Beating the Hourglass: My Foundation for Better Time Management

I get asked quite frequently about my “secrets” for time management because apparently I seem to look like I have it all together. This couldn’t be further from the truth and even I have moments of stress, panic and sheer exhaustion. But I have established some guidelines that I regard as my foundation for better time management that I’m more than happy to share. They’re not one-size fits all, but they fit perfectly into my life.

My Office Assistant, Pinot sets a poor example of time management

Keep a Weekly White Board

I keep a white board in my office that’s divided into seven columns for each day of the week.  This allows me to visually map out my “Must-Get-Dones” for each day and set priorities for the week. Moving these tasks from my mental to-do list and to my white board has been a huge stress reliever and organizational tool. I can clear my mind long enough to focus on a single task and when I have time to move on to the next project or if something were to come up and change my plans, I can visually move around my tasks from day-to-day and change them as often as my schedule does. I also find myself completing tasks based on priority not based on ease or interest which I’ve found to be my own personal form of procrastination.

Block Schedule Your Time

All too often I would find myself in the same workday scenario. I would be trying to complete 4 tasks at once, have at least 8 pages open on my browser and be checking my email every 3 minutes. Not only was I not getting anything done, I was also causing myself more frustration and stress. The answer I found was to block-schedule my work time. I focus on what task I need to complete, estimate the appropriate time it should take me and schedule time on my calendar to work solely on that task until completion, just like I would schedule a meeting or conference call. And because I wouldn’t check my email in the middle of a meeting or hang up in the middle of a conference call, I am able to see one task through to completion and find myself with a better quality product in the end.

Be Productive Even When You’re Not Working

No one can be productive for 8+ hours straight. Ok, no HUMAN can be that productive…but we are just that—human. We need to take breaks and my best advice is that when you feel like you need 15 minutes away from the computer screen, take it and make it count. I use my breaks throughout the day to still do productive things that I want to get done, they just might not be work related. I’ll read through a magazine, clean, do laundry or browse Word Press and see what other people are writing about. By using these little breaks to knock routine or housekeeping items off of my list, I’m still gaining that moment of relaxation and mental clarity while clearing even more free time for myself in the future.

Get Into a Routine

As a freelancer and business owner, I set my own schedule. I COULD sleep in until 11am each morning or spend the afternoons shopping, but I don’t. I wake up earlier now than I ever did with a desk job. I exercise, eat breakfast and shower just like I would if I were going to an office. Then I use the first hour of my work day to complete routine business-building tasks. I browse the news, answer emails and update my social media. After one hour, no matter what, I stop. I then focus solely on client work and what my white board has laid out for me that day. My goals for the day are already outlined and I know exactly how much time I’ve allotted to complete each one. This structure in my day helps me to move forward and with greater speed and efficiency. Find whatever routine works for you, but stick with it!

Make the Most of Your Mornings

Get up early. Get up two hours earlier than when you would normally feel like waking up. I promise you, this is some of the best advice I can give to anyone who wants to be successful. Those morning hours are ones you’ll never be able to make up for the rest of your day. If you wake up late, you’ll be playing “catch-up” until you finally crash into bed that night. Mornings are your time to knock as much off your to-do list as possible. If a crisis were to strike in the afternoon, you’ll be well-equipped to handle it without it causing other tasks to roll over to the next day. If you work hard enough in the mornings and find yourself with some free time in the afternoon, then that’s all yours! You paid the piper now enjoy it, guilt-free. Run an errand, exercise, check-in with a friend, nap or give into a guilty pleasure. Eventually this “free afternoon” reward will inspire you to want to work hard in the momings and if you use today’s free afternoon to work ahead on tomorrow’s tasks, you can “earn” an entirely free day later that week.

These guidelines aren’t easy or always fun. They take discipline and accountability. But I promise you, you’ll adjust to the early mornings and new routine and will be even more prepared to accommodate the future growth of your business, your family and all of the chaos that comes with it!

142 thoughts on “Beating the Hourglass: My Foundation for Better Time Management

  1. I’m starting nursing school in 2 weeks and time management is very important to me because I have a tendency of leaving things to last minute as the year goes by. I make list and do the whole block scheduling but what I realize from reading your post is that I need BREAKS, i tend to cram all my work and school work on to my schedule but no actual ME time. No wonder I crack after a couple of days. I need a better system, thanks for sharing yours.

