Five Time Management Tips That Will Change Your Life

filling the time jar Square The past few months have been a bit of a transition for our family, as my husband has taken on the role of stay-at-home dad, and I’ve tried to figure out how to balance a job that is literally never done with all our other needs.  I’m not going to lie, as prepared as I thought I was for this change, the reality of having him home and in “my” space all the time was a lot harder than I anticipated.

For months, I felt “off.”  I would sit at my desk to write, but get distracted, sometimes by the noise around me, sometimes by email or Pinterest or whatever.  I was spending an inordinate amount of time at my laptop or on my phone, but I wasn’t really accomplishing anything.  In the meantime, my husband was getting more and more frustrated.

You’re always on the computer, he would say.  You’re here but you’re not present.  We need you to engage.

Time is what we want most but what we use worst.  Awesome post on time management with 5 steps that will change your life.  Also includes a free printable goal setting worksheet!While I’m pretty sure I didn’t I respond as lovingly as I could have, I knew deep down that he was right.  My work life was out of whack.  I was wasting far too much time on things that didn’t matter, and not finding time for the things that did.  Something had to give.  I needed to prioritize.

And then I re-read a story about a professor who held up a jar of rocks to his class.  He asked them, is this jar full?  They all agreed that it was.  Then he took a bag of small pebbles and poured it into the jar.  The pebbles filled in the space around the jar and he asked, now is it full?  Everyone again said yes.  He then took a bag of sand and poured it into the jar.  The sand filtered through the rocks and pebbles until all the space was filled.  What about now, he asked, do you think it is full?  For the third time the class said yes.  Finally he took a pitcher of water and poured the water into the jar until it was all the way to the brim and began spilling over the top.  Now, he said, we can say the jar is really full.  He then asked his class an important question:  Do you think, he said, if I had started with the water, then the sand, and then the pebbles, there would still be room for the rocks?

If we think of our lives and our time as a jar of rocks the illustration is pretty clear.  We have to fill it with the big stuff first, before we tackle the easy and the mundane.

Although I had heard that illustration before, this time, as I was searching for a solution to my time management issues, it stuck.  I started applying that strategy to my life.  Almost immediately I started getting more done in less time, and having more time to do the things I really wanted to, like swimming with my kids, going on date nights with my husband, and spending more time with friends.

These five simple steps can change your life:

Step One: List Your Priorities

You can’t prioritize your time if you aren’t clear–even if just to yourself–about what is most important to you.  Is it your family?  Your spouse?  Serving your church or community?  Getting your blood pressure under control or losing 50 pounds?  Is it finishing your degree?  Getting your house in order or remodeled or ready to sell?  Getting in shape or training to run a marathon?  Getting a promotion or establishing your own business?  Getting your budget under control, paying off all your debt, or establishing an emergency fund?

Your priorities can and will change based on your season of life, but the first step in taking control of your time is determining what matters most right now. Take ten minutes to write down the 5-10 things that are most important to you in the season of life you are in right now.  Don’t base them on how you have been spending your time, but on what actually matters most to you.

Step Two: Set Specific Goals

Close your eyes and imagine your life in detail five years from now.  Where do you live?  Where do you work?  What is your job title?  What do you look like?  What does your house look like?  How much money do you have in the bank?  Where did it come from?  What is your relationship with your kids and spouse?  How do you spend time together?  What do you do in your free time?  What are your hobbies?  Where do you volunteer?  Spend a few minutes day-dreaming about what your ideal life would look like five years from now, then write it down.

With this vision of the distant future fresh in your mind, it is time to set your long term goals.  List five major things you would like to accomplish by this time next year.  Be as specific as possible.  Use dates and locations and quantifiable goals whenever possible.  Thus, if you want to run a marathon, write down which marathon on what date.  If your goal is to read more, write down how many books, or better yet, how many fiction, non-fiction, biography, etc.  Don’t list more than five or you might forget some of them.

With your long term vision and goals in place, give some thought to your short term goals.  What is it that you want to get done in the next month?  Is there any small chunk of your long term goals that you could do right away?  Set five manageable goals for the things you would like to accomplish in the next month, then repeat this process every 30 days.

Step 3: Eat That Frog

I read a book a few years ago that totally changed the way I approached my daily task list.   It was called Eat That Frog: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get Things Done by Brian Tracy.  It got its name from a quote by Mark Twain, who famously once said something to the effect of “if you eat a frog for breakfast, chances are that will be the worst thing you have to do all day.”  The point of the quote—and the book—was that if you start your day by tackling your hardest but most important tasks, even if you don’t do that much for the rest of the day, you will still have accomplished a lot.

