In my early 20s, I decided to stop scheduling my entire life in planners or on calendars. They reminded me of the sparkly diaries and cat calendars of my childhood, and I didn’t like the feeling of over-managing the things I did. Flexibility was important to me — and so was being a post-grad hippie-wannabe, stepping into the world for the first time, naively deciding to just “let life happen.”
Now that I’m 30, I’ve come full circle. It’s true that life does sometimes just happen — zero planning, zero preparation involved. Those are the moments I’ve gotten the most memory mileage out of, and you can’t replace that kind of gift from the universe.
But what about the rest of your minutes and hours? Do you just decide to tackle your studies and your bills and your housework and your trips without some form of a plan? The lists, mental and written, of things you want to do in life that you’ve tossed into the Some Day column?
Over the past year, I’ve been slowly working back around the time management molehill, towards a now obvious realization: It’s precisely because my time is so valuable and scarce that I do need to schedule it.
Don’t get me wrong, I still don’t believe in booking yourself solid from buzzing alarm to head hitting the pillow. That may work or be necessary for people who are drowning in daily commitments, but it would make me miserable.
Time management is a different animal for everyone. I happen to have a pretty open schedule outside of my full-time job, and that gives me the freedom to design my nights and weekends however I want to.
Here’s the catch — and it’s the same dilemma that comes with any sort of blank canvas: Endless options can result in paralysis.
Many a Tuesday night has seen me lounging in the living room, wondering which thing I should try to fill my night doing: Figuring out how best to re-learn French? Creating a new yearly budget? Finishing the book I abandoned in Aruba two summers ago? Researching the basics of user experience design? Attempting three different kinds of meditation?
Every single one of these things is a totally plausible project to kick off on a weeknight — but they’re only 5 of about 147 things I’d like to do at some point. All of them have tangential questions attached, and before I know it, I end up spending that Tuesday night comfortably falling down a YouTube blackhole or re-watching some cooking show or window-shopping my Instagram feed.
So the crux of time management, then, is goals. Having goals is nice, but it means zilch unless you assign them a place in your schedule… or “make an appointment with yourself” — that’s how I’ve seen a few people describe it.
Researching UX design may not involve anyone other than me, but there’s a wealth of information about it online that’s waiting to be consumed. If I don’t match my intent to consume it with some action, then I’m wasting my own time.
“I must govern the clock, not be governed by it.”
— Golda Meir (1898–1978), the only woman to hold the Israeli office of Prime Minister
I get that “time management” is likely a phrase that puts a lot of people into a boredom coma immediately, so I’d like to rebrand it. Forget all the workplace tutorials and motivational speakers and business articles that have made that phrase too empty or corporate or adult for you. If “time management” makes you roll your eyes, allow me to offer an alternative:
That’s what the concept of time is for, right? It’s an invisible invention to measure, remember, and manage our own lives. Good use of your time ultimately adds up to a good use of your life.
It doesn’t matter how you go about the measurement part — filling out a daily planner, living and dying by your Google calendar, keeping an evolving to-do list in your notebooks, taking a day off work to clean or tour your own city or learn to cook. As long as you have some place to successfully connect your invisible intentions to your physical days, you’re officially well-equipped to start slaying goals.
My 23-year-old self might still have scoffed and walked away from that idea if she’d heard it at that age — she was bright, but a pain in the ass if you offered her help. That’s all right. Present-day me understands the whole “with time comes experience” thing, and I remind myself often that we’ve all got the power to create and destroy our own opportunities.