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Time management for “busy” people

Just one of these time management tips will save you hours each week and help you take control of your time -- without any special apps or software.

Ramit Sethi

Would you agree with any of these statements?

  • “I’m busier than most people”
  • “Whenever I try to manage my time, something comes up to ruin the whole system”
  • “I’ve tried time management software and apps, but they never work”

We like to think we’re special snowflakes when it comes to time management, but the truth is, almost EVERYONE can relate to most of the quotes above.

So how is it that some people seem to get a gargantuan amount of things accomplished… while the rest of us struggle just to get through the day?

TRUTH #1: We all have the same amount of time. Some just manage their time better.

TRUTH #2: Time management isn’t about super-secret tactics or fancy apps. It’s about your mindset and simple — but powerful — shifts in how you approach your to-dos.

I want to give you 5 simple systems you can implement today to take control of your time.

Set these up once, and you’ll reap the benefits forever. The best part is, none of them require a special app or software.

Hundreds of my students have used these exact systems. Doing one of the 5 can save you hours each week. All 5 could save you at least 10 hours per week.

Think about that. That’s over 40 hours each and every month (an entire workweek of time!).

I recommend you start with the one that you find most impactful and work your way through the list over the coming weeks. Then watch the overwhelm disappear.

System 1: Make it stupid easy to say “No”

How many times this month have your friends (or even you!) said something like…

  • “Sorry, something came up. I’ll catch you next time”
  • “I don’t know if I can do that. I’m just so swamped at work, you know?”
  • “I’m too busy to do that right now. I’ll get to it later”

All of us — CEOs, politicians, Ph.D candidates, mothers of 2 — have the same 24 hours in a day. It’s OK to recognize when “no time” is actually a blanket excuse for not doing something you don’t want to do.

When you find yourself saying any of the phrases above, stop and evaluate why.

Maybe it’s not a priority for you right now. Maybe you just really don’t want to do it. Both of these thoughts are perfectly fine. We’ll save everyone a lot of time and effort by recognizing (and acting on) what’s really going on.

ACTION STEP: The next time someone offers you an invitation, instead of saying “I don’t have time,” be honest with them and yourself. You can even use this exact script: “That sounds really interesting, but I’m going to pass so I can focus on a couple other things I really want to do.”

This will:

  1. Make others value your time and commitments
  2. Force you to be honest with yourself about what’s important
  3. Free up your mental energy to worry about things you actually care about

System 2: Purge the tiny time-sucks

We all face daily annoyances in our lives that are so tiny, they’re almost embarrassing to talk about.

  • Oh god, I have to wrap my hair dryer up and put it in the medicine cabinet??
  • I don’t have enough hangers for my coat, so I have to store them in two separate closets. Waahh….
  • My garbage can is kind of ugly. Also, I hate having to bend over, shove it back in, and fiddle around with it to close the cabinet

But these minor annoyances add up. It’s like going to the beach and walking into a swarm of mosquitoes. One isn’t so bad, but if you’re getting bitten by a hundred of them, you have a serious problem.

We keep putting up with these distractions day after day, not recognizing the invisible cost of each individual annoyance. We never make the connection between these 50 tiny inconveniences… and the BIG things that we always seem too tired to do.

But those little annoyances are like motivation mosquitoes. They suck you dry one bite at a time.

We say, “I need motivation,” but we already have enough. The problem is we’re spending it, one ounce at a time, on tiny BS problems.

ACTION STEP: Make a list of every tiny annoyance in your day (here’s mine).

  • Maybe you only have 2 coffee mugs, so you have to wash one every morning
  • Maybe you need a new shower curtain, but last time you went to Target, they were all sold out
  • Maybe half your pants are in your closet and half are in your drawer, so you have to go back and forth every morning

It’s not shallow to want to have a smooth day. In fact, top performers go out of their way to recognize these motivation mosquitoes — those tiny annoyances that drain your mental reservoir — and purge with prejudice.

Now, my favorite part!

One-by-one, schedule in time to fix each of them. Put an actual appointment on your calendar to order a new curtain, organize your dresser, or shop for cool new mugs.

Then put a recurring item on your calendar to identify your new time-sucking annoyances and get rid of them every quarter. You’ll be amazed at how your day changes when small problems vanish.

System 3: If it’s not on your calendar, it doesn’t exist

My friend asked me how I manage my to-dos. I pulled up my calendar and showed him exactly how I run my life: If it’s not on my calendar, it doesn’t exist.

