The Only Time Management Tool You’ll Ever Need

pexels-photo-5717479.jpeg
Throw away your paper planner!
Introduction

Here because you need some help with time management? Fed up of constantly feeling behind? Do you have an endless to do list that gets longer every day no matter how many tasks you cross off? Are you always playing catch up, rushing reports and never feeling that you are able to produce quality work?

If so, this is the post for you. I am going to go through in detail how you can plan and organise your working day so that you never feel rushed again and at the end of every day you have that sense of achievement that you have completed everything you wanted to get done.

So, what’s this magic time management tool I hear you ask? It’s what Natalie Bacon calls ‘calendaring’. I have previously mentioned this on a couple of occasions, but in this post I am going to give you a comprehensive description of how you can implement this in your working day. I will also let you know what in my experience are the benefits and challenges in using this method of organising your time.  

silver laptop and white cup on table
This is the only tool you need – and your electronic calendar
How

In a nutshell, calendaring is allocating every single item on your to do list a slot on your calendar. The starting point is therefore to make a list, probably a very long list, of every single task that you have to do over the coming months. Some of these will be repeated on a weekly, daily or monthly basis. For example, all of us read and respond to emails. Most people though just do this throughout the day, as and when the notifications pop up on their screens. With calendaring you are going to have one or two slots a day where you do this. Other repeat tasks that you might have are making phone calls, preparing for interviews or attending regular meetings.

Once you’ve got all of the regular tasks set out on repeat on your calendar, now go through the others on your list and again give them a slot on your calendar. If you’ve got some very short tasks try to group those with other similar tasks in one block, like you will be doing with emails and phone calls. Deciding when to schedule them will obviously depend on how urgent they are and it may take a bit of juggling, but that’s the beauty of an electronic calendar as opposed to a paper diary, there’s no crossings out.

Obviously, this is an ongoing process. Every time you get a new task to do, instead of putting it on your to do list give it a time slot on your calendar.

And that’s it, simple right?

pen calendar to do checklist
Rip this up
the Benefits

This way of working makes you feel as though you have done everything you need to do. When you have a to do list it’s never finished. At the end of the day you’ve still got a list. Alright, you’ve crossed some items off, but you’ve also probably added a load of others. With calendaring your to do list is shorter. Basically, you do the tasks on your calendar for the day and when they’re complete then you’re finished for the day. You don’t have to worry about all those other tasks that are on your list because they’ve all got a time slot and you’ll get around to them when your calendar tells you it’s time to do them.

By planning everything out there’s no last minute rush. Nothing will sit on your to do list for weeks on end and never get done until it’s urgent. If it’s a task that you’re not fond of doing you can break it down into small pieces and just do a bit at a time. It won’t seem so daunting as trying to get it all done in one go.

When everything has a slot you have a sense of calmness as you know you can get everything done. There’s no surprises. You won’t forget to do something because you didn’t notice it on that scrappy to do list that you’ve had for weeks.

Calendaring enables you to set clear boundaries for your day. How often do you sit there past five o’clock thinking, I’ll just tick one more thing off of my to do list. With this method, once all of the tasks on your calendar are completed then you’re done for the day. Anything else can wait, as it already has its assigned slot and it’s not today.

Putting all of your tasks on your calendar gives both you, your manager and your team an idea of the amount of work you have on. There should be no arguing with managers about whether you have capacity to take on more work. If there are vacant slots in your calendar you do, if there aren’t, you don’t. If they want you to take on something urgent then they can see what other tasks you’re responsible for that would need to be delayed for this to happen.

Now whilst the idea is that your agenda for the day is to complete the tasks on your calendar we all know that things can and do change at the last moment. To me, using your calendar in this way is like creating tiles of time. When circumstances change you can move those tiles around very easily. Now this doesn’t mean you should keep moving the writing of that report that you don’t really want to do to the following week, but in a situation where change is really unavoidable there is the ability to be flexible.

On the other hand, when meetings get cancelled and time opens up you just bring some of the following day’s tasks forward. No wasting time deciding what your going to do with that extra couple of hours or wasting time browsing emails or your company chat room.

For me, this method increases the quality of my work. Instead of doing a report all in one go, but instead in several parts, you will have the opportunity to review it at least once if not more. Often you will see mistakes, poor sentence construction, wording you could improve/make clearer when you return to a document refreshed.

It also gives other people time if you need to have your work reviewed by someone. You may get better/more considered feedback as they aren’t rushing.

