How To Plan Your Day: Five Time Management Principles To Help You Thrive
Preview: Too much to do and not enough time in which to do it? Learn how to plan your day using five proven time management principles.
My days are full. I don’t need to tell you this. Many of you have emailed me and said that your biggest struggle is getting it all done. Here are some of the comments I’ve received.
- I don’t know how to balance house-cleaning and school work with various appointments/practices/other spontaneous needs.
- I feel like there’s not enough time to plan.
- I’m desperately exhausted but wanting this to work.
- My biggest struggle is surviving the day-to-day stuff.
- I feel like once school have-to’s are “done” I am in a race to just get life tasks done.
- I cannot keep up with the million domestic tasks.
Have you felt this way too?
It’s tempting to think that we need a better routine or that we need to find a system that will solve all of our problems. We think we need more willpower, better habits, or magically develop superpowers overnight. Unfortunately, that’s not the answer either.
So what is the answer? I decided to find out.
I began reading time management books and blogs. A lot of them! And I noticed some trends. The principles they suggested didn’t work for me because I didn’t have consistent blocks of time to devote to specific activities.
I needed a flexible solution that would work with my schedule and my situation. And I needed it to change as my life situation changed, my children moved to a new stage, or unexpected needs arose. What I needed were principles I could apply to any situation.
In this article, you’ll learn how to plan your day using five time management principles I now use and teach to others, including my children. Many of these principles are ones I learned from other time-management gurus, but I modified them to meet the needs of my life. I can’t wait to share them with you so you, too, can feel successful at the end of your day.
- Have Realistic Expectations
- Identify Your Priorities
- Establish Routines
- Reduce Distractions
- Set Aside Time To Plan
1. Have Realistic Expectations
Have you ever been to a buffet, taken a plate, and piled it high? When you sat down to eat, you realized that the food fit on your plate but not in your stomach. You couldn’t eat all of it even though it looked so good!
Most of us have the same problem with how we plan our days. We say yes to more obligations than we can fulfill, write out to-do lists a mile long, and imagine ourselves as a superhero able to leap mountains of laundry in a single leap.
The reality is that our time plates are smaller than we realize. We all have 24 hours to get everything done, but we often plan our days as if we had 48 hours.
You cannot do everything you think you can. You’ll have to make some hard choices about what goes on your calendar and your to-do list. And, you’ll have to put in some effort to make the most of your 24 hours. I promise not to leave you hanging. Keep reading to learn more about how to do that.
It is helpful to spend a few minutes reflecting on your expectations. Here are a few questions you could ask yourself to help you evaluate if your expectations of what you can accomplish in a day are realistic:
- How do you feel at the end of the day?
- What activities or commitments no longer bring you or your family joy?
- When people ask how you are, how do you answer?
- Are you satisfied with the amount of time and attention you provide to each task or area of responsibility?
- Do you have time to rest and recharge on a regular basis?
In episode 3 of the podcast, I explained how I revise my expectations so I can focus on what is most important to me.
2. Identify Your Priorities
The first step in deciding what stays on your daily plan and what has to go is identifying your priorities. This is hard! We may easily identify tasks or activities we could eliminate, but often everything seems like a fire that we need to put out now. How do you decide what your priorities are?
I like to think about the rocks in a jar analogy. Consider the following two pictures. Both contain the same jar and the same amount of rocks and sand. In the first picture, the big rocks stick out the top of the jar. Everything will not fit when you place the sand and rocks in the jar from smallest to largest.
When we take a different approach, though, and place the big rocks in the jar first, followed by the smaller rocks and finally the sand, everything fits. You could even pour water into the jar and fit even more.
Let’s consider how we can apply this concept to our lives. If we spend most of our day on time-wasting tasks or activities that do not support our priorities, we discover that our day slips away. But when we take care of the big rocks first, we can do more and fit more into our day. I keep this jar on a shelf in my office to remind me to focus on my priorities.
To apply the rocks in a jar analogy, you need to identify your priorities. Consider your answers to the following questions:
- What is important to you?
- What is most important to your family?
- What values do you want to uphold?
- In what activities do you want to invest your time?
- In what relationships do you want to invest your time?
- What do you want to spend your time doing?
- How do you want people to remember you? What would you want them to say at your funeral?
Based on your answers to these questions, choose 2-3 priorities that will be your big rocks. When you plan your week, ensure that you make time for these priorities.
To give you an example, my priorities at the moment are relationships with my husband and children and my health. When push comes to shove, and something has to give because the day has gone haywire, these are the two things that will take precedence.
I discuss this concept in more detail inside the Flourishing Days course.
3. Establish Routines
Multiple moms have emailed me and said their biggest struggle is not knowing whether they are a routine or schedule family. When children are involved, I think it’s pretty difficult to live by a schedule. Someone will inevitably get sick, throw a tantrum, or need help at an inopportune time. Life happens.
Instead of worrying about sticking to a schedule, I like to think about our day as having a rhythm. In general, we:
- Wake up
- Eat breakfast
- Complete school lessons
- Eat lunch
- Do chores
- Have free time
- Eat dinner
- Have family time
- Get ready for bed
- Crash into bed (or is that just me?)