Life moves fast and it is really, really easy to get sucked into mundane–though essential–tasks of the everyday.  We spend our time putting out fires or escaping into the time-wasting vortex of social media and email.  It all seems so important, so urgent, but before we know it, we’ve spent the whole day reacting to other people rather than proactively reaching our own goals.

My own life changed dramatically when changed the order in which I completed my task list.  Most importantly, I stopped checking email first thing in the morning, and instead focused those first few hours of my day on long-term projects and goals.  As a result, my productivity skyrocketed and I was finally able to start accomplishing the things I really wanted to.

We are what we repeatedly do; excellence, therefore, is not an act but a habit. (Aristotle)  Awesome post about time management with 5 steps that will change your life.  A must read!Step 4: Reset Your Habits

I read another book recently called The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business that has also greatly impacted how I structure my day.  One of the many interesting points the book made is that our brains are wired to form habits.  These habits can become good or bad, but once something has become a true habit, a different part of our brain takes over and we begin to perform that particular habit on autopilot.  This means we no longer have to use mental energy to perform the task, which leaves our brain free to focus on getting other things done.

I used to get frustrated with myself because it seemed like I would start out my day so well, but at the end I would just fizzle, with no energy left to put towards any sort of productive endeavor.  After reading this book, I realized that because my willpower in a given day is limited, the more good habits I create for myself, the more willpower and energy I will have leftover to use towards other things.

I decided to make a list of the things I wanted to do automatically every morning.  My list included drinking a glass of water, planning my day over a cup of coffee, having personal devotion & prayer time, then writing for at least 90 minutes.  After several weeks of doing this every day, I finally stopped thinking about it.  I would find myself in the kitchen drinking my water before I was even fully awake.  It takes almost no effort to get my day started off right, and at the end of my writing session, when I take a morning break, I still feel refreshed and ready to conquer the rest of my day.

Things which matter most should never be at the mercy of things which matter least (Goethe)  Great post on time management with 5 simple steps that will change your life.  A must read if you've ever struggled with getting things done!Step 5: Eliminate the Unessential

I think for me getting rid of the things I don’t really need to be doing is probably the hardest part.  Everyone has a few time fillers they could probably eliminate from their day, whether it be baking something from scratch when it could be store-bought, spending an hour watching TV or drooling over Pinterest, or even taking on a few too many commitments.

This is where the priority list and goal setting becomes so important!  If when you look at your day, you find that much of your time is filled with things that don’t match up to your priorities or your most important goals, then something has to give.  Start small–eliminate 3-5 things in your life that are taking up time but not adding much value.  Just stop doing them.  Yes, I know it is easier said than done, but making a conscious decision paves the way for change.

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As I was writing this post I thought it might be really helpful to create some sort of guide to go along with it that could easily walk you through all five of these steps.  To get this awesome 11 page workbook absolutely free, just enter your email in the box below, and it will be sent directly to your inbox within the hour.




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{ 58 comments… add one }

  • Darlene September 3,

    This was exactly what I needed to read this morning! Ever since school started I have just felt like I can’t quite get my act together with all the schedules and activities. I just feel like I have been spinning in circles. I can’t wait to get started on my workbook. Thanks for the motivation!!!

    Reply
    • Ruth Soukup September 3,

      You’re welcome Darlene! Keep me posted on your progress! :-)

      Reply
    • Anonymous September 26,

      Me Too!

      Reply
  • June September 3,

    Thank you. How long does it take to get the workbook?

    Reply
    • Ruth Soukup September 3,

      It can take up to an hour, but let me know if it has been longer than that! :-)

      Reply
  • Swetha September 3,

    Making a list of priorities and doing it first in the morning every day is the best way to manage time. This is actually a take away point for me from your blog Ruth.

    I had been reading a lot on time management and techniques to achieve it and another interesting read was that – to check the emails while standing up or taking rest, which actually makes sense. Moreover, the blog owner suggested me to use Replicon timekeeping software – http://www.replicon.com which actually does a great job in tracking my time.

    Reply
    • Ruth Soukup September 3,

      I will check it out, thanks Swetha!

      Reply
  • Natine September 3,

    The posting of this was terrific timing for me, Ruth. My husband used to feel like yours did – rightly so. After much soul-searching and going through steps 1 & 2, I left full-time teaching to reclaim my life. I’ve made great progress on my priorities: plugged back into my church, changed eating/exercise habits to the tune of 20 lost pounds, and spent more quality time with family and friends. All good. But it is easy to let a lot of nothings eat up time that I can’t get back, so today I will revisit the bigger plan. Time to make sure I’m keeping the main things the main things! :)

    Reply
    • Ruth Soukup September 3,

      Wow Natine, it sounds like you are definitely on the right track! Love it!

