Do you remember when Female-Empowerment-Boss-Babe-Extraordinaire Rachel Hollis muttered the famous words, “You have the same 24 hours in the day as Beyonce”? I do. And I’ll never forget it because my eyes rolled so far back inside my skull that I was scared they were stuck.

Sure, days usually have 24 hours in them. But we don’t all have the same resources, responsibilities, support, distractions, or privilege — so how those 24 hours look is vastly different for each of us.

The time management and productivity world are full of toxic positivity and hustle-culture quotes like this, and their advice is, quite frankly, outdated AF.

My career unfolded while the digital revolution was entering the workplace – and yours likely did, too. Add in two years of a global pandemic and work-from-home hybrid models with a dash of caregiving and, wow — it’s no wonder so many of us struggle with overwhelm, anxiety, and burnout. It’s time to change the way we look at time management altogether.

So what does time management for real people actually look like? Let me introduce you to three modern, sustainable methods that I teach to my students and clients.

Method 1: Task Blocking

You’ve probably heard of “Task Batching ” and ” Time Blocking, ” but please say hello to their younger, hipper sister — Task Blocking. She’s a combination of these two traditional (ahem, outdated) time management methods — but a better fit for our high-tech workflows and hybrid schedules.

What it is: Task Blocking is a method of identifying available blocks of time in your day (ABTs) and assigning an appropriate task or goal to each block.

How to do it:

  1. Assess your schedule and note any time-specific events, such as meetings, appointments, or calls.
  2. Next, consider things you want to do, like a lunch date, a 5-minute walking break, or ending the day at 4 pm to do something special with your kid. Add those “want to dos” to your schedule.
  3. Now, review your schedule again. The time that remains open are your ABTs (Available Blocks of Time).
  4. Look at their duration and assign appropriate tasks and goals to each ABT.

Big blocks of time are going to be better for more complex tasks or deep, focused work. Small blocks are obviously better for simpler tasks that don’t require as much time or focus.

Method 2: Focus Sessions

The early 2000s were all about multi-tasking. Browser tabs and internet forums had us all horned up, and we absolutely salivated over how many things we could do at once. But the research is clear: nothing kills productivity like multitasking. We’ve now entered the roaring-20s, and we’re all about Focus Sessions now, k?

What it is: A Focus Session is simply the act of setting yourself up for success by eliminating all distractions during an ABT and focusing on one specific task or goal for a specified block of time. When done right, it will help you get more done in less time. (This is normally where I’d go on a long rant about Parkinson’s Law…but I’ll spare you for now.)

How to do it:

  1. Assign a realistic task and goal to your ABT (know what tasks are best suited to your larger or smaller blocks).
  2. Do what you can to eliminate distractions (close browser windows, put your phone in Do Not Disturb, toss on white noise or instrumental music, light a candle, make a good bev).
  3. Use a timer to designate your ABT and stay focused on that task until the timer finishes (this is my favorite productivity timer).
  4. Then, take a break. And I mean a real break. Get up from your desk. Move around. Drink some water. Go outside if you can. Maybe squeeze in a short 5-10 minute walk or stretch session. The break will allow your brain to rest so that it’s ready for the next session.

Method 3: Highlighting

Have you ever seen a photo that is super out of focus and blurry? You can maybe make out some colors and vague shapes, but for the most part, nothing really stands out or feels significant? Our brains can do the same thing to time.

Sometimes this can be a defense mechanism to protect us from stress or trauma. Many of us experienced this to some degree during the pandemic or other stressful life situations. But sometimes, it’s simply because we are performing routines over and over, and instead of wasting unnecessary energy being super present or focused on what’s going on, our brain goes into a sort of “autopilot.”

For modern workers, this can often look like getting to the end of the day, and it feels like a blur. You might be left saying, “Wow, I just worked 8 hours, and I have no idea what I actually did or if the needle moved at all.” Been there?

While this can be a really good thing if it’s protecting us from trauma or helps us conserve energy – as modern humans, we might want to override this primal instinct and stay more present in our days. Enter Highlighting.

What it is: Highlighting is simply the act of drawing attention to one aspect of your day — something you accomplished, that you are grateful for, that made you happy, or that you prioritized.

How to do it: While saying it out loud can be enough, writing it down helps provide your brain with valuable motor feedback that can reinforce the benefits. I recommend making a “daily highlight” part of your end-of-day routine. I write mine into the “gratitude” section of The Daily Page Planner, and I love flipping back through them at the end of the week or month. It eliminates that “what did I even accomplish today?” feeling and helps me remember the best part of each day — which aren’t always work or productivity related. I often Highlight things I made time for and prioritized, such as sitting outside in the sun, reading, or meeting up with a friend.

Getting Started

Now you’re like, “Okay, these tips all sound great, but where do I start?” My advice is to decide which one sounds the most exciting or impactful and implement them one at a time. Since it will likely be a new habit, try connecting it directly to a habit you already have so that your brain gets that natural reminder. For example, if you want to start Task Blocking, establish it as a habit you’ll do when you sit down at your desk and enjoy your first cup of coffee. Turn on a good playlist, assess your schedule, identify your ABTs, and assign appropriate tasks while you caffeinate.

Next, try doing Focus Sessions with your ABTs. Once those two habits seem solid, try connecting Highlighting to an existing habit that you currently do at the end of each day (like clearing out emails, logging time, commuting home, making dinner, etc).

While our modern life can be hectic and overwhelming, I’m a firm believer that we can reclaim our time and find a healthy, sustainable level of productivity to add joy and presence back into our days. Want to learn more about sustainable productivity + strong systems? Consider jumping on the waitlist for my group course, Thyme Transformation! If you’re looking for an online course that will teach you how to set up strong, reliable digital systems that keep you organized, focused, and motivated — this is for you! The next session begins on November 28th, 2022. You can learn more and get on the waitlist by clicking here, and I’ll reach out to let you know when registration opens. Plus, you’ll get instant access to my best-selling Habit Tracker as soon as you join the list!

The Three Time Management Tips that Instantly Tripled My Productivity

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