Improving Your Time Management Is Life-Changing
For how dry “time management” and “personal planning tools” sound, they can have surprisingly life-changing results.
For example, one of my physician clients came to me feeling like, in her words, she “must be a failure for not being able to get everything done.” After just six weeks of working together, she shared, “I now have so much clarity and confidence… [and am enjoying] downtime and fun with less guilt.”
Another client, a business owner, came in feeling “heavy” and “inadequate.” After learning how to leverage time management tools and strategies, she said she feels “indescribable peace” and that she’s now “empowered to navigate [her] life and ensure [she’s] spending time where it’s needed while also truly understanding how to ‘self-care.’”
One final example: an attorney client came to me feeling “hopeless and desperate.” Six weeks later, she said, “I am now much more hopeful and a lot calmer” and “confident.” “This,” she said, “was a game-changer for me.”
Not to bad of results for something as dry sounding as personal planning tools, eh?
While the concept of time management needs better branding, it has the potential to drastically shift your life and how you view yourself for the better.
Why is that? Well, because…
Everything comes back to time
Obviously, work projects and to-do’s take time. But so do the things that never make it onto a to-do list, like getting yourself ready for work in the morning, managing bath time and bedtime with your child at night, consistently showing up for your friend who’s going through a rough time, making dinner tonight, and cleaning out the car.
All of these things require time.
And not just time in some amorphous, theoretical sense. Concrete time – your awake hours each day.
Because of this, getting a handle on how you manage your time and all the things you want to do with – from personal planning tools and practical, realistic time management strategies – can provide whole new levels of clarity and confidence when it comes to navigating your life and your many to-do’s.
I talk a lot about time management at work here, so today we’re going to focus on personal planning tools you can use in your personal life.
Ways to Improve Time Management on the Personal Front
To manage our time so we’re both more productive and enjoy life more, we need to simplify how we manage our time.
For some reason, we grew up learning to keep meetings and events in our calendar, and our to-do’s on to-do lists, post-it notes, in our email inboxes, and our heads. Over time, you may have even added a task management app (i.e., an electronic to-do list) to the mix.
As a result, the things that require our time are scattered across a lot of places. Even worse on the personal front, often those to-do’s (e.g., showering and getting ready, making meals, walking a dog) never even get written down and just whirl around in our brains (I call these things your Invisible To-Do List).
All of this prevents us from having one clear view of everything on our plate, and that prevents us from truly knowing how or if we can get it all done in time.
That uncertainty nags at us, causing a lot of stress and preventing us from truly enjoying downtime because we feel like we always need to be doing something “productive” to increase our chances that we’ll get it all done in time.
It’s not great. Life feels a little out of our control and not as enjoyable as we want it to.
Many existing personal planning tools just exacerbate this uncertainty
Unfortunately, a lot of “personal planning tools” out there just build on this traditional, scattered approach to managing the things that require time.
For example, a task management app like Omnifocus (based in part on the Getting Things Done method) super-charges a to-do list by letting you organize tasks by category (thereby effectively multiplying the number of lists you can see) and due date, but fails to truly allow you to link the bite-size steps of projects to time (i.e., when will you do it, how long will it take, and how does it interact with everything on your plate for the day?).
Even beautiful paper planners, which claim to “simplify” by bringing your to-do list into at least the same page as your calendar (along with questions you can answer about your day and checkboxes to tick off habits you’re trying to establish) don’t help you truly see where your time is going. Your brain must still out how long each to-do will take, when you’ll do it, and how it interacts with everything else you have to do that day. (For ten reasons why I think even paper lovers like me need to switch to a digital calendar, click here.)
Instead of building on this traditional scattered approach, we need to simplify so we’re using a system that accounts for the fact that it all comes back to and requires our time – and our single bank of time.
We need to simplify where everything lives & create realistic game plans
We need a personal planning tool that lets us clearly see everything on our plate, get those Invisible To-Do’s out of our head, and build a single, cohesive game plan of how we’ll get it all done over time. When that happens… magic.
And that tool exists. It’s simple and already designed to manage time, which is pretty handy when you’re trying to manage all the things that come back to time.
And you already have easy access to one: a digital calendar.
I know, I know… not the sexiest or most tech-exciting tool you’ve ever read about on one of these lists.