  2. I am forever having a hard time managing my time not because I do not know how but because I’m too lazy and would procrastinate a lot. I can’t help it. Haha

  3. Thanks for the tips.

    It’s too easy to not take breaks — and burn out and get grouchy and then not want to do anything. The challenge for me, always, is prioritizing between short, medium and long-term projects — balancing that with the very real human need to see friends and work colleagues face to face (I am an hour travel time from where most of them are.) Yesterday I had a 2.5 hour lunch with a good friend, also freelance…and that took up most of the day (plus travel time.) Worth it? Yes!

  4. Not kidding here: I JUST asked on Twitter for freelance/home-based business advice. Such incredible timing! I’m contemplating a transition from a desk job to a full-time freelance biz…thank you for sharing these tips!

    🙂

  5. So true–especially about waking up early. I am definitely NOT a morning person, but I find that when I get up and get going, I can accomplish so much more in less time than I can in the afternoon.

  6. I can definitely attest to block scheduling! This was an interesting read; thanks for sharing. My only question is this: I am extremely productive, but I get tired of routine. Every once in a while, I have to try new types of scheduling. Do you have any solutions/suggestions for this? I ask because I noticed you emphasized to “stick” to what works for you.

  7. I like your tip about be productive when not working. It’s easy to forget that the time we take for ourselves, whether to check news on the internet, refill coffee or just stretch is productive. It can seem like a waste of time or procrastination, but I think breaks like that are necessary to keeping productivity up during the “real” work.

  8. Some good ideas here, thanks! But I’ll bet Pinot gets everything accomplished in a day that he (she?) wants to. 🙂

  9. Thanks for the tips, I agree that mornings are much more effective for work, I just wish I had energy to wake up and do things as planned.. Still, thanks for the tips I will try to use it:)

  10. Thanks a million for the great tips. I know I need them for my hectic 8 to 8 work schedule. Will make the most of my mornings from now on (Thumbs up).

  11. I totally agree, make the most out of your morning.. it makes the difference really. I noticed it myself that when I get up in the afternoon even in a rest day, I find it like very hard to get up and just feeling heavy but when I started waking up and getting up early I noticed that the difference is big, like I’m more energized and ready for the world. I also do recommend that. Thanks a lot for this..

  12. I could not agree more about the importance of getting things done in the morning. I’m currently unemployed, so I need to keep myself moving. Love your adorable office assistant. My feline companion isn’t very helpful with time management either, although she is occasionally a good alarm clock supplement.

  13. Nicely written, self discipline is wonderful but without some kind of accountability I tend to procrastinate. I suppose I could be self accountable but that would probably take self discipline..it’s a conundrum for me 🙂

  14. Thanks for posting this. Even the most simple of time management strategies, like a routine, are nice to be reminded of now and then. I always get going and have to regroup and focus on what really works.

  15. My older brother-who pulled off 21 credits a semester while playing D1football- tends to pull all nighters. I agree, getting up early is far more productive.

  16. This feels a little like divine intervention… especially as I sit here still working at 6:30 p.m. having wasted a good portion of my day. I have to do lists, but a whiteboard sounds like it might better influence my behavior. Thanks for a great post!

  17. Great article! I struggle with time management on a daily basis. Every Monday I declare “THIS will be the week I will get it all done”….and then Tuesday hits and I’m behind the eight ball again. I like the white board idea. And I definitely started doing the “get ready in the morning” idea.

    Nothing persuades me more to be lazy and want to take a nap than to sit in my jammies and work. I might as well put my desk next to my bed.

    Congrats on being “pressed”!

  18. Great tips, getting a routine is most important for me. I like the idea of waking up early, I feel like I am missing so much when I am sleeping late. Its a great feeling to get up and just jump right into the day.

  19. Love the tips… I think I am ready to go out and buy a white board. I might just become a morning person too… who knows. I think you just saved my life!

    Congrats on being freshly pressed!
    Stop by for a visit some time.

  20. Recently, I have been finding myself so busy!! Between two part time jobs, the ministry and splitting my time between friends, family, and boyfriend. I’m exhausted. I’m such an organized person by nature but due to transition I really need to rethink how I organize and utilize my time. Thank you for a change of perspective!!!

  21. I could definitely use some help with time management!! Love you’re tip about waking up early and making use of those morning hours. I’m going to try and get in a good routine to get to bed a little bit earlier and up working by 7! Hopefully it will prove successful – as in hopefully I’ll be able to stick to it lol.

    xx Elia

  22. I like your third suggestion, but there’s a pitfall there – if you get too caught up in non-work related productivity, it’s easy to justify spending more time on it cos ‘it needs to be done!’ Unfortunately, it’s a pitfall I’m all too familiar with! Congrats on being Freshly Pressed!