 

 

Look at this one item:

 

 

This is a random to-do that I would normally put in the back of my head… and it would never get done. Instead, I added it to my calendar so it always gets done.

ACTION STEP: Stop putting things on your “to-do” list. Instead, schedule actual time for them. Here’s a few real items from my calendar:

  • Call cable company
  • Clean stupid box of papers
  • Mail letter to friend

Advanced tip: You can set up weekly, monthly, and quarterly “to-dos” for things like reviewing your systems, planning an annual negotiation, or even checking in on your relationship.

System 4: Get information out of your brain and into action

Now I want to show you a simple system I use that helps me stay extremely productive. I call it the Iceberg Method.

I decided to share the Iceberg Method once I got this question from an IWT reader:

“I read a lot of influential things every day from people like you, Tim Ferriss, Ryan Holiday, etc. All of the topics you discuss and people you link are insightful and usually have a great deal of value and takeaways. However, even when distilling it down to bullet points on pieces of paper, it can all still be a lot to take in (that’s how much value there is!), and often it’s easy to forget some or all of it. What is the process you use to internalize information like this and make it a part of your everyday thinking, rather than just another sheet of notepaper?”
–Rick

You’re probably like Rick and also read all this stuff every day. So how do you apply what you’ve learned?

Use the Iceberg Method. This will help you actually USE what you learn without having to search and reread before applying it. The best part is, you don’t have to waste critical mental resources trying to retain or remember everything you’ve read.

Even better, you’ll be 30% of the way done on any project — before you even start it.

I recorded this video to share how I use this:

ACTION STEP: Start by looking at your email inbox.

Most of us have months-old emails sitting stagnant because “someday” we’ll need to reference them. Tag these emails and file them away so they are out of your brain and you don’t waste mental energy each day reviewing them.

System 5: Make a decision. And move on

Recently, one of my students in my Brain Trust group asked me which book she should read first — X or Y.

Look at my response:

 

 

Stop wasting time deliberating minor decisions. Stop agonizing over optimizing small decisions that will have no meaningful impact on your life. Pick something — and move on.

In other words, BE DECISIVE!

It’s easy to be a control freak. (I say that as someone who used to be one… and still is in certain areas of life.)

But then you create massive to-do lists, become the bottleneck to your co-workers and family, and set yourself up to be the martyr because “nobody else can do it like I do.”

It’s actually harder to take a hard look at yourself and admit: “I’m a cognitive miser — I have limited attention and willpower. So I’m going to spend my limited time focusing on things that really matter. And I’m going to make a decision — ANY decision when it comes to the things that don’t matter.”

This took me years and years to really “get.” And beneath it all is the very real problem of perfectionism. I realized I could spend all the time in the world to make “perfect” decisions… or I could actually have an impact on the world by focusing on things that matter.

This is liberating. It means most of the decisions I used to worry about don’t matter. So I pick something and move on — so I can focus on the decisions that do matter.

ACTION STEP: Make a decision you can stick to when it comes to something you shouldn’t be wasting time deliberating. For example:

  • President Obama wears the same suit every day
  • I made a list of restaurants and coffee shops I like, and if I’m having a business meeting, I always meet at 1 of the same 3

I’m willing to bet you deliberate over decisions that actually make no difference at all. Do you spend time researching airline fares to save $50? Do you open 15 tabs on the different types of underwear to buy?

What’s an area of life where you’ve deliberated way, way too much? Where you could just pick something — ANYTHING! — and move on with life?

Advanced Systems: Create habits you can stick to

As you may have noticed, our struggles with time management are really struggles with creating habits — which is why I put together the very best material on setting goals, creating habits that stick, riding motivational waves, and getting back on track if you ever fall off.

If you’re ready to stop making excuses, break out of that rut, and make a major change in your life, this free guide is for you.

 

 

Take a look at what’s inside:

  • How to wake up productive and get more done by noon than most people do all day (covered in Part 2)
  • “If I wasn’t so lazy, I’d ____.” I’ll teach you how to keep accomplishing goals even when you “don’t feel like it.” (covered in Part 3)
  • Ever spent a busy day filled with distractions — answering emails and putting out fires — and walked away feeling like you finished nothing? I’ll show you how to stay laser-focused on tasks and eliminate distractions (covered in Part 6)

This guide includes HD videos, downloadable worksheets, lessons from the world’s leading experts on behavioral change, and much, much more.

So check it out. Try out the techniques. And enjoy the results you get for the rest of your life.

Remember — building even one new habit around your fitness, your business, or your relationships could change everything. This guide shows you how to build those habits and much more.

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