities. For example, if your dad needs help mowing his lawn, you could ask that one of your older children take care of it. Then, you know the task is getting completed, but you don’t have to allocate your time to it.
6. Take Breaks
Taking breaks might seem counterproductive when you’re trying to make the most of your time; however, breaks allow you to recharge and reset so you can perform to your highest ability. Give yourself time to play with your kids, call your mom, go on a walk, or watch an episode of your favorite show. These breaks will help boost your wellbeing and prevent you from getting burned out.
You can even schedule breaks into your calendar if you’re not good at taking a breather!
7. Eliminate Distractions
Distractions can cause you to lose your focus and can actually prolong the amount of time a given task takes to complete. To be effective with your time, it’s important to eliminate the distractions that you can control, like checking your phone, watching TV, etc.
However, we recognize that you can’t eliminate all distractions. For example, maybe you are working on budgeting for the month and your partner is on a work call. You can't ask them to jump off the work call, but you can go in another room or put in some headphones with white noise to help reduce the distraction. As you eliminate and limit distractions, you can remain more focused and efficient.
8. Be Flexible
No matter how much planning ahead you do, setbacks are inevitable. Something will pop up; another task could go horribly wrong; you could forget about something urgent altogether; it’s just part of life. When setbacks happen, you have to be flexible. Pivot to another task and move around your schedule to accommodate. The important thing is to not let setbacks derail you. Take a deep breath and move forward with your day as best you can.
9. Take Advantage of Waiting Periods
There's a lot of time we spend every day just waiting — waiting for our kids to get on the bus, for dinner to finish in the oven, for our boss to give us something we need. Instead of wasting time waiting, use this time to your advantage. You can check a report, read your email, review your kids’ report cards, check on your mom, etc. There are several quick, productive activities you can do while waiting to help you make the most of your time, including winding down and taking a break!
At Caring Senior Service, we support busy families in the sandwich generation by taking care of caregiving responsibilities. This can help families focus on raising their kids, maintaining a strong relationship with their aging loved one, and balance all of their responsibilities more effectively. To learn more about how we can help your family, reach out to your local Caring team.