It serves as a reminder of due dates e.g. if you read others’ work, by calendaring in a block of time to do so, it acts as a reminder that it is due and if you haven’t received it you will remember to chase it.

gray double bell clock
Just give your times slots your best guess
the challenges

So, what are the challenges of this way of managing your time?

Firstly, it’s a lot of work up front.  As you know, I am a social worker. When I get a new case I make a list of all of the tasks that I need to do on that case. Most of the time this is actually fairly easy as I use a checklist and just adapt it to that particular case. Then I give every task a slot on my calendar.

There are going to be days when you don’t want to do what it says on your calendar and the challenge is to do it anyway. Basically, you have made an appointment with yourself and you need to turn up for it. I can assure you that over time this will get easier as you reap the rewards of this way of working.

One question often raised is how long to give a certain task. You just have to give it your best guess. You don’t always know how long something will take. It’s a matter of trial and error. If you find you haven’t given it enough time, when you do a similar task in the future, give it more time. Other days, you’ll get things done more quickly than you planned, particularly if you’re not constantly answering emails whilst you’re doing it.

It may all seem like too much work or maybe you think it’s not for you. The question is, what have you got to lose? Why not give it a try and if you don’t find it helpful then you can always return to how you do things now. My guess is, once you’ve tried it, you’ll never go back.

If you’ve got any questions please let me know, either in the comments below or by sending a message via the contact page. I would love to help you try this out and am happy to help with any difficulties you encounter.

Want to know more about time management? Have a listen to Natalie Bacon’s podcast on calendaring.

Want to learn more about changing your mindset, why not check out ‘Grow You’, Natalie Bacon’s life coaching programme (affiliate link) or one of her free trainings:

How to Live an Intentional Life

Overcoming Self Doubt

Time Management Tools

How to Fix Your Relationship

Online Business

Conquering Anxiety

Scarcity v Abundance Mindset

Money Mindset Exercises

A New Direction

I started ‘writing A Simple Life’ two years ago
Introduction

I have been writing on ‘A Simple Life’ for just over two years. Up until now it has been a blog about saving money, with some ideas about personal development thrown in. I started ‘A Simple Life’ when I discovered FI/RE – financial independence, retire early – as this is what everyone does. Like all other FI/RE seekers I wanted to share ideas about saving money, making money and to monitor my own journey.

As time has gone on my interests have developed into a love of personal development. This culminated in me joining Natalie Bacon’s life coaching programme ‘Grow You’ in February 2020, from which I continue to learn every single day.  

Over the next year there will be some changes on ‘ A Simple Life’
The Way Forward

In 2021 I will be changing the focus of ‘A Simple Life’ and starting to explore more personal development topics. By doing this I want to help you to make positive changes in all areas of your life. I believe that feeling happy and fulfilled is all about examining your life and making positive changes, no matter what life throws at you. Many people blame their circumstances for their unhappiness. I want to share with you how by making simple changes, including having a more positive mindset, it is possible to create happiness without changing anything about your circumstances.

Life should be considered and planned
Living Life in the Precontemplation Stage

I have been a social worker for almost twenty years. I work with people who are trying to make changes in their lives, or those who need to make changes, otherwise their futures look bleak. Unfortunately the majority of the people that I meet don’t think that they need to make any changes in their lives. I would regard these people as being in the ‘precontemplation stage’ of the ‘Cycle of Change’. This is a concept developed by Prochaska and DiClementi (1983). People in the precontemplation stage are unaware of or have a vague recognition of concerns, but at this stage they have not considered that their behaviour needs to change.  

In order to look at a wider definition of precontemplation let’s look at one of the dictionary definitions of ‘contemplation’:

the state of being considered or planned

So precontemplation is a time before you actually consider or plan. Now the reason that I say that the majority of the population live their lives in the precontemplation stage is that they don’t live considered or planned lives. Life is lived on autopilot. Most of us are brought up to think that our lives will follow a certain path and that’s just the way it is. For the majority of people that means school, university/employment, marriage, children, grandchildren, retirement, death.

Do you struggle to get up as you dread the day ahead of you?
Living a Considered Life

Whilst each and every one of those can be amazing (except perhaps the death part!), I want you to make choices about the life that you’re living. Do you wake up in the morning and bounce out of bed, looking forward to the opportunities that the day ahead brings? Are you able to look on the bright side when life doesn’t always go as you expected and accept that there will be good times and bad times along the way?

