Time management step 1: Having time to manage

Time is a created thing. To say 'I don't have time.' is like saying 'I don't want to.' ~Lao TzuOne thing’s for certain. You can’t manage time that you don’t have.

Many people look at their busy, cluttered schedule and want for more hours in a day, more days in a week, or more weeks in a year. Unfortunately time is a constant. We each have the same 60 seconds in a minute, 60 minutes in an hour, 24 hours in a day, and 52 weeks in a year. Time exists for all of us, but most of us have given it away and don’t know how to get it back!

So before we talk about how to manage your time, we must first discuss how to free your time.

525,600 minutes

525,600 minutes are available to each and every one of us every year. That may seem like a lot of time and yet how quickly the calendar pages seem to turn.

You may be working on a book that will be written someday, but someday doesn’t seem to come. You may be racing a clock on your dissertation worried about whether you have time to finish. You may have other goals that seem no closer than they were yesterday. If only you had more time.

So where does all of that time go? The truth is most people just don’t know.

In order to answer that question and to find places where time may be available to you, start with the following advice.

Take inventory

If you had a store full of goods and at the end of the day there seemed to be much less product on the shelves than what should be based on sales, you’d likely “check the tapes” to identify the thief. At a minimum you’d double check the inventory.

In the same way when you look back at the last hour, last day, last month, last year, or longer, and can’t tell where the time has gone, it’s likely time to take inventory.

So how do you do that? Spend one week tracking everything you do from the time you wake up to the time you go to bed each day. Don’t prioritize, evaluate, or otherwise critique your actions. Simply record them.

Cut the costs

Now that you have an accurate inventory of your time, you need to determine which items are best use of the time you have.

Maintaining the store analogy, consider the available shelf space. If you can make a larger profit on certain items, you’ll likely dedicate more space to those items on the shelf and minimize or eliminate the items that result in a loss. Unfortunately, regardless of profit, some things are staples and must remain in stock regardless.

In order to put more profitable product on the shelves, you need to clear space. In the same way, when evaluating your time, you need to clear out the non-profitable activities, especially the ones taking up too much time each day.

So what stays and what goes? It’s often easier to begin by classifying activities into one of three groups: necessities, desires, and time sucks. Review each of the actions you recorded while tracking your week and look for the obvious necessities. These are obligations required for survival – work, meals, sleep, etc. – and must remain in the schedule at some level.

Next, identify the activities that are simply time sucks. Perhaps these are things that bring no benefit to your life, but you have been stuck with them. Maybe they are fun activities that are simply overindulged. Either way, these are definite things in your inventory that can make room for more profitable activities.

What to do with your extra time

In the next article in this series, we will discuss ways to reallocate this newly found time in your schedule and to plan for incorporating activities that will make you happier and healthier while accomplishing your bigger goals.

Eric SchmiederEric Schmieder is the Membership Marketing Manager for TAA. He has taught computer technology concepts to curriculum, continuing education, and corporate training students since 2001. A lifelong learner, teacher, and textbook author, Eric seeks to use technology in ways that improve results in his daily processes and in the lives of those he serves. His latest textbook, Web, Database, and Programming: A foundational approach to data-driven application development using HTML, CSS, JavaScript, jQuery, MySQL, and PHP, First Edition, is available now through Sentia Publishing.