Navigating Effectively Through Our Days: A Look At Time Management

Erika Petrelli
Erika Petrelli

This article is co-authored by Erika Petrelli and Whitney Arnold


“Time management” is a highly overused phrase and also a highly sought-after skill, and rightly so. This ever-elusive thing, time management.  How do we even begin?

Well, for starters we should probably come to terms with the fact that we are not “managing time” at all, because time itself will march on, with every ticking second of the clock.

And we should also probably stop with the well-intended “We all have the same 24 hours!  So it’s up to you whether you are using it well or being a lazy jerk!” motivational speeches. Because the truth is we all have 24 hours in a day—yes. But those 24 hours are not the “same” at all. A single mother with two jobs and a young college student do not have the same 24 hours.  A person living in a remote rural section of the country and a person living in an urban environment do not have the same 24 hours. A person dealing with a sick family member and a person on vacation do not have the same 24 hours.

You get the point. 

And, on top of that, there are the every-day demons. ADD, depression, anxiety, addiction, and so much more. Those added layers and complexities warp time in new and creative ways. Minutes can feel like hours and hours can feel like minutes. One task can carry the weight of a lifetime.

In almost every bit of research we have done on the topic, we have discovered that these many layers of the complexities of our time are inextricably linked. So when we pick up the topic of "time management," we are picking up all of it. This can bring us both a feeling of panic and also a feeling of relief-- the "oh, this is hard and complicated!" combines with the "phew! I thought it was just me; I'm so glad I'm not alone."

So, what are we actually talking about, when we talk about time management?

We are talking about skills, tactics, and techniques that each of us can utilize to productively and effectively navigate our way through the time in our day.

Which sounds easy, until you actually have a day. And then you realize how many obstacles and barriers crop up to knock us off course. Competing priorities. Unexpected phone calls. Over-stacked meetings. Needy children/pets/co-workers. The internet.

If starting is the hardest thing, here are ten ways to start; ten things to try as you look to successfully navigate the rocky waters of your day ahead:

  1. Pause before you start, and plot it out (Possibly at the beginning of the week)
    We are good at GO, but we often forget to look at the map first. And sometimes forget to even map out the map. Whether on a Sunday night or a Monday morning, whether at the start of each day or as you wrap up your work, take a moment to pause and look ahead. What's on the horizon? Plot it out for yourself. 
  2. Write down time slots for everything on your to-do list, not just your meetings
    We usually write down our meetings, or others things at which our attendance is expected. But do we schedule the other stuff? The time to write the blog? Work on the report? Complete the project?  If it's on your schedule, it's harder to ignore/forget/put off.
  3. Color code your to-dos/meetings/personal errands/etc.
    Trust the science; your brain loves different colors. It helps your brain focus on sections rather than the whole page and helps with memory recall. Play around with different color coding systems and see what catches - and holds- your attention. Blue for meetings? Green for errands? Yellow highlighter for special occasions? There is no right or wrong way to do it.
  4. Take a physical break every thirty minutes to an hour (yes, schedule it)
    Get those juices flowing… literally. The blood circulation re-oxygenates your blood going to your brain and gives you an endorphin boost to give you an extra charge. In our virtual-reality world, we are worse than ever at scheduling the "pause," and many of us have lost our built in pauses-- the commute time. Remember that scheduling you were doing back in tip one? Don't forget to schedule the pauses. 
  5. Cut your list in half… then cut it in half again
    Most of our to-do lists are four hundred times longer than any of us could possibly achieve in a single day. So are you setting yourself up for success if you put the entire list in front of you? (No).  So look at the mother load of to-dos, and select the ones just for today.  That's your today's to-do list.... and keep it short.  No, shorter.   
  6.  Seek advice from others. Be an explorer of strategies. Try them all
    There are more people on your side than you think, but they can’t help unless they know you need help. They each have their own wealth of knowledge that is worth tapping into. Don't be afraid to share where you are struggling-- remember that we are all struggling in our own ways.   
  7. Incorporate homeopathic strategies for your brain (sleeping, healthy eating)
    What do you have to lose? Try it out because getting more sleep and eating some veggies definitely won’t do you any harm. So add things like "napping" and "eat the carrots not the chips" into your time management strategy-- you will likely find that you have more focus, which ultimately expands your ability to use your time well. 
  8. Do the worst first
    The more something looms over your head, the more daunting it becomes. Get that junk out of the way fast and let all the good feelings wash over you when you realize you don’t have to worry about it anymore. So what's the thing on your to-do list that you are just absolutely dreading? Put a big #1 next to it.... and get 'er done. 
  9. Think about your energy ebbs and flows, and schedule accordingly
    You know yourself better than anyone else so don’t be your own worst enemy. If you’re a morning person, set yourself up to thrive in the morning and don’t schedule important items for the afternoon.
  10.  Leave Margins- because life will always throw you curve balls
    If there is anything we have learned from this year, its that, no matter how much we plan, life could throw those plans in the recycling bin in one fell swoop… and that’s ok! If we budget in the flexibility, we’ll be more prepared for the moment we need it. So leave margins in your day-- literal chunks of open, unscheduled time.  Time for the "just in case" and the "I didn't expect this"s. Because they may not show up every day, but they will show up eventually. If you've left margins, your day can carry on in spite of them, and not be completely derailed because of them.

We saw this quote recently, and it really put some gas behind the idea of why we should think about navigating our time in the first place: 

“Procrastination is the arrogant assumption that the universe owes you another opportunity to do what you had time to do” (unknown)

All that is certain is the time in your hands right now... so what will you do with it? 

So pick up some tools, now. Because this day awaits you, now.


What are your favorite strategies for navigating through your day effectively?  We'd love to learn from you!



Whitney and Erika 

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Erika Petrelli

By Erika Petrelli

Erika Petrelli is the Senior Vice President of Leadership Development (and self-declared Minister of Mischief) for The Leadership Program, a New York City-based organization. With a Masters degree in Secondary Education, Erika has been in the field of teaching and training for decades, and has been with The Leadership Program since 1999. There she has the opportunity to nurture the individual leadership spirit in both students and adults across the country, through training, coaching, keynotes, and writing. The legacy Erika strives daily to create is to be the runway upon which others take flight. If you enjoy these blogs, you should check out her interactive journal, On Wings & Whimsy: Finding the Extraordinary Within the Ordinary, now available for sale on Amazon. While her work takes her all around the country, Erika calls Indiana home.