You may be thinking that the answer to a happy life lies in winning the lottery or making a killing on the stock market and retiring to a beach somewhere. If that’s what you really desire that’s fine, but the answer to happiness lies within you, in the choices that you make, in your attitude to life and in your thoughts. As we all know, particularly from 2020, life is unpredictable and there are many things over which we don’t have any control. What we do have a choice about though is our thoughts. This is the basis of life coaching, or at least the life coaching taught by those who have trained with The Life Coach School .

Many life coaches practise what Natalie Bacon calls action coaching. If you want to lose weight they will suggest diets to follow or if you want to get fitter they’ll recommend exercise programmes. I’m sure that like many people you’ve tried to get thinner at some point and found that the problem is not finding an eating regimen to follow, but actually sticking to it. This is where thought work comes in. Life coaching helps you examine your thoughts about your body, about eating and about weight loss. Once you have the motivation, action is easy. We’ve all heard of people who have tried quitting smoking for years without success, but a scary diagnosis leads them to give up overnight. None of the tips and tricks for quitting have changed, it’s just their motivation that’s different.

Want to manage your time better? Life coaching can help you.
Reasons why you might want to have a life coach
  1. Help you reach/achieve your goals
  2. Control your emotions
  3. Understand your motivation
  4. Improve your relationships
  5. Manage your time
  6. Help you change career
  7. Lose weight

We’ve all heard of therapy, which takes you from dysfunctional to functional. Life coaching takes you from functional to exceptional.

I don’t pretend that I am a life coach and I don’t propose to start a coaching programme here on ‘A Simple Life’. What I do plan to do though is to give you some of that action coaching, i.e. ideas for how to improve your life and also a different perspective to help you perhaps change your thinking about situations. Natalie also has lots of free training on her website and so I’ll make sure I let you know about those, particularly if they’re relevant to the topic of the post that you’re reading.

As a member of ‘Grow You’, Natalie Bacon’s life coaching programme, I have had the chance to become an affiliate and so will be including my link in my posts to encourage you to check it out. Obviously you can just stick around here and read my posts. Hopefully you’ll still get lots of ideas to help you live your best life.

Until next time, take care and best wishes, Sam.

Making Life Run Smoothly

man and woman walks on dock
at home

We all love going on holiday, but how often do you arrive at your destination only to realise that you’ve forgotten something. One time Mr Simple forgot to pack any pants and we had to stop on the way to buy some. Fortunately they are something quite cheap, but if he’d forgotten a more expensive item or some medication we might have had to turn around and drive home.

So what’s the answer?

A packing list. Every holiday is going to be slightly different, so when you create one list, not everything on it is going to be relevant all of the time, but you will be able to adapt it. Whether you’re off for a beach holiday in the sun or a week walking in the Lake District there are basics that you’ll need. If it’s the latter you can ignore the swimsuit, but you will need the rucksac. If you’d like to see what’s on my list I’ve created a Freebie here just to give you some ideas and to get you started.  

woman in yellow tshirt and beige jacket holding a fruit stand

Another example where a checklist can come in handy is when buying groceries. I have a master list of all the items that we buy and when I do the shopping order I refer to the checklist and then see if we are running low on that item. Ideally you would notice when you’re getting low on something and add it to your shopping list as you go through the month, but that doesn’t always happen. Maybe you’re in the middle of cooking dinner and although you meant to do it you got distracted. By using this checklist it means that you don’t do your order and after it arrives realise that you’ve run out of something, but didn’t buy it. Alternatively you don’t get to the supermarket, see a product on the shelf, think to yourself, ‘I wonder if we’re running low on that?’, buy two and get home and find there’s already plenty in the cupboard.

How often do you clean the bathroom and then 30 minutes later you’re lying in the bath and you realise that you missed something – the mirror’s dirty or you forgot to check whether there’s a spare toilet roll in the cupboard. So what’s the solution I hear you ask. A cleaning checklist.

To be honest the possibilities are endless and by taking a little time to think about what areas of your life would run more smoothly and then creating a checklist, you can save yourself hours and make life run much more smoothly.  

books business computer connection
at work

I have also recently started to use checklists at work. I am a social worker. For every case there are certain tasks that have to be done. Previously, each time I was allocated a case I would sit and write a list of what I needed to do. Obviously that meant I would create that same list several times a month. Sometimes I’d miss things off, only realising later on that I’d overlooked a task. Basically, I was reinventing the wheel every few weeks. What a waste of time!

