Time Management and Personal Organisation

Many of us struggle to use our time effectively and this is invariably linked to our personal organisation at both work and home. This resource aims to equip you with tips and techniques to help you organise your time better. It recognises that there are strong links between your personality type and the time management approach that will work best for you. It also recognises that family, home, type of work and so on will shape the best approach for you. So pick and mix from the palette of tips and techniques below to fit your own personality and lifestyle. Whether you use your memory, paper or electronic devices, the same principles will apply. Picking even one or two tips or technique from this resource and putting them into practice will help improve your life! Over time come back to this resource and add some more tips as you go on building your own tailored approach to time management and personal organisation.

 

As Christians we have a responsibility to use our time well: to worship, to serve, to be in relationship with others, to take recreation and rest. It’s important to be intentional: to be clear about our calling and priorities and to exercise some level of planning and time management.

 

This resource is for:

  • Anyone who feels the need to improve their time management and/or personal organisation.

  • Anyone who feels they don’t have enough time.

  • Anyone who’d like to “audit” how they are doing on time management and/or personal organisation.

 

Rhythms

Some of us are better than others at managing our time. Some like a more structured approach than others. We each need to find a rhythm that works well for us, which allows both flexibility and a measure of discipline. Following a daily, weekly, and or seasonal rhythm can help us manage our time better, increase productivity and effectiveness. 

 

The most important thing is finding a rhythm that enables you to look after yourself, flourish, fulfil your commitments and achieve your goals. The section below on planning and allocating your time may help you develop your own daily, weekly or monthly rhythm.

 

Setting priorities and goals

Setting priorities and goals is a great way to help you increase productivity. More importantly it can help you use your time effectively, including providing clarification for which opportunities to accept or decline, and ultimately lead to a fulfilling and purposeful life.

  • Invest some time: it could be a few minutes, an hour or a full day to clarify in your own mind and before God what your personal priorities are for your life (you might want to describe this as calling)as well as for the year ahead. You may prefer to call them goals, aims or vision. This will help you again and again to make wise choices about what you do and don’t do.

  • Write down your long-term (life), mid-term (annual) and short-term (weekly or monthly) goals. Keep them somewhere you can refer to them frequently.

  • Refer to them regularly as you plan your time so that you are clear about your priorities for that day, week or month. It will help you choose which appointments to accept and which activities to do. If you like structure, you may even like to set aside time in your diary for this task.

 

How we use our time

We are leading increasingly busy lives. Most of us will have to schedule in appointments, meetings, tasks and activities. The key is learning to wisely prioritise and allocate time for them. Your priorities and schedules will depend hugely on whether you’re a student, a parent with a young family, someone with a demanding job, someone who volunteers extensively or someone who isn’t in paid employment. You may be more than one of these! Here are some of the activities which may make up your day, week, month or year. As you’ll see, they aren’t all relevant for everyone.

  • Christian faith: personal devotions, church services, home group, retreats, conferences and events.

  • Daily and weekly living: getting up, going to bed, meal preparation, eating meals, work, childcare, shopping, admin, finances, cleaning, gardening, repairs, maintenance, laundry, ironing.

  • Serving others: family responsibilities, church responsibilities, charity and voluntary organisations, community involvement.

  • Social and Recreation: family time, partner time (maybe a date night), friendships, sports and exercise, mental stimulation, hobbies, entertaining, theatre, film, concerts, travel.

  • Rest and relaxation: sleep, naps, self-care, reading, watching TV, holidays.

  • Monthly and annual: scheduling holidays and trips, tax returns, spring cleaning, birthday celebrations, Christmas preparations.

 

You may find the pdf time planner below helpful to review how your time is currently being spent and how you might prefer to spend it.

 

Planning and allocating your time

In practical terms it helps to regularly look at your calendar, appointments and tasks. Figure out a system which works well for you. You may choose to do this daily, weekly or monthly. Take a few minutes, at the start of the month, week or day to look at the appointments and tasks in your diary. Bring prayer into this activity and ask God’s guidance about how you will prioritise and spend your time. Here are some questions you may wish to consider:

  • What are your priorities? This will help you to work out what you may need to do.

