Time is our most valuable resource. Once it’s gone we can never get it back and we all want to make the most of our time. When I talk to managers and executives, time management is one of the skills they say their teams need most. If you feel like you need help in this area, you’re not alone. I think almost everyone wishes they had a little better handle on where their time goes.

When I was in the Air Force I had one assignment where I was traveling at least 3 days a week, 3 weeks a month. It was an amazing job but it took a lot of time management skill.  I’m usually been pretty good at keeping track of where I need to be and when I need to be there. I’m not always good at figuring out how long something will take. These five tips will help you with both of those areas.

Time Management Tip #1 – Get a Calendar

Before you read any further, get a calendar. It can be electronic or paper, it doesn’t matter. I suggest using the one on your phone because it’s easy to make changes and we all pretty much have our phones with us all of the time. Put everything that’s important to you on this calendar. Focus on appointments when you have to be in a certain place at a certain time. Enter all the info that’s important. Use the repeating and recurring features and color codes too. Don’t go crazy with this at first. Start out by putting in appointments for tomorrow or this week. Don’t start trying to put your whole year in right now.

Time Management Tip #2 – Track Appointments

Track how long your appointments actually take and adjust them as necessary. I almost always underestimate the time it takes to complete something. Recording the time an appointment actually takes compared to what I planned helps me estimate time better. You don’t need to do this forever because you’ll start to develop a database in your mind. When you’re setting appointments for the first time keep track of their duration.

Time Management Tip #3 – Don’t Delete Appointments

Don’t delete appointments, especially ones with yourself. One rule that I use is that I’m not allowed to delete anything off the calendar once I’ve put it on there. I’m absolutely allowed to move things around, but I’m not allowed to just remove it. This still lets you take advantage of opportunities that pop up or handle time critical situations when they arise. There will be emergencies or unusual situations where you have to delete something, but it’s pretty rare that you can’t find a new day or time for something, especially if it’s important to you.

Time Management Tip #4 – Make White Space

Remember how I said put everything that’s important to you on your calendar? The emphasis is on the word important. Meetings, phone calls, time critical tasks are all good for the calendar. I even include my workouts and when I schedule appointments to meet up with friends so I don’t accidentally schedule something at the same time. Putting in all of your regular activities like “work” at your workplace will fill up your calendar and it will be hard to differentiate the most important events. White space also provides places that you can move appointments to when you have to reschedule something.

Time Management Tip #5 – Set Priorities

This is really the most important of the 5 tips, but I think it’s important to have a handle on the first 4 before addressing this. Know what’s important to you and what needs to be on the calendar. Understand which things are more important to you than others so that once you start moving things around on the calendar you have an idea of when to move them to. Also, understand what the priorities of others are and factor that into your decision-making process. Your boss may not agree with you that your workout is more important than the big client presentation and he probably expects you to show up to that.

There are your five tips to help you get a handle on your time and use it effectively. You won’t actually be getting any more time, but you’ll feel like you are. Your calendar is really just a tool in all of this. To really manage your time well it’s important to make commitments to yourself and your priorities. If you live up to those commitments, it will be easy to find the time to get them all done!

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