Then I came up with the idea of creating a standard list which I use every time. Now circumstances do vary and sometimes I have to add things and other times points aren’t relevant, but on the whole I use 95% of the list. It is such a time saver and I have shared it with several of my colleagues.

I also use checklists when I am writing reports. Every situation is different and there are certain issues that I need to consider; certain questions that I have to ask to make sure that nothing gets missed. Over the years that I have been doing this job I have developed a list of prompts for myself so that I don’t miss anything. There are occasions, usually fair unique situations or something that rarely comes up, where important points are overlooked and when that happens I add that to my checklist so I never forget it again.

So, it might take a little time to write out, but for many tasks you probably already have a list in your head anyway. Maybe you have written lists in the past and thrown them away. Next time you’re planning your packing or creating your shopping list, write it in a notebook and keep it. Next month, when you’re doing the shopping list again, or next year, when you’re packing for that holiday in the sun, you can just open your notebook and there it is, a list, already written for you!

If you need anymore convincing about the usefulness of checklists take a look at this short video by Matt D’Avella.

Your Future Self

I spend a lot of hours planning just a few weeks out of every year

If you’re like me you spend a lot of time planning your holidays, considering every detail of just two or three weeks of your life out of every year. In times when we could travel abroad I used to plan our annual two-week holiday to France in great detail. The areas that we wanted to visit, and then the specific tourist attractions in those areas. I’d spend ages on Google Maps looking at the route, picking out small towns where we could stop for our midday meal and consulting TripAdvisor for the best restaurants for that leisurely three-course lunch. place. By the time the holiday came round I’d have it all typed out in a lovely table, with accompanying leaflets that I downloaded giving ideas for walks and cycle rides. I’d include all the travelling times, the day’s activity and where we were staying that night.  

And then the best bit, implementing the plan and getting to visit and experience all the exciting things on the plan. Occasionally things wouldn’t always go as planned – places would be unexpectedly closed or we’d come across a more interesting place to visit than I’d proposed, but on the whole, we did what it said on the plan. It was great. We didn’t spend hours working out what we were going to do or where to go whilst we were actually in France, as all of the hard work was done beforehand. We just typed the day’s destination into the sat nav and off we went.

What do you want to have achieved by the time you’re old?
What about the rest of our lives?

Now, I love holidays and I’ve certainly missed going away this year, but they are only a small part of most people’s lives. The rest of the time, the 47-50 weeks of the year when you’re not away, just happens. When it comes to that time, i.e. the majority of our lives, few of us take the trouble to consider our destination or what we actually want to do on our journey. We all know the general plan – school, uni and/or job, find a partner, buy a house, kids, grandkids, retirement, death.

The trouble with not making a plan is that you may arrive at a place that you never wanted to be or you end up sitting in that chair in the old folks’ home thinking about all the things that you were going to do, but never did.

It will always end like this, but what about the journey?
Advice from Stephen Covey

Stephen Covey, the authority of ‘The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People’, talks about beginning with the end in mind. In order to decide what you want ‘the end’ to be he suggests imagining your funeral. I know it’s morbid and not something most of us want to think about, but bear with me here. Just take a moment to consider what you would like your family and friends to be saying about you after your life is over. What have you achieved? What good have you done in the world? What was important to you? This can help give you some general themes e.g. she loved nature and wildlife, he was an entrepreneur who took risks and made a million, he devoted himself to his family.  

Write to Yourself

In order to begin to me more specific about your future life, what I recommend is writing a letter to the present you from a you in the future. Decide how far into the future you want to go. Imagine it’s 2025 and Covid19 is a distant memory. Describe your ideal life. Consider areas such as your family, home, health and job. If you’re reading this in December and about to make your New Year goals perhaps just take yourself a year into the future and contemplate how you’d like to be living in December the following year. You can make your new life as realistic or fanciful as you want.

As well as activities you can also look at the sort of person you want to be e.g. someone who looks after their health, a person who gives to charity, a non-drinker. You can then use those principles to guide your current choices e.g. cutting down how many glasses of wine you have on a night out. You don’t need to change everything all at once, but just know the direction in which you’re going.

