Given that my whole business is about time management strategies for working women, it’s going to be hard to limit myself to just 9 tips (originally, it was going to be 5 strategies, so you can see how this is going… haha).
Let’s jump straight to the good stuff!
1. Use a Time Management Approach that Addresses Your Personal AND Professional Lives
In my experience, most time management approaches out there focus on your personal life (e.g., “what’s a good morning routine?”) OR professional life (e.g., “how to be more productive at work”).
However, everything you do requires time, and it all pulls on the same bank of time: your awake hours.
Because of that, we can’t plan a great work day while ignoring our personal lives – and vice versa.
Solid time management – especially for working women, who tend to juggle more competing roles than male counterparts (not saying it’s right; just reality for many) – requires a system that helps you manage and make time for all of your roles.
So, first time management strategy for working women: don’t just focus on home or work – use a system designed to help you manage both.
To that end,
2. When it comes to effective time management for working women, you can’t beat the simple effectiveness of a digital calendar
Even if you’re a paper lover like me, I highly encourage you to consider going digital when it comes to how you manage your time and tasks – and, specifically, using a digital calendar. To be clear, I still process by writing with pen on paper and jot down random thoughts and tasks on my legal pads all day long. But when it comes to managing the complicated lives of working women with many roles and responsibilities, a digital calendar combined with smart time-blocking just cannot be beat.
This approach truly helps you understand how all of your activities and tasks (regardless of whether they’re professional or personal ones) draw on the same bank of your awake hours.
When you use a digital calendar and time-block your personal and professional activities within it (or within two separate work and personal calendars but sync them or represent each in the other as necessary), you’re forced to confront that only so many blocks of time fit within the hours of a day. And while that can be frustrating to see, it’s critical as it aligns with reality. This makes you a more realistic planner, helps you avoid overcommitting, and helps you make decisions about where you want your time to go. And that, my friend, is where the magic happens. It’s hard magic – but it is magic.
If you’re resisting because you love paper planners or can’t imagine letting go of to-do lists and post-it notes, check out this article. Digital calendars are the only tool I’ve found that can actually keep up with our lives and bring clarity to a lot (a LOT) of moving pieces and competing roles. I’d love to get you that clarity – and the resulting breathing space – too.
3. When managing your time, don’t forget about your Invisible To-Do List
Often when we think about managing our time, our brains jump straight to the events on our calendars and the action items listed out on our to-do lists, post-it notes, and lurking in emails.
But I’d like you first to think about when you do the following things and how long they, on average, take you:
- Showering and getting yourself dressed and ready for work (e.g., hair, makeup if you wear it);
- Making and enjoying your breakfast and coffee;
- Feeding and walking your dog (or letting that cutie outside).
The Invisible To-Do list all carry around in our heads
These are things that rarely make it onto to-do lists or get added to the calendar. And yet, they’re “Invisible To-Do’s,” most prevalent in the mornings and evenings, and take up hours of our day – and significantly more if you have kids (e.g., getting them ready and out the door in the morning; running bath and bedtime if you have little ones).
To effectively plan our days, you’ve got to take these Invisible To-Do’s into account, both so that your plans are realistic and so you can appreciate how much you are doing (versus ending each day feeling like you ran around but “didn’t get anything done!”).
Use a time management system that accounts for the Invisible To-Do’s
Make sure you use a system that helps you account for these activities – both to plan when you’ll do them and accommodate how long they take – before you start trying to figure out when you’re going to do your one-off to-do’s.
In your digital calendar, time-blocking these activities out to make them visual. While I encourage you repeat each activity on a, e.g., daily basis for efficiency’s sake, feel free to be flexible and drag-and-drop these activities around as your daily schedules shake out. Flexibility is the name of the game.
Doing this helps you see how you’ll accomplish those Invisible To-Do’s each day – or make changes to make your mornings and evenings run smoother (e.g., eliminate certain activities, ask home partners to take over certain activities once you understand where the chokepoints are).
(And don’t worry, I teach tech strategies to make sure those Invisible To-Do’s doesn’t render your calendar a cluttered mess – don’t rule this approach out because of that concern!)
4. A quick email tip to help you receive less email after hours
Alright, most of my time management strategies for working women are long-term plays that take time to establish (we’re all about long-lasting, sustainable strategies here, even if they take a bit more time to set up – not “quick fixes” that fizzle out after two weeks),…
BUT I wanted to break it up with a fun quicker strategy, so here goes:
Email – both volume and frequency – is a major time management pain point for many of the women I work with. So, let’s cover one email strategy I love:
For any email you send out after, say, 3pm, delay send (otherwise known as “schedule send”) it for tomorrow morning.
This was a client’s idea, and I just think it’s brilliant! It helps you get something off your plate… but not get a response that evening when you’re trying to relax with loved ones or by yourself.
Of course, if you can completely ignore email after you leave work, do that! That’s just not the reality for everyone, so for those people, I offer this smart strategy.
A word of warning for Outlook users
A quick word of warning: if you use Outlook and specifically Outlook’s desktop app, be aware that some clients have mentioned that a “delayed-sent” email will only go out when your computer is on and running. For example, if you schedule send it for 8am but don’t turn your computer on and open up the Outlook desktop app until 9am, the email will go out at 9am. This is not the case for GSuite email, Gmail, or, I believe, Outlook.com’s email, as those schedule-sent emails are stored and waiting in the cloud and go out no matter if your computer is on or not. However, it’s apparently different tech for Outlook’s desktop app, so just be sure to schedule-send for a time when you’ll be working.
Side note: I have a short’n’sweet email management mini-course. If you’re interested, you can learn more about it here.
5. Plan your weeks – before the weekend… with an agenda
If you want to feel on track, you’ve got to lay down the tracks – and that’s where a weekly planning session comes in. When it comes to time management strategies for working women, this one might be the most important.
