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Time Management

Why Time Management Pays Off

You'll get a little more done, but the big payoff comes from how good you feel.

Key points

  • Time management can help you get a bit more done while leaving you feeling more satisfied.
  • The way we plan our time impacts our well-being.
  • There are many strategies you can use to add meaningful activities into your schedule.
Jessica Lewis/Unsplash
Source: Jessica Lewis/Unsplash

I’m vaccinated now. And, my schedule is picking up again. More social activities. Work deadlines. Necessary errands, like the doctor’s appointments I’ve put off. As I return to a more regular schedule, I’m realizing that one positive aspect of the pandemic for me was that I wasn’t busy.

I spent more time with my family—forced family time, but we did OK—and I did work, but life was in many ways calmer because my time wasn’t fractured by so many demands.

Even as I gently add things back in—visits with family and friends—I no longer have the desire to go back to the busyness of my daily life. I’ve begun to manage my time differently. And it feels good.

I learned during the pandemic that I feel healthier, more connected, less reactive, and less stressed when I structure my time to do things that are meaningful to me. Reading. Family dinners. Writing, not to publish, but for the sake of writing. When I did talk to friends over Zoom or the phone, those conversations were true and meaningful.

An analysis led by researchers at Concordia University in Montreal found that time management does moderately improve our productivity, the real benefit is in the well-being it produces.

Structuring Our Time Can Lead to Greater Satisfaction

When we structure our time, we tend to build in the things that contribute to a more satisfying life. This doesn’t mean it’s easy or without feeling. Living a meaningful life doesn’t necessarily imply a happy life—I’m a perimenopausal woman quarantined with my adolescent daughter, so yeah, meaning does not necessarily equal happiness in the moment. But whether there was a moment of conflict or ease, I felt satisfied, and secure knowing that I was where I wanted to be during the pandemic, at home with my family. That helped me manage the challenges and find some peace.

Researchers evaluated the findings from 158 studies and papers evaluating time management practices of 50,000 people recorded over the last 30 years and found that 72% percent had greater life satisfaction when they were able to structure and manage their time.

"Time management helps people feel better about their lives because it helps them schedule their day-to-day around their values and beliefs, giving them a feeling of self-accomplishment," said lead researcher Brad Aeon.

And time management strategies can also ease anxiety and stress. When we feel as though we have a greater sense of control and autonomy in our lives, we feel less stressed. Of course, most of us still have to get the work done, and there is much we can't control if we want to keep our jobs. Yet there are ways to structure our time so that even the obligations feel better.

How do we do this even as the so-called normal life threatens to encroach on our schedule?

1. Keep a big list and a little list. I’m a to-do lister, but I used to put everything in for the day. Now, I don’t. My daily schedule starts with three essentials. The must-dos. At first, it was difficult to pare down my list, but with practice, you’ll discover what I did, most things are not essential. They can be done at other times, or not at all. So, list our essentials, then drop everything else on your mind on a master list that you hide under a stack of papers. This will ease your mind because you won’t worry about forgetting what you want to get done, but it also won’t bury you in a never-ending cycle of busyness. Pull it out when you are adding your essentials for tomorrow, or if you have a minute to spare, but only after the big three are done.

2. Schedule meaningful moments in your day. You will be healthier, happier, less stressed when you are doing things that align with your values. I write my workout right into my daily schedule to make sure it gets done. Also, any household chores I need to get done. Often the routine tasks and wellness things will also be one of my essentials. I pace myself so that my daily to-do items feel balanced. One day I might schedule a golf game with my husband. Another some moments of quiet reading, or time to just hang out and binge-watch a show. This so-called free time isn’t frivolous, it’s how I restore. And when you structure your time to add things you value and enjoy you’ll gain a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment that will increase your motivation for the other tasks.

3. Build in time to be home or in a physical space that feels good to you. I’m a nester. I value family dinners. Like to be home. So I plan time to be home. I don't go out two nights in a row. Find your space, a trail in the woods, a chair on the back deck, a quiet space in the house, and spend a few minutes each day there, in solitude. Build it into your schedule.

4. Reframe the less-than-meaningful moments. There are just going to be things we need to complete that aren’t that interesting, but we can reframe these things and feel better. If you value learning and growth, use your commute to listen to an audiobook or podcast. If invoicing and bill-paying get you down, recognize the value of creating a sustainable business and household. Don’t love your job? Use your breaks to do something you do value, draw or write—make something, get outside, exercise.

5. At the end of your day, jot notes about tomorrow. Get your essentials in mind, how you’ll use your break times, the things you want to do because they are fun or satisfying. And, write down something you are looking forward to in the day ahead. Dwell on that a minute. This kind of future planning not only helps you get a jump on your schedule but also cultivates optimism, which often directs us to take actions that matter and can improve our lives. That feels good too

When we structure our time and become deliberate in how we spend this finite resource we will get a little more done. But the biggest payoff comes in how good we feel.

We don’t have to be busy or frantic. We can be full and engaged and excited about what’s ahead. When you structure your time to include the things that you value you’ll boost your well-being without becoming busier.

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