My Future Self

I’ve started to do this recently, looking at the life I’d like me and Mr Simple to be living when we’re retired. Not only does it give you long term goals to work towards, you can also identify things that you can do now. Mr Simple and I met in a walking group and we used to spend one day most weekends out hiking in the years before we lived together. More recently, particularly since we’ve moved to our current home, we’ve spent most of our free time working on the house. When I saw that in our retirement I’d like us to spend time together hiking I realised that was something that I could implement now. We don’t plan to go every week, but I’ve put it in the diary for once a month. So far we’ve managed to do this on two occasions. It was great to see the hills again, although my body’s not used to it now, but it was amazing. It’s particularly good at these times when you have to enjoy the simple pleasures that life has to offer.

Get Started

So, do you want to put as much thought into the rest of your life as you do into your holidays? If you’re not sure where to start I’ve got a freebie for you setting out areas of your life to consider. Just sign up below to get a copy and start planning the rest of your life.

Further inspiration from my favourite life coach – Natalie Bacon’s podcast and future self free training.

Lessons we can learn from the pandemic

Over the past year all of our lives have changed enormously as a result of the restrictions imposed by the government due to the Covid19 pandemic. None of us chose the circumstances in which we found ourselves or wanted to make the changes that we were forced to implement. As the restrictions start to ease and there is the possibility of ‘going back to normal’ have you asked yourself whether you actually want to return to that place?

Whatever happens we can’t entirely go back to how things were before as we’ve all experienced life where our freedoms are curtailed. It has made us appreciate some of the simple pleasures life has to offer and also made us be more inventive.

We all need to assess what the positives have been during this time and think about how we can retain those as part of our future lives. Here are a few that I’ve learnt which you might want to think about.

A well-stocked pantry is always useful
the importance of a store cupboard

We all had to rely on our store cupboards at the beginning of the pandemic, when the supermarket shelves were emptying fast. Even when we’re not in the middle of a global pandemic it’s good to have a well-stocked pantry that you can use to whip up a quick supper when you haven’t got time to go to the shops. Under the Median has recently done an episode entitled ‘Fifty Frugal Pantry Staples‘ if you’re thinking of starting one in your home.

We can still use Zoom even when we’re allowed to meet up again
keep in touch virtually

Without the option of meeting face to face many of us turned to Zoom and Skype. When we can hug our friends and family members again I’m sure we’ll all jump at the opportunity, but don’t discount the option of catching up with people virtually still, particularly if you don’t live near your family. Perhaps you’ve got some old school friends who you keep meaning to catch up with, but they live on the other side of the country. Give them a ring and set up a Zoom call.

Walking is great for the body and the soul
walk

In March 2020 it felt like the amount of people walking past our house increased exponentially. Not being able to drive for exercise and families being at home together all day both meant that people were eager to get out for a daily walk. I think that the sunshine helped as well, as we had good weather last spring. If you’ve made a habit of daily walks, why not try and keep that as part of your routine. Perhaps, if you have to return to the office to work, you may not have as much time, but how about on weekends or just three times a week?

Once you’ve tasted homegrown produce you won’t want to go back to shop-bought
having a vegetable garden

Some people turned to their own back garden for a supply of fresh vegetables, choosing to grow their own, even if it was just a few salad leaves. There are so many upsides to growing your own vegetables – no food miles, reduction of pesticides, better flavour and freshness. It’s also great for your mental health, just being outside pottering in the garden. It doesn’t have to be difficult and you don’t have to have a lot of equipment. You can make your own pots from toilet roll tubes or newspaper. There’s loads of information on the internet or get a book out of the library. A packet of seeds is also really cheap. If you don’t think you can get them to germinate, just buy some young plants from the garden centre. Once you’ve tasted home grown tomatoes you’ll never buy a supermarket one again.

Create new routines for you and your family
start a new routine

For some I know that life has been chaotic, juggling work and childcare, so you may feel as though any routine has gone out of the window. As the children return to school and life begins to get back to normal use it as an opportunity to create a new routine for your family. ‘Returning to normal’ is okay as long as you were happy with your ‘normal’, but if you weren’t have a think about the shape you’d like your mornings to take.

gratitude

Limited freedom has made us all appreciate what previously we took for granted. As you go for your first meal or your first day at the beach, take time to really appreciate it. Sit for a moment, in silence, and take in the view. Drink it in and remind yourself how lucky you are, because although it may not always feel like it when times are tough, on the whole life is good.

What are the parts of your life from the past year that you want to keep? I’d love to hear them. Let me know in the comments.

Want to learn more about life coaching and how to design your life? Why not check out ‘Grow You’, Natalie Bacon’s life coaching programme (affiliate link).