      Reply
  • Natine September 3,

    PS. I taught on line, and I used to send my procrastinating students this short Eat That Frog video to help motivate them: http://play.simpletruths.com/movie/eat-that-frog/

    Reply
  • Rosa September 3,

    Could I have a copy, pl? I am subscribed yet :) thanks in advance, Ruth

    Reply
    • Ruth Soukup September 4,

      Just sent it to you!

      Reply
  • Jana September 3,

    This is something I am definitely working on, particularly prioritizing. I know what needs to be a priority but all the other stuff gets in the way. I’ve made some commitments to myself to work on step 5 first because once the junk is out of the way, I can focus on 1-4.

    These are all great tips and suggestions!

    Reply
  • Anna September 3,

    I love this! I tried entering my email for the workbook, but since I’m already subscribed it wouldn’t let me =( Any way around this??

    Reply
    • Ruth Soukup September 4,

      Just sent it to your email, Anna!

      Reply
  • Ashly September 4,

    I loved this post. How do I go about getting the workbook if I am already subscribed?

    Reply
    • Ruth Soukup September 4,

      You should have it in your inbox now!

      Reply
  • Sara @ Not Your Mainstream Mama September 4,

    Hmm… this is what I needed to read. I have a tendency to do the little things and then never get around to the bigger things. BTW, I love your blog!

    Reply
  • Lil September 4,

    A great article and perfect timing… My first year with all kids in full day school and I really need to focus on how to organize my days now that I am no longer tending to their needs the majority of the day. I especially need to work on my long term goals! I will definitely start implementing some of these tips. So glad I found your blog!

    Reply
  • Julie September 5,

    Hi Ruth…I subscribed to your blog a couple of hours ago…now I can’t get your workbook, because I’m already subscribed! Bad timing! Would you send it to me? Thanks!

    Reply
    • Ruth Soukup September 6,

      Check your email, Julie – just sent it!

      Reply
  • Karen September 14,

    Thank you for the workbook, Ruth! It has helped get me re-energized for my projects. It was very helpful to have writing space with each step.

    Reply
    • Ruth Soukup September 15,

      You’re welcome Karen! I’m so glad it was helpful for you!

      Reply
  • Sarah October 6,

    I’m already subscribed – would you mind sending me a copy of the workbook?

    Thanks!

    Reply
    • Ruth Soukup October 7,

      Sarah, you should have it in your email now. :)

      Reply
  • Anonymous October 21,

    I subscribed, but the workbook download is not working for some reason. Would you email me another copy?

    Thank you,
    Robin

    Reply
  • Robin October 21,

    I am anonymous, see above. Obviously my technical skills need improvement! Would you email me a copy of the workbook?

    Thank you,
    Robin

    Reply
    • Ruth Soukup October 30,

      Robin, I don’t seem to have access to your email address. Could you email admin@livingwellspendingless and request a copy there? Thanks!

      Reply
  • Tasha October 24,

    I entered my email for the workbook but I haven’t received it yet! :( I really enjoyed reading this! I could use all these ideas! Thanks!

    Reply
    • Ruth Soukup October 30,

      Tasha, just sent it to your email!

      Reply
  • Terrye Lyne Toole October 25,

    Great website! I work two jobs but have dozens of half started projects and multiple ideas in my head that are bursting to be done too. I’ve ordered the two books on amazon and look forward to your workbook!
    First goal is to make enough income to at least quit one of my jobs.
    Thanks

    Reply
  • Katie October 28,

    Hi Ruth! I came across your site by clicking through to it from a Pin on Pinterest (one of my unessential time sucks!!) but I’m so glad I found your site. I’ve been feeling unbalanced lately because I know I’m spending too much time on things that won’t help me reach my goals. Looking forward to receiving the workbook and also reading your ebook!

    Reply
  • Anonymous October 29,

    I think it’s ridiculous that you’ve taken your children’s toys away, yet you’re sitting on the computer all day. It’s clear you spend copious amounts of money decorating their room, what makes you think this is any better than letting them have copious amounts of toys? Just because you don’t want to deal with clutter doesn’t mean it’s alright to take your kids’ toys away. I agree that toys should be put away after use, and my niece has zero trouble with this concept. You don’t have to strip your children of their beloved possessions to teach them order and responsibility. Why don’t you let your husband unplug your laptop and hide the battery and see how you deal without it? Why don’t you strip YOUR bedroom of all the decorations and see how happy and joyful you are? Why don’t you stop having photography sessions with your kids dolled up like Disney princesses? You say you’re simplifying and cutting down on excess but I think it’s all in your head. If you were simplifying, you wouldn’t be wasting your life on a blog. You’d be with your children. Stop trying to control everything. You can’t do it.