But we’re all about effective solutions, not shiny apps that further complicate your life, so we’re okay with the less sexy option.
To get that clarity, I’ll walk you through some ways to leverage a digital calendar in non-overwhelming ways below, and some optional apps you can use to make it all run like buttah.
The Best Personal Planning Tools
Before we dive into what the best personal planning tools are, it’s helpful to actually ask what personal planning tools are. To me, the best time management tools and techniques for your personal life need to help you:
- Unload your Invisible To-Do List into a system so your brain isn’t in charge of it all;
- Have a single, clear, realistic view of how you’ll get everything on your plate done over time; and/or
- Help you spend less time doing things you don’t enjoy.
Below are the most effective ones out there.
Personal Planning Tool No. 1: Your Digital Calendar
I know, I know… perhaps not as sexy sounding of a tool as you’d hoped for, but around here, we’re all about effective time management so you can enjoy your life more – not sexy apps.
Digital calendars like Google Calendar, Outlook’s calendar, and Apple Calendar, can be leveraged in ways people don’t fully appreciate. Done right, a digital calendar is a game-changer for the professional working woman trying to manage her career, family, and personal life.
I teach effective (and weirdly fun) eight-week programs for professional working women on how to create a time management system with a digital calendar (or two if you keep work and personal lives separate) as the backbone of the system. There’s a lot that goes into it, but here are some highlights:
Sub-Calendars to Prevent the Hot Mess Calendar Problem
Digital calendars allow you to create multiple sub-calendars within your calendar. (Google Calendar, Apple, and Outlook call these “calendars,” but I find it confusing to talk about calendars within calendars, so I call them sub-calendars.)
Sub-calendars let you load up your calendar with tons of information (e.g., partner’s schedules, kid’s daycare and school hours, when you’ll shower, and when you’ll draft that motion to compel / prep for patients you’ll see tomorrow / prep that slide deck) – in a way that doesn’t leave you with a cluttered mess.
The secret: You can click sub-calendars on and off, letting you load up your calendar with all the information, but then filter what you see at any given moment with a click. The clarity it gives you to see where your time is going and how it interacts with the rest of your life and the schedules of others in your life – well, it’s just incredible.
Repeating Events to Help You Make that Invisible To-Do List Visible Quickly – Which is Critical for Personal Planning
We want to make everything visual, even the things like when you’ll shower, prep meals, and drive to/from work. This is not to make your life rigid or anything; I highly encourage flexibility when it’s in there (you just get to drag and drop as your days shake out!).
The point is to help you (1) understand how much is on your plate, (2) plan on how to do it realistically, and then (3) allow you to plan a realistic amount of other things in light of what’s already on your plate. This helps you create realistic plans that you can actually complete, which helps you feel accomplished at the end of the day – not constantly defeated by an unrealistic to-do list.
Digital calendars let you easily do this. You just create an event (e.g., “Shower & get ready” from 6-7am), repeat it daily, weekly, monthly, or at custom intervals, and adjust the individual events as your week plays out. Moreover, as life changes or you realize your schedule isn’t working, you can easily make adjustments and apply them over to all future events. It’s incredible.
Most time management tools (e.g., apps, paper planners) don’t even account for these types of activities. But these activities take up hours of your day. If you’re not accounting for them or underestimating how long they take, you plan your day as if they aren’t there, overestimating the other things you can accomplish in a day. Not surprisingly, you can’t do all the things you planned on doing, wonder where the day went, and feel defeated by your to-do list… again.
We must account for these activities, and digital calendars give us an easy way to do it.
Alerts So That Your Calendar Actually Helps You Do The Things You Plan On Doing
A calendar is only good if it helps you actually play out the plans you make (here’s an article on a time I learned this lesson the hard way… yikes).
Digital calendars tap you on the shoulder with phone alerts to help you actually do the things you want to do. Google Calendar shines here, by letting you change alert times by calendar so you could get, for example, a 30-minute heads-up for events and a shorter 10-minute heads-up for tasks. I will say, the Google Calendar notifications themselves aren’t persistent enough for me, so I recommend another app (the next tool I cover) to amplify them.
Digital calendars are spectacular for professional working women seeking time clarity and control in managing all of their roles and the to-do lists that come with each. If you want help setting yours up in an empowering way, including knowing what information to put in it, how to do it while maintaining your love of paper, and more, check out my time management program.
