How to go About Planning and Time Management When There’s Just. Not. Enough. Time. (Including 5 Tested Planning Tips)

Written by: Jorinde Berben
Image credit: Jorinde Berben – Large Cuckoo’s Clock in Germany’s Black Forest

It’s September 3rd, the beginning of a new school year and, as I mentioned in this post from two years ago, September has its own kind of New Year’s vibe. For me, it is extra special this year since it also marks the end of my sick leave in which I recovered from a pretty bad burn-out and depression, and the start of my new job as the business partner of my life partner in our coaching and training business Show Yourself (task nr. 1: build website!).

With the start of this new job, I also have to focus again on planning out my time to make room for everything that I need (and want) to do. I’ll be working half-time, while still taking care of my children 12/14 days and juggling household chores and my kids’ therapies and hobbies. Of course I also want to make time for my relationship, some form of exercise, a social life of some kind and, maybe, if there’s any time left, some time to just relax and be with myself.

I’m sure I don’t have to tell anyone that fitting all of those things into a single work week, even with a weekend added at the end, is tricky, to say the least. When I started planning all of the ‘shoulds’ in my week, I already found that not working evenings or weekends was a kind of utopia I’d have to save for when our children are much older (or have left the nest). Adding some of the things I consider essential to my mental and physical health, such as a form of meditation twice a week and some exercise thrice a week, already required shortening my lunch breaks and moving laundry to the weekends.

Why was this such a surprise to me? Well, estimating time has never been my strong suit. When I see 4 hours of uninterrupted time at home, with my children off to school, it feels as if I have an endless ocean of moments ahead of me in which I can fit whatever I like. It doesn’t feel like 2 hours of working, 1 hour of exercise, 30 minutes for lunch and 30 minutes to meditate. The way my brain processes time is strange and does not seem to incorporate basic math (most neurodivergent people will relate, I’m sure), so when I do the obvious thing and actually plan out my day in time blocks, I end up baffled each time.

So what do I do about it? About the fact that there’s just not enough time?

Honestly, I don’t really have an all-round solution quite yet. I can’t magically create more time (I’ve tried!) or delegate a lot (we’ve been on the waiting list for a cleaner for months again). What I CAN do are the following 5 tips I want to give you to plan and manage time in a realistically (crazy busy) schedule:

1. Find a planning system that works for you

Some people plan better on paper, others prefer apps or an online calendar system. I’m someone who wishes I could plan well on paper but then forget to check my diary or find that moving appointments around (which I do ALL THE TIME) is too hard. So I use a combination of a google calendar with google tasks and a bullet journal for goal setting and prioritizing. My calendar reminds me 30 minutes before each activity and those reminders are sent to my smart watch so that I’m nearly unable to forget stuff and am constantly reminded to stay on task. It helps me function even without medication.

2. Set honest priorities

My perfectionist tendencies want to convince me that ALL the things I want to do are of crucial importance. Feeding my children with healthy food, meditating every day, having ironed clothes… But I also know that some things matter more than others. Not mopping my floors won’t have any lasting effects. Not buying food, however, is a bigger issue.

3. Plan transitional moments

If I want to be honest in my timing, I also have to plan in the time it takes me to go somewhere, to set up for an activity and to clean up after, even if that means I can plan less in a day. I still fall into the trap of forgetting to plan in breaks in between, but I make up for it by making certain activities a little longer than they need to be by rounding up to the next quarter of an hour.

4. Evaluate your planning at the end of the day

It’s all right to plan and try to follow that plan, but if you don’t evaluate your plan at the end of the day, at the end of the week, you don’t learn from it either. Evaluate how well you were able to follow your planning, but also how it made you feel: did you have enough time for yourself? Were you able to relax? Did you manage to do tasks in the way you wanted to do them?

5. Color code your planning for clarity

For the coming weeks, I’ve planned most major activities and color coded each of those time blocks within broad categories: child care, work, household chores, eating, social activities and exercise. Doing that allows me to see how much (or how little) time I spend on certain area’s in my life, in general but also specifically each week. A week in which I’ve worked more can then be followed by a week in which I work less. And seeing how much time I spend on child care helps me gauge my projected energy levels at then end of the day/week.

In the end, there’s no creating extra time in our lives. We have to get by with what we have. What we can do, however, is look closely at how we are spending our time, whether that reflects our values and how we can adapt to create more balance in our lives.

It’s a continuous learning curve.

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