12 years ago I was a single mom working one full time and two part time jobs. My gorgeous toddler was in part time daycare. Every minute of my life was either mommy-time or work-time, but there just didn't seem to be enough minutes to go around. I vividly remember one night when my two-year-old hadn't fallen asleep despite countless good night stories. It was 9pm and he was happy and bubbly. I saw my evening schedule fly out of the window and broke down in tears. Something had to change.
While we cannot create more time, we can make conscious choices about the time we have.
That night I stayed up until 3 am, reorganising my life. What came next was wonderful: All of a sudden I had freed up time to not stress if my son didn't fall asleep immediately. I had time to start exercising and socialising. I had time to sleep. Life, all around, became happier and easier.
Here are the steps you can take to do the same. If you read all the way (or scroll down to the end of this article) you can read what I did and how it turned out for me.
1. Make an inventory
Use a sheet of paper or spreadsheet on your computer to plot the past seven days of your life. What time did you wake up? How long did getting ready for work/school/life take? What time did you come home? What did you do between coming home and going to bed? Be honest! You don't have to show your schedule to anybody else, this is just for you.
Categorise your time
The easiest way is color coding. E.g. blue blocks for travel time, yellow for meals, green for exercise, red for TV/Netflix, etc. Try to find common denominators and generalise where possible. E.g. breakfast, lunch and dinner can all be "meals" and meeting friends for drinks after work or having a Skype call with your childhood bestie can both be "socialising."
3. Sum it up
Make a list of the categories in step 2, summing up how much time you spent on each activity. Don't forget sleep time. Your total should come to 168 hours. *Sometimes we do things that fall in two different categories, e.g. ice-skating with your kids could count as both family time and exercise. In those cases, allot 50% of the time to each category, e.g. count three hours of ice-skating as 1.5 hours family time and 1.5 hours of exercise.
Rate your time
Rate each activity by how much value it adds to your life. This is very personal. What rates high for me, might mean almost nothing to you and vice versa. Remember, this is about freeing up realistic time in your life! Use any scale you like; 1-10, 1-100%, but keep it numeric so that you can track your progress.
Add things that you would like in your life that you didn't (have time to) do last week
Did you exercise enough? Have a date (night)? Meet with friends? Organise your family photos? What's on your "I wish I had time to..." list? Add it to your list and rate it just like you did in step 4.
Define your must do activities (e.g. sleep, work, travel time), and then rank the rest of your activities according to your results in steps 4 and 5.
Every week, you have 168 hours at your disposal. Allocate how much time to spend on each category next week. Be realistic. E.g. if you want to spend an hour on social media every night, budget 7 hours for that, or if you are in the middle of binge watching a TV show on Netflix with your partner, find out how many hours you have left, and budget for that, or (gasp) let him or her go on the binge without you.
8. Set a schedule
Set a schedule for the next seven days based on your time budget. Be specific. For "exercise" time slots, define what exercise you are doing. Write it down on paper, in a spreadsheet, or using a scheduling app on your phone. Make a commitment to try to follow your schedule for 7 days.
9. Bonus Time
Fortunately, even time management is not all black and white. Take advantage of combining activities to add more value to your life. E.g. jogging or biking to work to use travel time for exercise; challenging your friends at laser tag instead of meeting over wine or coffee to make social time active time; preparing food together with your kids to make food prep/household work family time. Be creative!
After seven days, evaluate your time management, and fine tune your schedule for the next seven days. Taking the time to have a schedule is a fantastic crutch when you first get started, and a helpful tool to return to every once in a while.
Repeat steps 1-3. Use your ratings from step 4 to get a numerical value of your week. After a while you will notice that there are some activities you want to add more of, and others you can cut down even further. The goal is to have as much value as possible to the 168 hours we all have to dispose of.
Be critical when you evaluate your week. Ask yourself if there is something on your "must-do" list that adds little value to you. Is there a way you could do that better? E.g. outsource that task, eliminate it altogether? Is there something else that you still want to add but haven't found space for?
Identify and eliminate roadblocks
What's keeping you from fulfilling your goals? Nothing to wear for your workouts? We've got you covered!
What I did and how it turned out (continued from the top of the page)
When I did my inventory, it came from a point of not having enough time or money, so I made an inventory and looked at what gave me money (work) and what cost me money. The one thing that stood out as costing both time and money, while adding little value was TV time. I've never seen myself as an avid TV watcher, but I did watch Ally McBeal on Tuesdays and Desperate Housewives on Thursdays, as well as 1 hour of news every night at 10pm. This was pre-Netflix and 24/7 internet news.
Somewhat drastically perhaps, I threw out my TV, immediately freeing up 9 hours a week, and saving on cable TV and license costs. Win-win! When you're used to negotiating your time in minutes, getting 540 extra feels like an eternity.
What did I do with my extra time?
I started working out, expanded my social life, got a new job, and few years later started my first company. Twelve years later, I'm lucky enough to be able to call exercise work, when I evaluate new colorful samples of Mollyhopp workout wear.