  23. These are some great ideas. I have been waking early for many years and it does work. I will have to try the “white board” idea to get my busy life more in order.
    Thanks again.

  24. The meaningful post,i totally agree with you about the morning.Morning is the begin of the day,it is very precious,i think i should follow your advice to get up earlier.

  25. Hi Stephanie,

    You are so right. Research shows that some of the most productive people get up early so that they can get a head start on the day. You also mentioned blocks of time. 60 to 90 minute blocks of time allow you to get into a flow and finish projects. I agree with you doing one thing at a time and doing it well is much more productive than having 10 windows open on your browser or 5 projects going at a time. My most productive times are when I take out the most high value task on my list complete it and then go to the next high value task. I think it is more important to do the right thing than to do the wrong thing right.
    You have a great writing style, I will look out for your next post.

  26. This wake-up-early thing never works for me.. I’ve been setting alarm at 5.30 AM for the last two weeks and still waking up near 7.30 AM.. And I have classes to attend at 9. Wish I could follow your advice.. anyway I’m trying tomorrow.. Thanks 🙂

  27. These tips are so helpful and encouraging. I love getting up early in the morning to do some writing, organizing, and have a peaceful hour to myself before I have to get started on the grind of the day.

  28. I will be off to the office supply store to get a white board – great idea! With so many things on the go, it should be a surefire way of keeping track of what is on the agenda!

  29. I was drawn to this post b/c the photo made me laugh, and found myself convicted about time management! Ha. Thanks for the inspiration & the good reminders about productivity.

  30. Thanks Pinot for drawing me to this article! Very nice tips and how surprising it is to know that it really is quite simple to lead a better life. Oh and thanks Stephanie!

  31. I’m saving your article and will try to read it once a week as I attempt to get myself into a routine here. I’m really glad you were Freshly Pressed so I came across your post. Congrats on your success and making your talents and skills work for you.

    Look forward to more of your posts!

  32. I read you article with trepidation. Then almost put my hand up and said Me Me me when you wrote Get Up Earlier! I start at 5.30 on the computer. And the farm animals at 7.30. The kitchen by 9.30. then do it all over again. And it works it really does. I have an A3 notebook that I cart about with columns for the day. I cannot work at night. I am going to hang your white board though, my pin boards have colourful papers all over them, they are just looking too colourful and i turning themselves into an art works! great post! true. c

  33. Great tips. And I must say I’m heading your advice of “be productive even when you’re not working.” Because I’m sitting at my desk attempting to work and instead reading your blog. Thanks for the distraction!

  34. I can totally relate to the idea of making ease or interest the deciding factor on what tasks to complete at any given time! That, too, is my form of procrastination sometimes, and it’s a bugger. Because, as you well know, all to quickly you run out of tasks that are easy or of high interest! And then I stall! Having the tasks listed by priority is FAR more effective! Thanks for the great post!

  35. First of all congrats on getting Freshly Pressed! Woohoo!
    I already get up really early, but I love your idea about a white board. I have always been someone who derives satisfaction from checking things off a list, so that may help me to stay on task.
    Great post!

  36. I agree with you on waking up 2 hours ahead. Today was actually the first time I have done that since I was a kid, and my day has gone smoothly.
    Great post! The picture is very cute!!

  37. Great hub….I’ve just written about many of these secretes in my article, “Do you have what it takes to be a freelancer at home.” Time management is so very important in order to be successful. Smile!

  38. I love your advice about mornings! It’s so true that when you have a productive morning, it allows the day to go on with such ease and tasks really do get accomplished better rather than rushed! Thanks for a great post!

  39. Keeping a weekly white board and waking up early in the morning are two pieces I have implemented successful in my professional life and seen them making a huge difference in productivty. Good job with a very well thought out list

  40. These are the types of tips I try to give to other students on my blog. Keeping a white board (I suggest planner for mobile college students) literally saves kids from the peril of forgotten assignments. My grades are always higher when I am dedicated to keeping a planner.

    In a addition to ensuring high productivity, waking up early allows the body to actually feel tired at the end of the day. You can get a good nights sleep every night, waking up feeling refreshed.

  41. Great post! I agree with you about the mornings. I started getting into the habit a few months ago but I have fallen of the wagon. After I come back from my two week vacation in Spain I hope to be refreshed and ready to tackle the last part of the year by getting up early almost every day.
    I happen to have two precious office assistants that make it difficult to get work done. In fact, one of them, Moe, is telling me it’s time to take a break.
    Cheers,
    Jason

  42. I love this advice. I just recently started working from home, and while I have set tasks to do, I find myself procrastinating or unable to focus on what I’m doing. The idea of not checking your email during a meeting or conference call is something I need to work on – I don’t need to check my email every 5 minutes, I’ll do it once an hour when it’s not interrupting something else. Great post!

