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Learning to Manage Your Time

Nine tips presented in context.

Pexels, Public Domain
Source: Pexels, Public Domain

I’ve written previously on time management. The format was standard: a list of tips. But some people are helped more by a contextual example, a story, so here is a composite story of how someone with "poor time management skills" got better:

It was noon and he finally woke up. He looked at his nightstand and saw the article that his mother had sent him on time management, ripped it up, and then stared at the bottle of pills. “My life sucks. Totally. Work, relationships, money. Everything”

He then glanced at the other thing on his nightstand: the picture of his children. And he thought, “Should I try, yet again. Some stupid baby step? But what? I can’t make myself look for a job. I’m too embarrassed to date anyone. I can’t do crap."

He stared and he stared, and then he reached under his mattress to pull out the $100 he stored there. He crawled out of bed and crept around his apartment for more money. He found a bunch of change under the sofa, two bucks in a pair of pants, plus the $13 in his wallet, a total of $118.73. He forced himself, yes forced himself, to get dressed, and he trudged to the bank around the corner, where he had an account with about $500. “May I speak with an investment specialist?” He ended up putting the $118.73 into a money market account and investing the other $500 in “Diamonds,” an ETF (like a mutual fund), which divides his money across the Dow Jones 30 Industrials. He thought, “It’s silly but it feels good to be a part-owner, even a trivial part owner, of companies like Apple, Johnson & Johnson, and Procter & Gamble. And if they do well, I do well. Not a bad bet.”

That hint of hope freed him up to think about work: “What would be easy and fun?” So he padded into a nearby bookstore and mustered up the courage to say one sentence: “Do you need someone to help out during busy days?” The employee said, “We use subs when someone wants a day off. You want to go on the sub list?” He nodded, and four days later was called to sub the next day. He was tempted to lie and say he had a previous engagement but said to himself, “I can do this and if I don’t, it’ll be the pills, and God knows what that will do to my kids.” So he summoned the obvious time-management techniques that he previously blew off: He prepared his clothes the night before, set an alarm clock across the room so he had to get up, and set it for early so there was time for the inevitable unanticipated delays.

When he arrived at the bookstore, his boss said, “Today, we’re doing inventory. I’ll show you how. You’ll do the Psychology, Women’s Studies, Ethnic Studies, and Race Studies sections. That should keep you busy.” That tempted him to run away. “Pressure, pressure. I can’t stand it. What excuse should I give? Or should I just walk out?” But he flashed again on his kids and, this time, about himself: “If I stay focused and don’t let myself get too distracted by looking at the books or the pretty women, I can get this done. I have to get this done. Really. But I can’t rush. If I make mistakes, that’s as bad as not getting it done. Go medium!”

And he succeeded. Yes, he made a few mistakes, yes he didn’t quite get it all finished, but he did well and his boss said, “Great, I hope you can come back tomorrow.” And he did.

And as he walked home, a thought flicked through his mind: picturing himself going out with one of the women in the bookstore,

And such were the first baby steps in his rise from the edge. As he was lying in bed the next morning (at 7:30 AM, not noon), he reflected on lessons learned:

  • “The damn baby steps. I’m sick of hearing it but it helps, a lot.”
  • “I’m glad I picked something easy and fun to get me started.”
  • "I'd never admit it to my mother but she was right: Set an alarm clock and put it across the room so you have to get up to turn it off."
  • “ I didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about what I’d say when I went to the bookstore. If I had, I’d probably have wrapped myself in rumination and not gone.”
  • “Preparing the night before helps.”
  • “Allowing extra time helps—Something always happens that delays things.”
  • “Yeah, go medium, not rush, not spacey, medium.”
  • "Forcing yourself to act and to stay focused, is hard but it gets easier, and feels really good after you've accomplished something."
  • “Funny how tiny wins—investing a few bucks in an ETF, doing inventory, which a monkey could do, makes me think about doing more stuff, even meeting a woman.”

Those tips probably weren’t much different from those in the time-management article his mother sent him that he ripped up.

I read this aloud on YouTube.

I used a similar format in an article on procrastination, one on Finding Mr or Ms Right one on Refreshing a Stale Relationship. and one on managing your money.