I used to be a huge unbeliever of any type of time management system. I just didn’t believe time management actually worked—no matter what I did, the things on my to-do list never got done, no matter how cleverly I planned them out.
But now, I’m a time management junkie. While I’ve found some specific time management and productivity techniques that work well for me, the biggest thing has been learning the skill of following through with my commitments—that’s right…it’s a skill! That means for all you procrastinators out there (I used to be the worst one!), there’s hope!
Here’s my system for getting it ALL done—your writing, your passion projects, your hobbies, and your general life responsibilities, without having to sacrifice sleep or days off!
It’s a 2-step process. The first part is solely the productivity part of it. The second part is the mindset work that will get you to actually follow through with your plans.
Part 1: Effectively Schedule
1. Do an Initial “To-Do Download”
Get out a blank sheet of paper and set your timer for 10 minutes. Start writing every single thing you need to do. This includes your family, career, and general adulting responsibilities like going to the grocery store, cooking dinner, finishing that project for your boss, and getting your taxes filed.
Then, write down all of the “I need to do this at some point” things like the Christmas lights you still need to untangle, the thank you cards you need to send out, and the gym membership you’ve been meaning to cancel.
Lastly, write down everything you’re dreaming of doing but feel like you’ll never have the time for, like getting a massage, finishing reading your new novel, or going to lunch with your girlfriends.
2. Prune Your To-Do’s
Once you’ve written EVERYTHING you need to do, go through the list and cross out the things you simply don’t want to do.
And here’s a little tidbit that is really powerful once you believe it—there’s nothing you have to do. Everything you do is because you choose to do it.
Seriously. Your taxes? You don’t have to do them. You’re choosing to do them because you don’t want the consequence of getting fined or going to prison. You’re job? You don’t have to show up every day. You’re choosing to show up every day so you continue to get a paycheck. Changing your mindset about your general responsibilities from “I have to” to “I want to” is a major game changer.
So, what are those things you don’t want to do? What’s the worst that would happen if they don’t get done? Like that 6am alarm you keep setting to get up and run but never make it out of bed. What happens if you simply cross it off the list?If you’re willing to deal with the consequence of not doing it, cross it off!
Or, even better, if there’s something that you really want done but don’t want to do yourself, delegate it if possible. Those cupcakes for the bake sale? Buy them. Getting groceries? Download InstaCart and get them delivered.
Get creative with the items on your to do list. Chances are, there’re a lot of things on there that aren’t going to bring down your world if you never do them.
And chances are also there’re ton of things you can delegate out.
3. Identify Time Sensitive Tasks
Now, with the items remaining, mark all tasks that are time sensitive—deadlines, appointments, etc.
4. Figure Out Exactly When Everything Will Get Done
Lastly, take all the things on your to do list and put them on your calendar. This part is really important.
When you hear the phrase “make time for something”, this is what it means!
Everything you have to do needs to find a time and place on your calendar. No longer are you going by your paper to-do list. You need to know exactly what day and what time something will get done.
Part 2: Follow Through
1. Decide Ahead of Time
This is the secret to it all—deciding ahead of time means you’re making a decision to complete your task when you initially put it on your calendar instead of waiting until it’s time to do it to decide if you’re actually going to do it.
2. Plan for the Resistance and the Tantrums
With that being said, deciding ahead of time doesn’t mean you’re going to want to do the work when the time comes—it actually means you’re going to do the work despite the negative emotions you’ll probably be feeling.
An important part of deciding ahead of time is learning to ignore the little voice in your head that’s trying to talk you out of doing your scheduled work. Learn to pay attention to it, but not give into it.
Most of us do just the opposite—we don’t consciously acknowledge that little voice and yet we do everything it tells us. “You should just stay on the couch and watch Game of Thrones instead of write”. “You have a headache; you can’t write right now”. “You aren’t good at this, why should you even bother?”
All of those nagging and negative thoughts are inescapable, even for the most accomplished of writers. Instead of trying to get rid of them, start paying attention to them and just letting them be there. Let your mind yell and complain and throw its tantrum when it’s time to work, but go with your pre-decided actions anyways.
3. Learn to work despite negative feelings and discomfort
Like previously mentioned, even if you decide ahead of time to do something, that doesn’t guarantee you’re going to feel like doing it.
One of the most powerful productivity skills you can learn and master is to work despite not feeling like it. Whether you’re feeling doubtful, scared, inadequate, or just plain lazy, you can still work. Negative feelings aren’t debilitating, even though many of us believe they are.
And you also don’t have to feel inspired, joyous, excited, or happy in order to sit down and start writing.
Feel the negative feelings and take action anyways.
4. Establish a Getting Started routine and do it every single time
One thing that really makes it easier to get started on your scheduled tasks is to have a set Getting Started routine. This helps minimize your brain’s tantrums.
You see, the brain really likes to be efficient, so when we’re making it do something it isn’t used to, it freaks out and tries to convince us to do something it’s comfortable with—like binge watch Netflix instead of outline your novel.
A Getting Started routine is the same steps you do at the starts of every single work session, especially your writing sessions. The more comfortable your brain gets with doing this warm-up routine, the easier and less tantrum-filled your work sessions will be.
5. Use mantras before, during, and when needed
If you’ve read other posts on this blog, you’ve seen that all of the mindset concepts are based off this one thing:
This means that in order to muster up the feelings you need to take the actions you must to get the results you want, you have to be thinking the right thoughts!
Find some mantras that create feelings in you that drive you to write. Use the Model to figure out what thoughts and feelings work for you. For a thorough breakdown on the Model, check out 2 Steps to Your Writing Breakthrough.
Some thoughts/mantras I often use when it comes to writing is “I can do anything for 25 minutes” (I use the Pomodoro technique when I write), “I’m strong enough to feel uncomfortable” and “It’s okay to feel scared. It’s part of the process.”
6. Cross it off your calendar!
This, of course, is the best part! Mark that sucker as done!
Whether you use an actual planner or a digital calendar, create some indicator for finished task. The more you mark things off as complete, the more confidence you’ll build in yourself and your ability to follow through and show up for yourself.
The more confidence you create in your ability to follow through, the easier it’ll become to follow through next time. This is a beautiful cycle that takes off after just a few times of following through to completion!
Do you have any time management techniques you swear by? Leave them in the comments below!