5 Tips for Time Management and Organization
Tip #1: You need an organizational system that you understand and use every day.
It’s a new year so it’s a perfect time to talk about one of my favorite topics: time management, organization, and productivity. There is so much work to be done in order to achieve animal liberation and a just world for all, and I hope that these practical tips help you use your time more effectively.
Tip #1: Create a system.
There are hundreds of apps and tools out there and I personally don’t think there is any specific one that is the best or something everyone must use. But I do absolutely think that everyone must have an organizational system that they understand and use every day. This system must include both a task list/task manager function (to tell you what you need to do) and a calendar function (to tell you when to do it). You can use any set of tools to meet these needs or even one tool that combines both functions.
Personally, I use Asana as a task manager and Google calendar as a calendar. I look at these every day so I know exactly what to do and when to do it. Everything I need to complete goes in my Asana with a “do” date (when I’m going to do that task) and every event or meeting I need to attend goes in my calendar. When I’m working on a more complex project that involves a project plan made in a spreadsheet or something similar, I create a recurring task (more on that below) in my Asana to remind me to look at and complete tasks in that project plan.
If you have a functional system, you will be able to easily answer these questions:
- Where do you write down a new task or assignment that you’ve been given?
- How do you know if you’re free to commit to an upcoming event?
- How can you be sure all your action items for an upcoming meeting have been completed?
- Where do you schedule a new meeting you’ve been asked to attend?
- What tasks do you have to complete by the end of the week?
Tip #2: Make use of the recurring task or event feature.
Any digital task manager or calendar will almost certainly have a “recurring” feature that allows you to set tasks or events to reoccur periodically. More than anything else, this tool is the main reason people tell me that I am so organized and never forget things. The reality is I actually have a pretty average memory; I’m just good at managing my tasks.
Have a meeting every Monday at noon? Set the event on your calendar to occur every week. Have a gym class you want to go to Tuesday and Thursday evenings? Set the event on your calendar to occur on those days every week. Need to make an agenda two days before that Wednesday meeting? Set the task on your task list to occur every Monday. Want to unsubscribe to all your junk emails once a quarter? Set that task to occur every three months. And so on and so forth.
The recurring task feature also greatly comes in handy when you have a more complex project that involves a project plan made in a spreadsheet, as mentioned in Tip #1. In this case, just give yourself a task that repeats daily and links to the project plan. That way no matter what tools your team may be using to get work done, everything always feeds back into your system.
Tip #3: Timeblock your days.
Once you have the basics down, timeblocking can really take your time management to the next level. Timeblocking is the process of detailing out exactly what you are going to do when, for example breaking down your day into hourly chunks of time and assigning a task to each hour. Bringing your task manager and your calendar together is where the magic really happens!
My practice of timeblocking happens on a daily basis because I find it too hard to predict what each day will look like with that much specificity further out into the future. Each evening, I sit down with my task manager and my calendar and look at everything I need to do the next day. I predict how long it will take and then slot it into my calendar. The end result is a fully scheduled out day (with breaks and rest, of course) and the confidence of knowing that I am able to complete everything I need to the next day. It feels like the hard work is done before I’ve even started and all I need to do in the morning is just execute.
When I'm timeblocking, if I see that I don’t, in fact, have the time I need to complete everything I want to do the next day, I am able to prioritize in advance which things I will postpone to a later date because they are less important or urgent. This allows me to avoid a situation where the day is done and the one thing I haven’t completed is the one thing I really needed to do that day. It also allows me to schedule tasks for the most appropriate time of day. For example, I rarely assign myself something really cognitively challenging in the 30 minutes I might have between meetings because I won’t have time to get into a good headspace or in the evening when my brain is tired.
One other reason I find timeblocking so useful is that it addresses Parkinson's Law. Parkinson’s Law says that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” What this means is that if you give yourself all day to write a blog post, it will probably take you all day. If you give yourself two hours, it will probably take you two hours. Of course, there’s a limit to this: you probably couldn’t write a blog post in 15 minutes. But as you practice timeblocking and get really good at predicting how long things will take, you will find that you become more efficient with your work.
Tip #4: Take control of your communications.
One easy way to waste your time or miss important information is to either spend too long dealing with emails and messages or get so overwhelmed with them all that you pretend they don’t exist in the first place. Here are my three tips for dealing with all your communications:
(1) Set aside a specific time to go through all your communications and do so in a routine fashion.
For me, this is approximately 30 minutes sometime in the morning and 30 minutes sometime in the evening. I go through my email and Signal (the big task) as well as WhatsApp, Facebook, text, Discord messages, Instagram, and Twitter (which is super quick). You may choose to check less often or to check some platforms every day with others less frequently, but whatever you do, have a system for it.
(2) Use the 4 Ds for each email or message: do, delegate, delete, or defer.
- Do: If dealing with it takes less than two minutes, just do it right away.
- Delegate: If you’re not the right person for the task, forward it off to the right party.
- Delete: If it’s spam or irrelevant, delete or archive it.
- Defer: If you need to do it and it takes longer than 2 minutes, add it as a task to your task list with an appropriate “do” date.
(3) Once you’ve dealt with an email using one of the 4 Ds, get it out of your inbox! You can archive it or put it in a folder. This is harder to do on messaging apps. In that case, I mark anything I haven’t dealt with as “unread” and view anything that has been read as dealt with.
Tip #5: Accept that you cannot do everything.
Many of us could apply some of these tips to use our time more effectively, but at the end of the day, the hours we have are limited and we all need time to relax, take care of ourselves, and sleep. There are days when I wish I had the time to learn Spanish or play the piano, but I have accepted that if I were to do those things I would have to prioritize them over some of the other things I value like running or going to concerts.
There is no right answer as to what you should prioritize and spend your time doing, but I think it’s important to accept that you cannot do everything. Despite what Instagram might lead you to believe, you cannot do activism 50 hours a week, be a home chef, run a sub-3-hour marathon, and have your art displayed in a professional gallery. Or maybe you can, but I certainly can’t.
Have a conversation with yourself about what you value most at this point in your life and prioritize making time for that. You can always change it later.