Everyone starts with 24 hours in a day. Once you factor in sleep, you’re left with roughly 16 available hours. Account for at least an hour or two spent cooking and eating, and you’re down to 14 hours. Shave off another for personal care like brushing your teeth and showering, and you’re at 13. And that’s all before you take commuting, working out, running errands, and any relaxing into account.
It’s no wonder people today feel so overwhelmed. Staying on top of your day is more than just checking things off your to-do list. It’s about managing your life and everything you need to do to make time for what you want to do. While that’s easier said than done, here are a few ways to handle your day so you can feel balanced and productive.
1. Put Your Calendar to Work
One of the more unsettling aspects of a busy day is that feeling of forgetting something. A meeting, someone’s birthday, or a work task — there’s something that’s slipped your mind. If only you could figure out what it is. Sound familiar? Luckily, your calendar can help.
At the start of every month, put your calendar management skills to the test. Note any known trips, events, or important due dates for bills. Highlight doctor’s appointments and your child’s class field trip. Then get in the habit of taking a few minutes at the start of each week to review your calendar entries. You’ll feel confident you know what’s coming up and can make adjustments for the days ahead.
You can also put your calendar to use for meal planning and outfits you want to wear. Schedule your laundry days around your social calendar or when you’ll be working from home. Dedicate one night a month to doing absolutely nothing. Once you get to the point of knowing your schedule with confidence, there’s no sinking feeling of having overlooked something vital.
2. Create Lists Within Your List
Sometimes the stress-inducing part of booked days comes from a laundry list of to-dos. You don’t even know where to start because it seems like everyone and everything in your life requires your attention. You may be tempted to throw up your hands and do nothing, which is certainly not going to help.
Start reclaiming your day by looking critically at your to-do list. It probably consists of home, social, and work-related tasks. Naturally, that’s a lot. Instead of keeping everything in one undifferentiated list, group tasks based on a theme. Put all of your home tasks in one color, social in another, and work in a third, creating separate lists based on each identified category.
From there, prioritize your to-dos in each category. Focus on the top one or two things before moving on to the rest. Soon enough, you’ll be flying through what originally appeared to be an impossible effort. Any lower-priority tasks you don’t get to today can easily be added to tomorrow’s list.
3. Time Batch Your Day
A great strategy if you feel overwhelmed is to budget your time like you would your money. Known as time batching, this process assigns focused time to each of your top-priority tasks. That way, you know what you’re working on each hour of your day and can anticipate what’s up next.
Start by reviewing your to-do list and selecting a few main priorities. Then look at your calendar for free spots. If you know you have meetings at 10 and 2, shade those in and note what you’ll need for each. Rinse and repeat this method for other time-specific tasks, like picking kids up from school or getting to your spin class.
From there, you’re ready to fill in the remaining open hours of your day with time batches. Be specific in what you want to accomplish, whether it’s finalizing a monthly report or running errands. By concentrating on specific tasks in a time-limited way, you’ll improve your focus and efficiency. Once your time is allotted, you’ll know what you can get accomplished. And that is just what you need to feel on top of your day.
4. Schedule Relaxation Time
There’s a common misconception that the only time that “counts” is the hours spent actively doing something. You tell yourself you need to be working or cleaning or folding laundry to maximize your days and be productive. But you have to remember that you’re not a machine and can’t function around the clock like one. To avoid burnout, you need to get some mental and physical rest.
If you’re naturally a busy-bee, go-getter type, it can be hard to carve out time to relax. Overcome this tendency by baking relaxation techniques right into your schedule. A 15-minute walk or 30-minute reading break can work wonders for your mental health and clarity. You’ll also be investing your time in yourself, meaning you’ll have more energy to get back to work when the time comes.
While being productive is important, it’s not the end all, be all. There’s inherent value in rest and spending time doing next to nothing. It may even be the key ingredient your busy schedule is missing.
Busy Day? Managed.
Will some days get away from you before your eyes? Yes — that’s the nature of life. But with these strategies in place, those days will become fewer and further between. With your schedule well managed, you’ll be able to make time for what matters most.
Laila Azzahra is a professional writer and blogger that loves to write about technology, business, entertainment, science, and health.