Back when I was in college, a friend consistently asked for extensions on her essays. One evening, she mentioned the overwhelming relief she felt when she asked for a 24-hour extension, only to feel the exact same deadline anxiety and stress the following day as her new deadline approached. While I had trouble relating at the time — I was a stickler for deadlines as a student — becoming a freelance writer has made me understand the alternating waves of dread/relief/dread that occurs when you put off a deadline.
What’s interesting about this kind of poor time management cycle is that it’s similar to the cycle of debt that occurs when you struggle with money management. In both cases, you’re putting off thinking about future demands on your time or money because you’re focused on the issues right in front of you. You put off your deadline, or borrow money to pay your rent, forgetting that there’s another deadline or bill coming right behind the one you temporarily stalled.
The good news is that if you’re actively tracking your spending and sticking to your budget, then you’ve already mastered time management skills — you just think of them as money management skills. But applying the following budgeting skills to time management will help you feel well-planned and stress-free.
1. Pay Yourself First
We all know that planning to save whatever money is left at the end of the month is a good way to never save anything at all. That’s why paying yourself first is one of the most important rules of good budgeting. Making sure that your financial plans are funded — before you let today’s wants drain your savings — allows you to be a step ahead of future problems.
If you struggle with time management, you can also get ahead of future problems by paying yourself first. The trick is to take about 15 minutes each morning to review your calendar and make plans before you jump into your work for the day.
You might feel like you don’t have enough time to take 15 minutes each morning for planning. After all, Sheryl in accounting needs that report ASAP and you still haven’t prepared for the meeting with the boss. But skipping your 15 minutes of planning is like forgoing your savings at the beginning of the month. It leaves you unprepared for things that you could’ve easily seen coming. Just like a transfer to savings at the beginning of every month means you won’t be surprised by an emergency bill (or retirement, for that matter), committing to 15 minutes of planning each morning means you won’t be caught blindsided by plans, meetings, deadlines, or other scheduling needs that you might otherwise overlook.
2. Automate Your Time
It’s a lot easier to save money or pay bills if you don’t have to think about it. Setting up an automatic withdrawal from your account every payday means you never have to think about transferring money to your emergency fund or 401(k), and automatic bill pay ensures you never miss a payment. You can simply let the automation do its magic without having to remember a thing.
Your time management will work better if it’s similarly effortless. Start by finding any recurring tasks you perform, and set up a way to make them occur automatically. For instance, if you receive a number of emails that require similar responses, creating email templates can help you automate your emails. Instead of crafting a new response each time, you can simply use your templates.
In addition, automatic reminders via your calendar app can help you get your recurring tasks done. If you’re consistently late turning in your receipts for reimbursement, an automatic reminder can help you remember the due date, give you a nudge a week before to start gathering your receipts, and remind you two days prior to organize your receipts before turning them in.
3. Track Your Time
It’s difficult to know where your spending leaks are if you don’t know where your money goes. This is why tracking your spending is such an important part of budgeting. You need to understand where you’re being wasteful to know what expenses you can cut.
Time management requires the same understanding of how you spend. How many of us feel like we’re terribly time-crunched, only to realize we spend hours on social media? Until you know where you spend your time, you’ll struggle to find more time to do the things most important to you.
Tracking your time can seem overwhelming, but it can help you pinpoint where your days are going. There are several apps that can help you track how and where you spend your time, including Toggl and RescueTime. However, keeping an old school time tracker (i.e., on paper) may be even more helpful. As with financial tracking, remembering that you’ll have to write down a wasteful decision can give you second thoughts about your choice.
Just like handling your budget, staying on top of your time management is hard, but not impossible. Using the skills you’ve practiced on your finances can help you feel more in control of your time. And that feeling of control will always feel better than any extension on a deadline.