Running After Time? Make Time Work for You With This 4 Step Cheat Sheet

"The more time you have, the more money you can make", an entrepreneur's mantra goes, meaning that success is largely dependent on how well you manage your time.

But it also means this: Special skills and distinguished achievements aren't necessary to be prosperous and successful. If you are working a 9-to-5, have a family, a relationship and are pursuing a degree to boot, time management is absolutely the key to getting things done. That is, if you don't want time to slip from your fingers and leave you helpless, overwhelmed and miserable.

If the idea of learning to manage your time scares you, think about this: you're already doing it everyday - from scheduling your alarm, estimating how long it takes for you to shower, counting down the days until pay day. So you just need to get better at it and here's 4 guidelines to start developing your time management skills and get work done swiftly and effectively:

Know yourself

I firmly believe that everything starts and ends with ourselves. You can't maximize time efficiently if you don't know your unique traits and capabilities. Kate Sweeney, a celebrity personal assistant, writes on her blog, "Start by taking a week to study yourself and your daily habits." Here's some sample questions you can ask yourself for reference:

  • At what times am I most productive? And unproductive? (Morning, Noon, Afternoon, Night?)
  • When do I wake up and how much time do I need to get ready?
  • What's my workstyle? What makes me work best?
  • How do I spend my time? What consumes my time the most? And least?

By doing this, you are able to untangle yourself and see yourself objectively. It's also important to evaluate what is important to you. Analyze your motivations. What are you motivated by and how can you motivate yourself to develop time management? What is your why? Maybe you want to be a better parent and want to be able to set aside time enough to bond with your kids. Your motivation will be what you turn to when hindrances arise, to keep your head in place and your feet firmly on the ground. If you're having difficulty discovering your motivations, keep logging what you observe about yourself for a week as suggested and then look back at why you did the things the way you did.

Tip: Knowing yourself also includes understanding how much you can do at a given time. You can always get assistance for more tedious tasks such as updating social networks and cleaning out emails. In some cases, you can even automate tasks through apps like IFTTT. Outsourcing is getting more affordable these days, however never underestimate the power of asking for help. There are some things you could do faster, together.

Unclutter your life

Next rule of business is to have clear-cut priorities. Group your activities through a Time Management Matrix. This is comprised of 4 quadrants: urgent, not urgent, important and not important. Because time-wasters and distractions such as TV, gimmicks and internet are not urgent nor important, place them at the back of the queue. That way, you're not asked to give up your hobbies completely, but to maximize time so that you can get the urgent and important things out of the way, for you to have more time to do what you want.

Dan Kennedy, a business coach and consultant, recommends the use of organizers and planning tools to quantify our responsibilities and organize our tasks. Such tools are:

  • a planner for your schedule and events for the year with room for daily entries.
  • a Things-to-Do-list where you can list the things you have to do by month, week and day. You can rank priorities using numbers or letters with ordering (ex. 1 for urgent, 2 for kind-of urgent, 3 for not urgent).
  • a People-to-Call List to keep track of contacts.
  • a Conference planner to track notes and important information from conversations with people.

Tip: You can use digital or traditional means to plot out your time. There are apps that can block certain websites at a certain time to keep you focused and apps where you can set alarms and reminders. You can make technology work to your advantage, just be careful not to get distracted!

Have defined goals and means

You already have a plan whether you realize it or not. After waking up, you use the loo, make breakfast, go for a jog, but how many of us plan beyond that? "Take the first 30 minutes of every day to plan your day. Don't start your day until you complete your time plan. The most important time of your day is the time you schedule to schedule time, " advises Kate. Personally, I make my plan the night before on a scheduling app on my phone to review in the morning.

Set realistic deadlines to prevent some tasks from dragging on. Break longer projects into milestones you can tick off as you get closer to completion. Batch similar tasks together to work more efficiently. Think about your plan of attack. Now that you've jotted what you plan on doing and how long these will take, include the means you are going to achieve these.

Tip: Do factor time for interruptions and put these into consideration. For those interruptions you can decline, this can be done courteously. For example: "I'm sorry but I'm preoccupied at the moment. When I'm finished, I'll get back to you."

Be kind to yourself

Your time management is incomplete without factoring in time for yourself. Time to exercise, to relax, to de-stress. We aren't robots and developing better control over your life through time management doesn't mean that we live to work. Taking care of yourself is productive and deserves a slot in your time.

Time management is a skill. Skills take time to develop. It's just like walking: We stumble and fall before we can run, skip, jump, and dance without losing our balance. Don't expect yourself to have it all nailed in the beginning. Make room for progress which means making mistakes. Sydney Finkelstein, a professor and faculty director at Dartmouth College’s Tuck Leadership Center, says, "When you hit a roadblock with one of your multiple projects, move to the next. Don’t keep hitting a brick wall." When we are hard on ourselves, it can shatter our dreams. Don't keep banging your head on a wall and just move. Time management isn't just for short-term goals but our life-long goals which evolve as we do. When you're on your feet, chances are you will find your dance again and even stronger, more resilient determination than ever before.