    Reply
    • Audrey Dalley, CEO July 7,

      Being anonymous certainly detracts from one’s credibility. I sincerely doubt your assertion that Ruth “sits in front of her computer all day.” It is, after all, how the lady makes a living – she is at work. Please read the posts about the children & their toys. It sounds as if you missed several key concepts. Enjoy your day.

      Reply
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  • Olivia November 16,

    Thank you for posting this. I need a lot of help in the time management department! I’m hoping to put all of your advice to good use :)

    Reply
  • Rachael Lake November 17,

    this worksheet would be so helpful to me, thank you so much!
    arachael@hotmail.com

    Reply
  • Rachael Lake November 17,

    Ewww I just read one of the comments up above. I am thankful for all of your great advice and try to establish many of the same things in my home. Some people are just miserable with themselves and their lives, it just sad!

    Reply
  • Erin November 19,

    “Anonymous” has obviously missed the point.
    Yes, it is sad that some people are just miserable inside, and have to spew negativity onto some really positive advice.
    ‘anonymous’ = fearful of being known, and hiding behind that comment.

    On the brighter side of my comment, Thank you for putting Time Management in perspective that is simple! Working on myself/organizing while my baby sleeps! I agree with you, less toys because it let’s us use our imagination more.
    “Why buy the cow when you get the milk for free?!” And just imagine the whole farm! :)
    :)

    Reply
  • Sarah December 12,

    Hi ~ I didn’t get the guide sent to my email. Could you resend? sebunney@yahoo.com Thanks! :) I really enjoyed this article.

    Reply
    • Ruth Soukup December 31,

      Check your email!

      Reply
  • Debbie December 18,

    With only 24hours in every day, sometimes the allocation of jobs does require good time management. Filling the time jar is a great article. Thanks

    Reply
  • Rebecca December 30,

    Please send me your workbook. Thank you for one of the best Pins on Pinerest.

    Reply
    • Ruth Soukup December 31,

      All you have to do is sign up by filling in the info in the post above. The workbook should be sent to you automatically. Please email admin@livingwellspendingless.com if you didn’t get it!

      Reply
  • Melissa December 31,

    Great article but I never got the email. Could you re-send when you get a minute please?

    Reply
    • Ruth Soukup December 31,

      Just sent it!

      Reply
  • Andrea February 7,

    Great post! I’m already subscribed — can you email the workbook please? Thanks!

    Reply
  • Kim February 26,

    I would like the free goal setting workbook. I’ve tried to subscribe but the button doesn’t seem to work. Would love your newsletter too. Tnx

    Reply
    • Ruth Soukup February 27,

      Check your email, Kim – just sent it!

      Reply
  • Tina February 27,

    Hi! Just signed up for your news letter and was checking on the book, then I realized this was from last year. *smack forehead* Is it still available?

    Reply
  • Anonymous March 3,

    .

    Reply
  • Anita March 7,

    What a great article! Exactly what I needed to hear. I love how step by step it is. I’ll be implementing these things in my own life. Blogging is hard to do when you don’t have a system. So I really appreciate this outline.

    Reply
  • Nancy Hounshell April 18,

    May I please have a copy of the free workbook?
    Thank you, nancy

    Reply
    • Ruth Soukup April 18,

      Just sent it to your e-mail! Enjoy :)

      Reply
  • T July 15,

    The best post I have read in quite a while. I anxiously await the workbook. Take care.

    Reply
  • Jennifer September 3,

    Do you have any suggestions for a married couple to combine a good list of long term and short term goals that unify their home, careers and parenting?

    Reply
  • Yvonne @ StoneGable September 4,

    LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE this post! One of my favorite books is EAT THAT FROG! I think it should be mandatory reading for every high school student and parent and employee and stay at home mom and coach etc!!!!
    You hit the nail on the head and gave me such a fabulous reminder!!!! Thanks you so so so so so much!!!! Pinning and featuring you on my fb page!

    Reply
  • Christine S. September 15,

    Friday night I was drowning in my lack of focus, a lack of focus that had been going on for sometime. I could not get anything “accomplished” and was doing late night “while the kids sleep” work. I stumbled upon this workbook via “The Thinking Closet” and completed the workbook Saturday. Some of the revelations were obvious I just didn’t have a plan to get out of my own way. Thank you so much! Its only been 2 days but I am starting my day much more efficiently and I didn’t have to scramble my way out of the house this morning. It feels so great to focus 30 minutes of my day on something I want to do (that’s also a life priority) and then move on to the other stuff. The workbook floats around the house with me and I’m excited to keep up with it.

    Reply

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