Time Management Hack: Feel in Control of Your Time

Learn to manage the hours you work with these helpful tools

Photo: Canva
Every Sunday this September, Cindy Marie Jenkins' shares Work-at-Home-Parenting tips to help parents balance work and parenting. This article is the third in the series, which focuses on how to more efficiently organise your time.

Notice I didn’t say 'Get in control of your time' or 'Gain control of your time' or 'Wrangle the ethereal boss of our lives: time.'

You don’t need to be in control of your time; you only need to start with the feeling of control. Many people become a work-at-home-parent specifically for the flexibility it offers but has no tools to manage the hours they work. Everything physically involved with running the home during work hours remains your responsibility. So much of your time is not your own that it's easy to get frustrated and feel like you are constantly just schlepping to the next thing, and the next, without ever getting in front of your deadlines. This often leads to the mental exhaustion of feeling that you always have a lot of work to do, which means you will get caught answering the latest work emails without ever delving into the reality of your work duties. Then you’ll turn into 'a professional emailer,' as world-renowned author Neil Gaiman often says.

You need to understand the time it takes you to finish your work in a typical work week. Plotting it out is tedious at times, but will soon become your favourite activity.

In this article, we will visualise and monitor the abstract concept of time, which will build the foundation for understanding how much you can do. Grab that 'to-do list' by the neck and shake it until all the smaller steps you need to take fall to the floor. There you will learn how to move forward in between pouring Cheerios.

The steps I take to control my time include:

(resized) Step1 RoadMap

Draw a road map. Set a clear path towards your yearly goals with each job, including parenting. I must look at the year as a continuum in order to understand where I am already booked. I strongly suggest that you include both your family goals and career goals in the same road map. That way you can see where your emotional state may be and won't try, for example, to launch a new website during the same two weeks that your partner is on a business trip. Yep. I've never tried that. Nope. Not me. (Spoiler alert: Of course I did.)

I start with my overall goals for the year:
1. Create a Communications Calendar for the nonprofit where I worked
2. Stockpile blogs so I wasn’t always playing catch-up with deadlines. I published 3 blogs a week, so I need to write 4 blogs a week in order to get ahead.
3. Read six new books this year. I switched between fiction and nonfiction for professional development.

If a monthly goal didn’t work towards one of these yearly goals, I have to rethink it.

You can make a list, a spreadsheet, or a visual roadmap. I strongly suggest that you start with one of these templates and make adjustments based on your life. Remember, we will break it down in the next step. Right now, focus on the big picture.

(resized) Step 2 Time Buckets

Break those goals into small tasks and specific buckets of time.
Obviously, these will change, but it's necessary to understand how much time each of your tasks really takes. What you'll probably find when it's done is that you have more tasks than you have time. That's when you prioritise.

(resized) Step 3 Highlight Calendar

Highlight your weekly calendar with clear work and non-work times in different colours (along with a way to express when you're doing double duty). I use orange for parenting time blue for work time, and split the colors when I need to work with a child present. This visualization will bring into clear relief the time you have vs the time you need.

(resized) Step 4 Match Tasks

Match every task/bucket of time with a time slot, including when you check correspondence and when you close your messages and can focus. If you are inevitably interrupted during one of these work time slots, you will know exactly what you didn't finish. Then you find the time slot when you can finish it, avoiding the flustered feeling of constantly catching up. Knowing the specific work you need to complete, and setting aside the time to do so, clears your head for everything in your day that comes in between.

You can use my templates to create your own with this QR code:

Overwhelmed? I love nothing more than working out a complex schedule. If planning isn’t your thing and you need someone to walk you through the process, hit me up on WeChat (ID: CindytheScribe) and mention Time Out Beijing Family for a free session!

Have more questions? Just find me on WeChat or on Facebook!

Cindy Marie Jenkins is currently a Write-at-Home-Mom in Beijing for cool reasons that require multiple NDAs to explain. She’s been published at The Mary Sue, Theatre Communications Guild, The Clyde Fitch Report, The Mom Forum, No Proscenium, Dwarf+Giant ( a blog of The Last Bookstore) and more. You can find her on WeChat (ID: CindytheScribe) and request to join the WeChat group Make it Work as a Work-at-Home-Parent for more help.

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