Personal Planning Tool No. 2: Calalarm
For those of you who easily miss or ignore phone calendar alerts and/or crave more customized snooze functions, an iPhone app named Calalarm might be just the ticket for you. Now, I will say about 60% of my clients think it’s too much/obnoxious, and the alerts are definitely persistent. But if that’s what you want and need (like I do), then it’s a great way to supercharge your calendar phone alerts.
Calalarm has a roughly $5 one-time fee, making it a no-brainer to try out. You can read more about how I recommend setting it up here.
Update: In early 2023, Calalarm released an updated version 3 of the app. It’s, unfortunately, not as good as Calalarm 2 (hopefully, yet). If you can use Calalarm 2, I recommend it.
Personal Planning Tools No. 3: Instacart, Gobble & AnyList
Okay, I’m going a bit rogue because I’m squeezing three tools into this one (all food-related) and they’re not technically time management tools, but they are amazing on the personal planning front and save you a ton of time and brain space.
For context: While I don’t hate cooking, I do hate how much time it takes. Between picking recipes, grocery shopping, and doing the actual cooking, cooking meals at home takes up a lot of time. So, lets talk about how to make it easier.
Instacart’s well known now, so I won’t go into a huge amount of detail. If you’ve been on the fence about using it, I highly encourage you to plot out in your calendar the amount of time grocery shopping (including driving and parking) currently takes you – and think of what you could do with that time instead. To me, the annual fee and the shopper tips are well worth it to free up my time.
Plus, if you have kids, it allows you to shop, get groceries, and put them away all while your kids are snoozing (during the day or night!) and you can do something fun with that limited freedom. Completely, completely worth the extra money in my book.
Gobble is another food-related service that can majorly free up your time. It’s like Blue Apron (i.e., meal ingredient kits sent to your house that you cook yourself), but their whole thing is that the meals are ready quickly (Gobble says in under 15 minutes; I’d go with 25).
We used to order about three dinners a week with Gobble. Given the pandemic and how much we’re eating at home, we’ve now switched to at least five dinners a week, and I can’t say enough good things about them. When my husband’s home at night, he starts cooking while I do bedtime with our daughter, and we’re usually goof to when I emerge. Even when I’m home alone, the quick prep time makes it doable for me to manage post-H’s bedtime. I highly, highly recommend.
And you can sign up for a free trial! However you do it, if you’re someone like me who’s sick of spending so much time cooking, try it out.
AnyList is an awesome app a friend introduced me to that allows you to create shopping lists on your phone. Here’s why I love it:
- You can share it with others. My husband and I share lists, which means we both add to it throughout the week and either one of us can access it when we’re out and swing by the store. This is huge for communication and sharing the load of grocery shopping.
- If you have an Alexa, you can link it up. I cannot tell you how many times I say something like, “Alexa, add milk to the shopping list.” The ease with which we can add things to the list reduces those “Ah! We need eggs… let me get this list out… ah, distracted by something… eggs never make it onto the list… we go shopping and totally forget” occasions that happened way too frequently in my life before the Alexa-AnyList combo.
Personal Planning Tools are Awesome AND Here’s Why You Also Need a Time Management System
There are a lot of amazing personal planning tools out there. That said, there are many strategies to leverage these tools.
Without them, these personal planning tools can leave you feeling more confused and overwhelmed than when you started (after you’ve spent hours trying to make them work). You wouldn’t expect to get your hands on a tennis racket and suddenly know the rules of the game, how to play well, and know game strategy. Don’t expect the same of a personal planning tool.
That’s where having someone help show you exactly how to set up these tools and strategies in a way that fit your career, family, preferences, and lifestyle can save you a ton of time and headaches.
Next Steps to Manage Your Time With Less Stress and More Calm Clarity
If you’re interested in getting my help to help you leverage these personal planning tools with practical strategies to get you to that clarity, calm, and confidence you crave, I’d love to help. I run an effective eight-week time management program for professional working women.
Remember those three clients I mentioned at the top of this article who went from overwhelmed to having more clarity and confidence? They went through that same program. I’d love to help you transform how you manage your time – and how you feel about it – in just eight weeks. You can learn all about the program here, and don’t hesitate to reach out to me with any questions at su*****@ke********.com.