Time Management Tools and Strategies of a Psychologist

Part I: How I use my Digital Calendar

Many report problems with time management. Usually people become aware of their time management issues when they feel overwhelmed, have to rush and end up with results that are less satisfactory. In this article I will discuss how I use my calendar for time management and some of the strategies I apply to keep on top of my varying tasks.

Personally I am a big time management fan and use my strategies for work- and private tasks alike. As an entrepreneur, student and organization nerd, I have explored and tried many techniques to stay on track of my varying tasks. Additionally, I haven’t always had my own office space, which made digital time management tools, in particular digital calendars and habit trackers an easy choice. I have been using a digital calendar and digital habit trackers for years now and have honed my strategy over this time. I use a combination of calendar blocking and color coding, with the additional information on specific goal setting and accounting for Parkinson’s law to use the calendar effectively.

Together these strategies help me to plan and schedule my days and fill them with tasks in a manner that allow me to be highly productive without burning out. Continue reading to learn about my strategy. 

Calendars

Digital calendars offer flexibility

Digital calendars are my go-to tool, because I can easily adjust appointments and tasks and move them around if I need to. With a physical planner it can easily get messy if events change and it is often hard to fit additional information into them. Additionally, you can invite contacts to your meetings or share your calendar with others easily with digital, cloud-based calendars. Finally, it is easy to schedule repeating events in a digital calendar, so that you won’t have to copy events repeatedly from one week to another.

Color coordination:

The tools you are using should be visually pleasing, to make you WANT to look at and most of all, use them. I use different colors for different jobs and varying types of tasks. This way I know after a quick glance which job a certain task belongs to and sometimes even how urgent they are. 

For example, I mark especially urgent tasks and meetings in bright red. This is a clear visual indicator that I have to take care of these tasks as soon as possible or that the appointment is essential. If you have a variety of jobs or side-hustles, like me, color coordination can also help you in determining how many hours you have spent on any given job or project.

By blocking out the whole day and filling it with specific tasks and regular breaks we can reduce decision fatigue while getting the tasks done that need to get done.
Image: A Screenshot of my Calendar

Calendar blocking

If someone would look at my calendar they would see that my whole day is blocked out. This is due to a technique that is called “calendar blocking”.  With this technique you try to block out the complete day, including blocked out time for regular breaks! This way I know at any given time what I need to do and it is easier for me to actually take the breaks

You might wonder why blocking out my whole day and structuring every single minute could help to take regular breaks. One reason why this works is due to decision fatigue. If I leave my calendar open and allow myself to let external factors and my mood decide what I do next I will have to make frequent decisions on what I should do next. This will lead me to lose the “energy” to stop myself from wasting time. Instead, I plan out my day in the morning, or better the previous evening, and make sure to schedule in regular breaks. This way I never have to feel “guilty” for taking a break, because the decision was already made. Furthermore, I can always see that any task will not continue forever and that even strenuous tasks have a light at the end of the tunnel.

Parkinson’s law

When I plan my day and block out my waking hours with different meetings, tasks and breaks I consider Parkinson’s law. Parkinson’s law states that tasks will always take up the time that you allow for them. That means that if you give yourself two hours to complete a task, such as finishing a writing assignment, you will most likely need two hours to complete it. Alternatively, if you schedule one hour or one and a half hours for the same assignment, you will likely complete the tasks in this time. 

You might have had this experience yourself in the past when you tried to focus during a several-hour-long meeting that could have easily been finished in half or even less than half of the time. This problem with scheduling is often due to bad time management and a vague agenda. These kinds of meetings are one of the reasons why meetings have the bad reputation for being annoying.

When blocking your time you should take not to give tasks too much, but also not too little time. This can be difficult in the beginning, as it can be challenging to estimate how much time a task will require. A good start can be to look back on how long similar tasks took you in the past. You can then use that as an estimation of how long this task will probably take. Additionally, you can implement the technique slowly, with time to spare before it has to be completed. This way you still have time to add in additional sessions to make up for your possible under-estimation. 

 As with any approach, there is not one perfect strategy. This is what works for me personally and it is just an example of how a person can get organized. Feel free to pick what you like and leave what you don’t. I would love to hear about your strategies in the comments below and about any tips you might have.

If you liked this post you might want to subscribe to the newsletter. In a couple of weeks you can read Part II with more ways I stay productive.

Thing that you might need some help with your time management system? Book a single session with us. During the session we will zoom in on your strategy and come up with ideas of how you can adjust it to make better use of your days. 

Finally, we have two brilliant events coming up all about time management, which can be booked independently or together with a discount.

Here are some Book Recommendations:

The Organized Mind by Daniel J. Levitin

This book is for everyone who likes to dig a little deeper into the neuroscience and psychology of why being organized (and how to do it) is so helpful.

Getting Things Done by David Allen
David Allen is an organisation-Guru. He explains all the small and bigger changes to become organized. 

Indistractable by Nir Eyal

Part of being organized is being less distracted by mental to-do lists. When you know what you need to do and when to do it, it is easier not to lose focus.

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