If you often struggle to get through all your daily tasks, you’re not alone. Many of us have a never-ending to-do list, and the stress that comes from feeling constantly under the pump can take its toll.
To help relieve the pressure, time-management expert Kate Christie shares her top tips and tricks for making the most of your limited time.
Kate is CEO of Time Stylers, an international speaker and the bestselling author of Me Time: The Professional Woman’s Guide to finding 30 guilt-free hours a month. She consults with big and small businesses, government departments and C-suite executives on how to maximise productivity at work and home.
In Kate’s vast experience, there’s a simple reason why so many of us can’t seem to find that magic work-life balance: it doesn’t exist.
“I’m a strong believer that work-life balance is a myth,” she says. “You can’t possibly balance all of the many aspects of your life. Rather, I believe in work-life integration – where work is just one of the many elements that make up your life.”
Kate also questions the ideal of ‘having it all’.
“In my opinion, we need to wind back the concept of ‘having it all’. Do we really need it all? Rather, I recommend that you have a very clear idea of the bits that are most important to you, and then chase after those. The rest is just white noise – a waste of your time and energy.”
You may want to rethink the part of your resume that says you’re ‘good at multitasking’, because it’s not a skill the vast majority of us possess.
“The number one way we can become more productive is to single-focus rather than multitask,” Kate says. “It’s an illusion that multitasking makes us more effective – it’s the worst thing you can do when managing your time.
“Only around 2.5% of people can actually multitask – true multitaskers are so rare they’re called supertaskers. The more tasks you give these people, the more their brains settle and the better they perform. The more tasks you throw at the rest of us, the inverse occurs. In fact, multitasking reduces our productivity by up to 40%.”
So what should you do when you want to get five things done simultaneously? “You’ll make much better use of your time if you focus on one task at a time, starting with what is most important,” Kate says.
You’ll also maximise your time if you’re strategic about when you do particular tasks.
“When you think about a typical day, highlight the times you are most energetic and at your best, and use those times for the hairiest, ugliest tasks on your to-do list. Don’t use your best time for anything less than what’s most important.
“Equally, identify the times of day when you feel sluggish or tired, and dedicate those times to more process-driven activities that you can do with your eyes closed.”
While you’re crossing things off your task list, are you also on the phone? Or checking Facebook? Some of the biggest distractions in today’s tech-focused age are our electronic gadgets.
“The average smartphone user checks their phone 85 times a day,” Kate says. “And most of their checks are under eight seconds – it buzzes, vibrates or alerts and you have a quick look. This is a form of multitasking and it’s very distracting, so minimise devices, turn your phone off for a period of time and focus on single-tasking.”
According to Kate, we waste precious minutes every day on meaningless chores – and those minutes add up.
“One example is cleaning before the cleaner comes, or washing the dishes before putting them through the dishwasher, or doing anything at all in peak hour – whether it’s banking, supermarket shopping or going to the post office.
“I call those types of activities your ‘rejects’. They’re either things you can reject outright because they’re a waste of your time, or things you need to do but could do smarter or more efficiently.”
One way to get some precious time back is to stop doing everything around the house. As long as you’re not living alone, there should be someone to share the household chores with.
“From a home perspective, insourcing is critical,” Kate says. “This is where you identify everything you do for the people you live with – putting away their belongings, hanging up wet towels, unloading the dishwasher – and work out which tasks they could be doing for themselves.
Getting family on board with sharing the housework could be challenging, but it’s worth pursuing. You might be surprised at how much time it will save you in the long run.
“My clients say, ‘I’m sick of nagging the kids. It’s easier to do it myself.’ But when I wrote my book, I did an experiment. I took six basic tasks that parents usually do for their kids – things like fluffing the doona onto the bed and picking up clothes off the floor.
“I performed these tasks and timed them, and then did the maths across the year – it came to 18 days of my life!
“Insourcing will free up hours and hours of your time, and you don’t have to pay anyone because family is a team sport. So, get a whiteboard, get together and draw up a list of who can do what.”
What other ways do we commonly mismanage our time?
“Probably the first mistake people make is not allocating enough time to properly planning,” Kate says. “The second thing is that a lot of people don’t break big projects down into enough parts. The third thing is that it’s really important to estimate how much time it will take to complete each task.
“And finally, many people don’t set deadlines. There’s a theory called Parkinson’s law that says a task will expand to fill the time available for its completion. So if you have a week to do something, it will take you a week.
“If you can get into the habit of locking in reasonable deadlines for every task, you’ll be keeping yourself accountable and reprogramming your brain to work that way.”
Ultimately, there’s no magic bullet when it comes to good time management. We’re all capable of identifying our bad habits and implementing better ones, but it requires commitment and motivation. This might be why some people need another person, be it a personal trainer or time-management coach, to hold them accountable.
So, is it worth the effort? As Kate points out: “Time is irreplaceable. And if you don’t make the most of your time, all of the time, you lose.”