In a seemingly ever-evolving world where fast-paced seems to pick up momentum exponentially on a daily basis, managing one's time effectively is an art form we seek to master.
Thoughtfully carving out time for ourselves is vital to maintaining healthy boundaries and implementing self-care. According to Forbes, "maintaining a healthy relationship with yourself helps produce positive feelings and boosts confidence and self-esteem." With that said, behavior change models show that self-efficacy and confidence in one's ability to accomplish something have higher outcome rates of changing habits.
As a Vera whole health coach, I support patients in discovering the pieces of their lives that help keep them whole. Whether it’s implementing exercise, improving communication with partners, crafting plans that increase happiness, or finding more quality time with family, the most helpful piece of the puzzle in making those aspirations come to fruition is managing schedules and developing an ideal routine.
Routines and schedules are not just meant to keep track of where we should be and when. They also serve as the first step to creating boundaries. One might argue that managing one's time effectively and efficiently is key to being happy, healthy, and a relatively well-adjusted human being. With that said, when seeking to implement a new habit, a common challenge people report is "not having enough time." So let's start by weaponizing time to be our friend, not our enemy.
Over the past eight years, I have concocted a method of working with people to take their current routines or schedules and mold them into a beautiful and sleek system that empowers them to take control of their health and, ultimately, their happiness.
Here is where I share the self-starter guide to doing it on your own.
Step one: Let's get visual
I get it — not everyone is a “visual learner.” That said, for your sake (and usually mine), getting it out of your head and into a physical form for review is key. This could be an Excel spreadsheet, a piece of paper, your Google Calendar, or commandeering the office whiteboard (my personal favorite) to get a bird's eye view. In short: find a modality and start here.
Step two: Day, week, or both?
Depending on whatever one is trying to implement, start by mapping out a typical day or week. For some, doing both is appropriate. For others, only one is needed. For example, if you are looking to change your daily routine to be more efficient, you may just look at the outline of a common day. On the flip side, for someone trying to implement exercise four times a week into a busy schedule, mapping out the week would be more appropriate.
Step three: Details matter
Let's start with when you wake up in the morning. And truly wake up. A common phrase I hear and, to be honest, have probably stated myself, goes something like this: "Well, my alarm goes off at 5:45 AM, which is when I should wake up. However, I sometimes get out of bed around 6:30 AM, but most days I just keep snoozing and get out when I absolutely have to get up at 6:45 AM."
POP QUIZ: What time would I say this person wakes up?
If you guessed, 6:45 AM, you are correct.
Be as DETAILED as you can be. This means noting the activity and the timing as close as possible to the minute. However, getting close to the quarter- or half-hour works for most people. If something varies — say, your commute — that is okay, but write down the range of time it may take. A common place people get tripped up on is they idealize the time they want to be in the office then forget about, say, living in a city such as Seattle where your traffic commute could vary between 15 minutes and an hour given the city’s mood that morning.
Then work your way until bedtime. See this typical daily schedule for an example:
Turn on news + hop in shower Get ready Start coffee + snag a bite to eat
Wake up kids for school
Start breakfast Kids breakfast + pack lunches
Out the door Travel to school
Drop kids off at school Travel to work
Arrive at work Work
Take lunch (relatively in this time frame) Work
Leave the office Travel home
Arrive at home Dinner + family time
Put kids to bed
Spend time with wife House chores
Check work email
Bedtime routine + prep for next day
In bed Read
11:15 PM - 12:00 AM
Step four: Start asking the questions
Now that you have written out your current schedule, consider what it is you'd like to add, tweak, toss out completely, or change. Ask yourself questions like:
What seems realistic?
How often would I like to be doing ___ in my day/week?
Are there things I can easily get rid of or modify in my current schedule?
In my experience, these questions (typically asked by the Vera health coach) allow a person to get to the root of what is really important. What they might be trying to accomplish, or recognizing discrepancies in a message that they are trying to convey.
Step five: Pockets, patterns and anchors
“Pockets”, “Patterns”, and “Anchors” are terminology I use when working with patients. Identifying these three things will maximize the potential for success when designing and implementing your ideal routine.
Pockets are opportunities in your current routine that have the potential to be optimized. Let's take the above schedule as an example. If "Tom" really enjoys reading the news and catching up on the latest sports but is struggling with going to bed too late, then we might consider: what if he used his time during his commute to listen to an audiobook? Catch up on the latest NPR podcast or Sports Radio?
Patterns are just that — repetition in your schedule. Maybe every Tuesday, Tom has a meeting with local business owners. Or every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, he has a meeting at noon, which pushes his lunch back to 1:00 PM.
Anchors are events in your schedule that cannot be moved around. This may be bedtime for the kiddos or participating in religious practice on a particular day of each week.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Anchors are also what we are attempting to implement in an ideal routine. Whether that's an activity or behavior or just finding time for self-care, we consider what it is we want to anchor in our ideal schedule and utilize our knowledge of current pockets and patterns to do so.
Step six: Crafting your ideal routine
Here is where we get to put it all together. Using your knowledge of all the above information in this order, transfer what you know, and add what you need.
Take out a blank schedule template.
Drag over any anchors from your current schedule.
Consider pockets of opportunity.
Identify what you want to change or add — put this where it fits best.
Start with when you would like to be going to sleep.
Work backward until you reach wake-up time.
Remember to always give yourself grace and time for yourself.
Step seven: Cross-check and get going!
Double-check the ideal schedule you have now created for yourself. By now, you should have added and tweaked your schedule to include the activities and behaviors you want to implement in your life. Ask yourself, does this seem realistic? It doesn't hurt to have a second set of eyes on your masterpiece, either. This is where a person like myself comes in handy. To question how we put this into action, if it seems feasible, where a good place to start is, and to make sure you feel empowered.
In the end, drafting an ideal schedule takes time and effort; however, it is absolutely worth it. Having a routine that creates time and space for you to engage in the activities that help you take care of your health and well-being and bring you joy, will allow you to be more present, have more capacity, and be more effective with your time. More effectively managed time usually results in more time for yourself and, hey, who isn't looking for a little more time in their day to do the things they love?
I hope you find these techniques helpful, whether you use some or all of them. Remember that nothing is perfect, and that trial and correction is a part of the game. But ultimately, when you feel empowered by your time, you will feel empowered to take care of yourself and show up for the things in your life that matter to you most.