  • Consider what is important, what is urgent, what is both and what is neither (more below).

  • How long do you estimate each task will take?

  • What are the activities that will give you a sense of purpose or achievement?

  • Are there some quick wins to give you a sense of satisfaction and some treats (activities not biscuits!) to reward yourself for the chores? (more below).

  • Don’t forget the invisible diary: all those things that take our time for which we don’t have specific appointments. They may be tasks you do every day. Make a list of tasks that need to be done “sometime” and then plan when to fit them in. The lists above under “Allocating time” may be helpful.

  • If you are a person who likes lists make them, these are as valid outside work as in it.

  • You may need to find ways to say “NO”, to filter out the low priorities (more below).

 

Urgent and important?

As you plan and prioritise tasks consider whether you have the balance right and what could you leave till tomorrow or next week or next month?

  • What’s important and urgent... this is a priority today or this week and should take a significant part of your time.

  • What’s important but not urgent… you need to plan time for this before it becomes urgent!

  • What’s not important but urgent… beware spending too much time on these activities.

  • What’s not important and not urgent… are these necessary at all? If something is, then strictly limit your time on it.

 

Quick wins and balancing goals

Many of us (especially those who are achievement orientated) need quick wins to keep ourselves motivated or to demonstrate to others that we are making progress. So it’s worth making sure that you balance:

  • Short term tasks to be met in minutes, hours or days.

  • Medium term objectives to be met in weeks or months.

  • Long term aims to be met in a year or more.

 

 

Setting boundaries and saying "NO" well

Invitations to events and meetings, as well as to undertake tasks, whether they are work, social or for voluntary service, are often flattering, but that doesn’t mean you should say yes.

  • Ensure the absolute priority tasks and meetings are recorded in your “diary” (calendar or time planner) well in advance.

  • How does the request or invitation fit with your priorities (either at work or home)?

  • Normally (I’m tempted to say never!) accept major commitments on the spot. It can be helpful not to carry your diary with you or to explain you need to check the invitation or request with colleagues or family before confirming.

  • Don’t give time because you feel a sense of guilt at saying no.

  • You don’t have to give a reason why you are saying no.

  • Sometimes it’s appropriate to decline what’s being asked of you, whilst offering an alternative that’s more appropriate/acceptable/manageable for you.

  • Try writing down 10 ways to say NO without using the word.

 

 

Quality Time

Quality time is usually when we are relaxed and not distracted, anxious or tired. We need to carve out quality time with God, for ourselves, with our partner, with our children (if we have any), with other family members, with close friends and with people we may be trying to support.

 

You are unlikely to be able to give quality time to others unless you allow some quality time for yourself!

  • Quality time should be a priority.

  • Quality is more important than quantity

  • Plan in quality time for yourself and others daily, weekly, monthly and annually.

 

Great Expectations

Realistic expectations can usually be dealt with effectively in a reasonable amount of time; unrealistic expectations can never be dealt with in any amount of time!

 

We all have expectations of ourselves. However, some of the following may lead to an over hectic lifestyle:

  • A false expectation that God will somehow supply our deficiency of time.

  • Internal voices eg the boss, a parent, the minister, urging us on.

  • Projection of non-existent expectations from others.

  • The need to succeed or achieve.

  • Mistaking weakness for humility.

 

Take some time to reflect on any unrealistic expectations that you have of yourself or that you feel others may have of you. Consider, discuss and pray about how these can be changed, ideally with someone else.

 

Managing your diary

Who is controlling your diary?

  • We all need somewhere to record our appointments whether it’s a paper or an electronic diary.

  • Diaries need to be the slaves rather than masters. We need to control them; rather than them controlling us.

  • Set yourself realistic expectations and timescales.

 

Dealing with Paper

For most of us there is still some paper in our lives, particularly for those in desk based jobs. Wherever possible deal with paper only once. I have a set of plastic folders, one for each project or activity and a set of stacking trays which minimise space and help prioritise tasks and time:

  • Have an action folder or tray for urgent and important tasks. Check and action it daily.

  • Have a pending folder or tray for non-urgent but important matters. Check it weekly.