You can see that there is a natural rhythm to our days that revolves around mealtimes. My routine is a little different from my children’s, but the routines have meal times as our anchor.
Our routine looks different during the hot summer months than it does in the cold winter months. The amount of learning we do also affects our routine. During the school year, our mornings are dedicated to schoolwork. My children prefer to finish their lessons before lunch because it is difficult to focus after lunch, so our lunchtime is a little later. But during the summer, when my children plan their learning, we tend to eat lunch a little earlier since we often spend the mornings outside when it is cooler and spend the afternoons pursuing personal interests.
You can use the following three steps to establish routines for your day.
- Define your anchors. Do you want to use mealtimes, nap time, or a different activity?
- Make a list of what you need to accomplish. Keep in mind your priorities. You may need to reduce your expectations or eliminate some of your responsibilities.
- Define your time blocks. Think about your day in terms of time blocks between those anchors. List what you want to accomplish during each time block. Your list could include one item (schoolwork) or multiple items (quiet time, exercise, and shower). Avoid the temptation to include so much in a time block that you need to be a superhero to accomplish it!
As you implement your day, use your new time blocked routines as a guide. I have a general idea of when I want to get up each day and what I want to do before breakfast. But if I sleep in, I adjust my expectations based on how much time I have before breakfast.
Remember that living by a rhythm allows you to be flexible and take care of your priorities with less stress so take advantage of that flexibility!
In episode 34 of the podcast, Jamie Erickson reminds us of the importance of having routines and rhythms in our day instead of rigid schedules. Listen in and learn how she implements routines and rhythms into her home including establishing benchmarks and using themed days.
4. Reduce Distractions
We live in a fast-paced society. Friends expect a prompt reply to their text. Social media feeds move at the speed of light. When you ask someone how they are, a common reply is, “Busy, busy, busy.” Our attention spans have decreased in part to the fast-paced lives we live.
Always moving and striving to accomplish more does not mean that we are more productive. We get less done when we do not slow down and take time to breathe throughout the day.
Reducing distractions is one strategy I use to slow down. By reducing distractions, I can focus on the task at hand and accomplish it faster. My mind is not darting from one thought to another. (Did you know that one study found that it can take 23 minutes to regain your focus after getting distracted?!)
You are probably thinking the same thing I frequently do. “How am I supposed to reduce distractions when the biggest one is my children constantly asking me questions and interrupting my thoughts or tasks?” It’s challenging, but it is possible. Here are a few suggestions. I implement these in my home, and they are very helpful.
- Turn off notifications on your phone and computer. In the good ‘ole days, we let callers leave a message on an answering machine. Our smartphones can also act as answering machines. Instead of constantly being distracted by a ping from a new message or email, check it at set times during the day.
- Place your phone in a designated location (such as the kitchen counter) during school time so that you are less tempted to check it.
- Turn your phone’s ringer off.
- Teach your children to respect your work time. I taught my children to stand quietly beside me or place their hand on my arm and wait for me to acknowledge them when they needed my attention if I was in the middle of a project.
- Set a timer for 5-20 minutes and work as fast as you can before allowing yourself to do anything else.
- Reduce clutter. If you are a visual person, seeing a lot of clutter may be a distraction for you. I need to schedule time regularly to tidy up and declutter my kitchen counter and desk so I can work with clear surfaces in view.
- Involve your children. Yes, the task may take a little longer, but you will train them to develop important life skills, and eventually, you will work yourself out of a job.
There are many other ways you can reduce distractions. Pay attention over the next few days. When you notice yourself getting distracted or wasting time, note what you were doing and what distracted you. At the end of the week, identify changes you could make to reduce distractions.
In episode 24 of the podcast, I share additional strategies I use to minimize distractions so our homeschool day stays on track.
5. Set Aside Time To Plan
As nice as it would be to wake up to a magically prepared plan for the day, that only happens in dreams or movies. If you want to live intentionally and thrive instead of simply survive, you have to set aside time to plan.
“If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail!” Benjamin Franklin
My day rarely goes as planned, but at least I have a starting point. I tweak my plan throughout the day. A pencil with a good eraser is a wonderful invention!
Every week on Friday afternoon, I plan for the upcoming week. I look at the calendar and make any adjustments necessary so that we are not too busy. I plan out meals for the week and make a grocery list. And I look at my to-do’s to see if it’s reasonable or if I need to move some of them to a future date. Having my weekly plan in place allows me to avoid rushing around at the last minute (usually), adjust the schedule, and spread out my workload so that I’m not stressed and overwhelmed.
Each day, I spend about five minutes towards the end of the day making a plan for the next day. I list out where I need to go, the meals I need to prepare, and the tasks I need to do. It’s a simple list that focuses my efforts during the day to make sure I spend my time doing what matters most to me. With a plan for the day, I can make sure that I put my big rocks into my jar before filling it with sand.
You can learn more about these and other time management strategies in the free Take Back Your Days email challenge. You’ll finally be able to move past survival mode and thrive!