  43. Hi Stephanie,

    This is such a great post! Time management, focus and being intentional are things that I am constantly trying to improve on but never seem to make any real, noticeable headway. I will keep at it though! 🙂

    You’re a really great writer. Would you consider doing a post on writing- your tips and advise for effective blog writing?

    Have a great day,
    Stephanie (too:)

    1. Hi Stephanie

      (Easy name to remember!) I really like the idea of a blog post about writing effective blog posts. Just from my short time spent in the blogging community I have found out a lot about what works and what doesn’t as far as reaching audiences. I’ll start pulling together a list and after my upcoming 5-part series on “What I wish my college professors would have taught me” I’ll get it going!

      Thanks for the idea and fresh perspective–always appreciated!

      -S

  44. Your have designed a very good blog. Makes me stick around it. Your idea and content is
    good. Good work keep posting. May god bless you in all your future projects.

  45. Great tips! I started my own business about a year ago, and I quickly fell into the habit of sleeping in late, and I felt like my day was wasted! Waking up early totally helps, as both my husband and puppy are still sleeping. Don’t get me wrong…they are the loves of my life, but to have some quiet time to get things done is priceless! Time management is a lesson learned the hard way when you don’t have a boss or co-workers relying on you. Thanks for an awesome post!

  46. Easy for you to say, Stephanie!

    I get up at 5am full of good intent. By 11am and my third cup of tea I am still full of good intent but no further forward. At 1pm I decide to have lunch and to postpone productivity until afterwards. At 2pm I’m suddenly overcome by tiredness and so I take a power nap. Between about 4pm and 8pm I suddenly realise that I have household chores and really ought to do them; this includes making evening meal. After that I like to chill out with a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon and watch mindless TV for an hour and a half before bed.

    Before retiring I look at my ‘to-do list’, and my block schedule. I think back to my daily routine and wonder why nothing I had planned has got done. Then it dawns on me.

    Paid work got in the way. Life. Och well, back to it, I suppose…

    😀

    Greetings from Scotland.

    Marie Marshall
    writer/poet/editor/blogger

  47. Thank you for sharing, I am currently on the probation period with a new company i have joined in the early stages of my career. I have dreams to run a business someday and these tips definitely add value to my life. Thank you for sharing. 🙂

    p.s. This would be my first post on word press. Great advise.

    Akhil SR

  48. I’m going to try applying the schedule and tips you propose to my office job. Thanks for the insights, and for sharing the picture of the gorgeous feline.

  49. Pinot seems so lovely, Bless her… And I enjoyed reading your “Beating the Hourglass”… Congratulations on being Fresly Pressed. Thank you, with my love, nia

  50. Good stuff – I especially liked the info on the white-board, although, I must admit, the thought of staring at seven days of scheduling is a little intimidating. I’m sure it would be helpful to schedule fun stuff, because staying energized is one of the keys to prolonged efficiency, at least for me.

    Thanks for the post!

  51. Love all your tips and your cat is so adorable! Pinot looks like the perfect example of office management, for sure. 😉 It’s hard for me to make the most of mornings though, I can’t stand them, and when I wake up I tend to not move until 5 min. before I leave for work.

  52. Love the tips! I do most of them and knew about the morning tip but hadn’t crystalized it in my brain yet. I had just posted my current, humorous short story (“My Life is Killing Me”) about stress at 63, and I went in search for some time management ideas when I came across your blog. I think your suggestion of getting up 2 hours before you think you should (which is a real struggle at my age), will help tremendously with getting in the exercise and meditation. I’ll let you know how it’s going in a few weeks. I’ve got to do something to reign this chubby little body in. Cheers!
    http://www.howthehelldidienduphere.wordpress.com

  53. I like your last guideline. I agree. When I get up at 6am to workout and start my day productive I end up have a better day than when I sleep in till 8am. Thanks!

    1. I get up at a pretty reasonable hour, surprisingly! Between 6:30-8am depending on the day. I still start the morning with exercise and a good breakfast and so by the time I finally sit down to work I’m completely settled and focused.

  54. I started working from home over a year ago and the most common comment I hear is “I never could be disciplined to get dressed and get to work.” I love having the flexibility to pursue my various interests and businesses!!

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