  • Have a brought forward folder or tray for papers required on a specific date. Write the date required in the top right hand corner and put in chronological order. Check it daily or weekly and put the coming day or week’s papers in your action tray or folder.

  • Have a reading folder, tray or pile and schedule a regular time for reading.

  • Have a dustbin folder or tray for non-urgent items. Allocate a limited amount of time to check and action, say monthly. Bin without action where appropriate and definitely it something has been sitting there for several months.

  • Papers that have been dealt with should be filed or binned.

Is it time to sort your paperwork at home or work into a new scheme?

Is there a way you can reduce paper by dealing with more tasks electronically?

 

Dealing with emails and electronic folders

How many emails are there in your inbox? What is their status: unread, needing action, need to be stored for future reference, completed or could be deleted?

A similar scheme to the one outlined above for paper can be adopted for emails and electronic folders, including:

  • Wherever possible read and action emails only once.

  • Set up folders and use flags for reminders and priorities.

  • Only keep unread messages in your inbox.

 

Matrices and tables

A table or a matrix is a great way to summarise and to share information clearly. They are particularly useful when comparing options against criteria or looking at availability for a meeting.

 

Grouping tasks

It’s normally more efficient to do similar tasks together eg phone calls, emails, photocopying.

 

Making lists

Some of us live by lists whilst other hate them!  Keep all your lists, electronic or paper, in one place on your phone or tablet or in a paper notebook.

 

Online Tools for personal organisation and time management

  • Wunderlist is an easy way to get stuff done. Whether you’re planning a holiday, sharing a shopping list or managing multiple work projects. This simple, yet effective app allows you to set up task lists which you can share with others. https://www.wunderlist.com/

  • Slack is a cloud-based chat room designed to replace email as your primary method of communication and sharing. Mainly used in a work context, you can organise communications by channels and share information, files and more in one place. https://slack.com/intl/en-gb/

  • Trello is a cloud-based task management and collaboration tool that organises your projects into boards. With one glance, you can see what’s being worked on, who’s working on what, and the current status. https://trello.com

  • Microsoft OneNote is for free-form information gathering and multi-user collaboration. It gathers users' notes, drawings, screen clippings and audio commentaries. Notes can be shared with other OneNote users over the Internet or a network. https://products.office.com/en-gb/onenote/digital-note-taking-app

  • Microsoft To Do helps you manage, prioritise, and complete the most important things you need to achieve every day https://todo.microsoft.com/en-gb

  • G Suite includes cloud-based productivity, organisation and collaboration tools. These include calendars, contacts, file storing and sharing and task lists. They are designed to work synergistically and easily share information with others. https://gsuite.google.co.uk/intl/en_uk/

  • Doodle poll is great for scheduling both personal and work meetings that involve several people. It can also be used for surveys, questionnaires and booking appointments. https://doodle.com /free-poll

  • Survey Monkey is a free and simple way to undertake surveys https://www.surveymonkey.com/

 

Meetings, meetings, meetings

Some of us find our working hours ruled by meetings. Some may even find meetings invading the rest of their life if they’re involved in a charity or church leadership. So it’s worth asking:

  • What’s the purpose of the meeting?

  • What’s an appropriate frequency for it?

  • Why do I need to attend: What will I contribute? Would I be missed?

  • Do all the other participants really need to be there?

  • What might be done to reduce the time taken?

*Does the chair keep everyone focussed? Do they need training?

*Are all the topics on the agenda needed and is their purpose clear (discussion, decision, information)?

*Would standing up shorten the meeting?

*Does the meeting need to be face to face or could it be done for example on Skype, Zoom or a WhatsApp call?

 

Summary: banish time-wasting traps

  • Be clear about your calling and priorities.

  • Prioritise and plan.

  • Pray daily about what’s in your diary and listen for God’s prompting to change your priorities, tasks or appointments.

  • Learn when and how to say NO; don’t say yes straight away.

  • Ensure you’re giving focused quality time to each activity, rather than quantity time.

  • Prevent the unimportant tasks from eating up your time.

 

Signposts

 

Author and copyright: Helen Calder 2019

Peer reviewed by Millie Campbell