I call mine the Clean Slate Session given that it, well, cleans the slate, makes sure you’re on top of it all and nothing has fallen through the cracks, and helps you create a realistic game plan to get it all done over time.
While many people plan on Sundays or even Monday mornings, I highly recommend holding this on a Friday. Here’s the thing: I can’t explain it, but after you run a full Clean Slate session, you get this weird high. We don’t often in life have moments where we get to think, “I AM ON TOP OF IT ALL” – so, getting that moment is pretty amazing.
I want you going into your weekend with that feeling so you can truly enjoy your weekend – versus feeling weighed down by that looming Sunday-Scaries feeling all weekend only to get the clarity that would bring you peace of mind… right when you’re going back into work. Let’s run this on a Friday, and get ready to feel more calm and confident that you’re on top of it all all weekend long!
6. Outsource: Prioritize your time at least as much as your money
Eee this one is tricky emotionally, but we’re going there because it’s important.
Spending money to free up time can be emotionally fraught
Some people knee-jerk roll their eyes and go into that, dare I say… bitter or defensive frame of mind when people advocate spending money to free up time. I get it – especially in a weird economy, it can be hard to get excited about spending money.
And we women are taught to skimp and save to be financially “responsible,” so it’s hard to spend on this type of stuff because society paints as somewhat “indulgent” (see Rachel Rodgers’ fascinating book to learn more about the societal tendency for men to be taught to invest and grow wealth to be smart financially while women are taught to save and, you know, skip lattes to be wealthy).
BUT I want to challenge you a bit here. Research done and compiled by Dr. Ashley Whillans, a Harvard Business School professor and author of the book, Time Smart, shows that people who value their time above money are happier. I’m not advocating being financially wild here, but if your family’s income after monthly expenses, savings, etc. leaves some money on the table, consider investments you could make to free up your time – at least with as much consideration as spending it on things (which we as a society more easily understand and, therefore, do).
Examples of spending money to free up time
The common example is hiring a house cleaning service or individual (freeing up hours of your weekend from cleaning). Other options include investing in Instacart to deliver groceries (freeing up hours from grocery shopping) and/or delivered to-prepare or already-made meals (freeing up daily cooking time). I’ve also had clients who hired people to hang and take down holiday lights, pick up dog poop in their yards, do yardwork, snow removal, help with personal tasks, run errands, and more. We live in an age where these services are more prevalent and convenient – take advantage! If you don’t enjoy doing certain tasks or would rather spend that time doing other things, get them off your plate!
In short, à la Dr. Whillans, when it comes to how you spend your time, make sure you at least consider ways you could money to reclaim your time so that you value your time over money – and you’ll end up being happier.
7. Before saying “yes” to anything new, respond, “Let me check my calendar first” (even when you want to say “yes”)
When it comes to smart time management strategies for working women, this one is CRITICAL.
Whenever you’re asked to take on anything new – at work or in your personal life – respond with something like, “What a great opportunity/project/committee! Let me check my calendar before committing. I’ll circle back soon.”
If you’re like me, in the moment when you’re asking to take something on, the people pleaser in you makes herself known and wants to say yes – even when you, as a whole, desperately want to say no.
If you do want to say no, the “let me check my calendar” approach buys you time to finesse your “no” response so that you actually decline (versus panic-saying yes and regretting it for weeks or months on end).
If you do want to say yes, forcing yourself to look at your calendar first can be a wonderful way to, well, save yourself from yourself. You might love the sound of something in theory and in a vacuum, but when you see what that project would require in terms of time and energy and see what else would have to go or shift to accommodate it, you might decide it’s actually not the time for that thing. Much better to figure that out now than realize it in a few days once you’ve already committed.
So, get familiar with that phrase (or a variation of it that sounds more like you). While I know it sounds silly, practice saying it out loud a few times so it’s on the tip of your tongue the next time you’re asked in person or on the phone to take on something new. And consider creating an email template with the phrase so you can also have it handy there, too.
8. If you have kids, consider a weekend sitter
I know this next one sounds counterintuitive. Many of us want more time with our kids, so getting a weekend sitter and spending less time with them sounds like the complete opposite of what we should do.
And this isn’t for everyone! But it might be for you if you crave time with your kids… but then spend a lot of your weekend trying to figure out when you could grocery shop, work out, get a little work done, do that one house thing you’ve been putting off for two months,…
If you know what I mean all too well, then consider this: if you got a sitter for, e.g., 8am-12pm on Saturday and could do all of those things without your kids and without needing to barter with your partner to get that time (and they could do their own thing during that time, too!), how much more present and relaxed do you think you’d be the rest of the weekend?
I think in reality, most of us actually don’t need more time with our kids – we crave the ability to be more present with our kids. The above strategy helps you do that, which I think gets at the heart of the matter more than just adding more time to the pot.
9. Use a time management system designed for working women
Alright, assuming you’re game to go all in with a digital calendar (e.g., Google Calendar, Outlook Calendar, Apple Calendar, or a combo of them), you also need time management strategies and a game plan designed for a working woman. You wouldn’t buy a new tennis racket and expect to be a pro at playing tennis, right? You know you need to learn the rules of the game, strategy, and practice.
Same goes for time management. Deciding to go all in on a digital calendar and implementing these strategies is a great first step. And then, we need to empower you with a system of strategies – on both a larger scale and in more depth.
If you’re game, I encourage you to check out my 8-week time management course for professional working women. Think: a comprehensive time management system for working women that helps you manage it all – personal and professional – with less stress. Let’s get you that clarity and peace of mind you’ve been craving. And if you want a free taste before you decide, check out my free 5-day program, the Reset & Refresh. Enjoy!