Here’s the thing, though: Time is manageable. There are only so many hours in a day and so many days in a year, and that doesn’t change, meaning you can plan ahead.
We don’t suddenly wake up one day and the Earth is spinning faster on its axis and oh look, there are now 10 hours in the day, not 24. It might feel that way sometimes, but with some simple time management tips, you can get back those hours that seem to magically disappear into thin air, and — bonus! — you’ll notice you’re suddenly calmer through the day, too.
It will take some planning, organization, and willpower, but in the end, it all boils down to four simple tools.
Digital or hard copy — it doesn’t matter. Always keep a planner, ideally a daily one that also leaves room to write larger weekly and monthly targets.
And it doesn’t need to look like one big to-do list either — in fact, it shouldn’t. You want to be looking at your goals and then start working backward from there to schedule them out. What are the steps needed to reach each specific goal?
Start with your biggest, most important to-dos first. Break those down into smaller chunks and then spread ‘em out either through the day, week, or month, depending on what you’re working to cross off your list.
But keep this in mind before you put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard: We always overestimate what we can get done in a day but we underestimate what we can get done in a year. It might even take you some practice to find the right mix, and that is totally fine.
Burning the candle at both ends is only going to lead to the candle — aka you in this metaphor — extinguishing itself twice as fast. And that’s not what you want, right? You want that candle to burn as long as possible.
That means you need to actively plan your downtime. Write it in the damn planner. It’s just as important as that client consultation or that interview you’ve scheduled to hire a new team member — so treat it that way.
Your downtime can be spaced out as a half-hour a day or a couple of hours a week or an entire day each month — whatever works best for you. And here again, you might need to tinker some overtime to find the best mix. The main thing is to make sure you don’t have any business commitments during this time. None. Zero. Zilch.
And guess what — you’ll find you’re actually even more productive in your day-to-day work because that candle is burning at a normal rate.
Next up: Set up specific times to check your email, and quit doing it the second you wake up.
I get it — you probably mindlessly reach for your phone first thing every morning and lo and behold you’re scrolling through email approximately two seconds later.
Stop that! The only thing that will happen from checking your email first thing when you wake up is you will throw yourself into a tailspin. You’ll immediately be thinking about what emails you need to reply to first and before you know it, even if you’re determined not to respond right away you’ll still end up crafting the response in your head.
Instead, avoid checking your email until you get into the office. If your office is at home, you can — and should — still have some sort of designated office space somewhere. Use it.
Figure out what your office hours are if you haven’t already and when you arrive — even if it’s just a 100-foot commute through your house — that’s when you check your email and start to organize it. Put out any fires that need to be put out, meaning deal with urgent emails first. Then give yourself an email break.
Around lunchtime, you can take care of the next tranche of emails — those that you need to respond to in a normal amount of time but that aren’t fires that need to quickly be extinguished.
Then wrap up your day with the last 30 minutes dedicated to finishing up any email responses as needed, plus start to look forward to your next day.
And finally, I’ll let you in on a little (big) secret: You don’t have to respond to all the emails. 🤯🤯🤯 Mind blown, am I right?!
Use the Pomodoro method — and tweak it to your needs. This technique is all about focused work for shorter periods of time with breaks in between.
The traditional idea is that you set a timer for 25 minutes to complete a specific task. But that’s sometimes too short in the design world so you can expand it to a time length that works for you. It could be 2 to 2 ½ hours where all you do is work on a single project or design.
The important thing is that no matter the time frame, all you do during that period is focused work. You do not multitask. You do not hop over to Instagram. You do not check your email. You do not go on Clubhouse. You do not stare out your window longingly at the lovely spring weather that’s cropping up outside.
Unless your desk spontaneously combusts, you focus on that one task or project until the time is up. And if your desk does somehow spontaneously combust, then you might want to restart the timer to deal with whatever is happening there.
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