Learn how to get more free time by using personal time management systems that work for you – even if you hate routines.
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After all, we only have 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to accomplish all we want and need.
This is especially important in today’s busy world, with all the competing and seemingly never-ending responsibilities you have.
Gone were the days when the men had one stable job and the women reigned supreme in the house as homemakers, when you specialise in one task and let another take over others.
Now, everybody seems to be pulling double shifts, juggling different ways of earning money and making sure that the house is still standing when everyone goes home.
Of course, our world today brings its own joys. I don’t know any woman would want to go back to times past when we couldn’t vote or work as we pleased, when our very lives were governed by the men who owned us.
At the same time, trying to be Wonder Woman and achieve it all can result in burn out, overwhelm and that dreaded feeling of suffocation.
Anyone with a tight deadline and a massive, never-ending to-do list will tell you that sometimes, you just want it to stop. You just want all of your tasks accomplished. Everything taken care of.
For once, you just want to let go.
But if, like me, you’re not in a position to release the reigns just a little bit, then what are your options?
Well, you can’t get rid of your responsibilities by tearing up your to-do list.
But you can get a lot better at prioritising tasks, organising your day and managing your time so that you can get all the important things done in as little time as possible.
“Time management,” wrote Jim Rohn, “is the best-kept secret of the rich.”
And I find that it’s true.
At its most basic, time management helps you decide which tasks need to be done on any given day and when you need to accomplish them.
It need not be more complicated than that.
So, if the thought of having to create a routine chart or follow a strict timetable makes you shudder or, worse, run away, then have no fear.
This post will teach you how to get more free time by utilising the best personal time management systems out there that are designed for people like you and me – who absolutely hate anything that ties us down.
But first, a few tips to help you get more free time, whether you hate or love routine.
How to get more free time – Tip 1: It’s a process.
If you want to learn how to get more free time in your day, you’ll have to accept that it’s a process, not a one-off event.
And more importantly, because it’s a life makeover, it never really ends.
If you’re intimidated, don’t worry. It’s a totally normal reaction.
Anyone thinking about a lifetime of change will be intimidated.
In fact, sometimes, I look at the work I still need to do in order to achieve the dreams and goals I’ve set for myself and I just sigh. It doesn’t look like it’ll ever end.
But actually, that’s also what makes it so exciting.
Imagine having the power to fashion a Pietà out of the cold block of marble that is your life.
Imagine being able to transform the parts of yourself and your life that you don’t like into something so beautiful that it takes your breath away.
If you can see the bliss that your life could be, would you not spend an entire lifetime making it a reality?
How to get more free time – Tip 2: Welcome the fear. And eat an elephant.
Before you can get more free time, you first need to make a commitment to do so.
Commit to doing the disciplines you need to do until your new personal time management systems become automatic habits.
To succeed at this, you’ll need to face your fear – that paralysing feeling called Impostor’s Syndrome that tells you you’re not enough, you’ll never make it, you don’t have what it takes to get things done.
Because the task is too big and you’re just…well, you.
How could you possibly succeed when you’ve failed at other things?
When the doubt starts creeping in, as it surely will at some point in your journey, remember Bishop Desmond Tutu.
“How do you eat an elephant,” he was rumoured to have asked.
Answer: one bite at a time.
In other words, a big undertaking doesn’t seem too terrifying once you break it down into small, bite-sized pieces.
And keep taking these small bites until you’ve eaten it all.
Okay, so it’s not the most palatable imagery but the argument is valid.
To get more free time, start with baby steps and keep taking those baby steps until your actions are automatic, until you don’t resist your own self, until everything flows.
How to get more free time – Tip 3: Find out why you need more free time.
Often, the busy-ness of daily life can get in the way of making the kind of change you need to create deep and lasting change.
That’s why creating time is incredibly important.
It’s the first step you need to take.
Because often, you need to make time for this new thing you wish to learn or accomplish.
You need to spend time learning, revising, practising.
It’s so important I’d go so far as to say that it’s practically essential.
But if you’re so busy juggling your multiple responsibilities, how will you learn, revise or practise?
Answer: you need to make time for it.
And to make time, you actually need to free it up because 24/7 is all we got.
The best personal time management systems for people who hate routine
This list contains the best personal time management systems for people who absolutely hate routine.
Honestly, when I hear the r-word, I inwardly cringe and try very hard not to outwardly cringe too.
It’s just too much for me.
The kind of detailed planning that goes into other systems like Bullet Journaling (yeah, I tried it for a year and hated it. Note to self: must write a post about that experiment) is too much for me.
I’m not very analytical.
And I suck at the kind of freehand artistry that makes other bullet journals look like works of art.
My bullet journal actually included a few pathetic attempts at calligraphy, habit tracking, adult colouring and journaling.
By the end of the year, the entries mostly consisted of to-do lists, quotes, doodles and notes…with the occasional blank spaces I’d reserved for the more artistic endeavours of making my journal colourful.
They remain blank to this day. And simply make me feel sad and inadequate.
But I digress.
In this section are the top 4 personal time management systems that I, free-spirited and routine-averse creative multitasker that I am, personally use to great success.
If you’re like me but also want to become more productive and get more free time for all the important things in your life but don’t know how to do it, then these four systems may just do the trick.
Good luck and enjoy!
The first system is time tracking, which simply means keeping a log of the things you do and when you do them.
It’s an excellent way of becoming accountable to yourself.
If you’ve never done this before, it may seem difficult. I certainly thought so when I first started.
Write down everything you do?
How? You need to walk around with a piece of paper and pen and start writing things down? Like, every single thing you do during the day? Even when you go to the bathroom?!
Okay, so I admit, it doesn’t sound sexy. Actually, it sounds downright dull.
But bear with me a little bit because it’s actually not as difficult as you may think.
You have two options: track by time of day or track by task.
When you track your time by time of day, you set a timer (I use a kitchen timer but you can use any timer, even the one on your phone) to ring every 15 minutes. Every time it rings, you write down what you’ve been doing.
When you track by task, on the other hand, you just spend the day as normal and then take note of the time you change tasks.
Personally, I find tracking by time of day easier and far more effective, which in my case is the same thing because I tried tracking by task and it just got too much for me.
If you’re the type who doesn’t have to multi-task, then tracking by task is simple. But if you’re juggling three things at once, tracking by task basically means you’re writing down one task after another in quick succession.
Once I got the hang of it though, it quickly became easy and I soon noticed that I was actually underestimating the time I took to get important things done.
Like today, for example, I’d added in my to-do list that I was going to write three blog posts. I think that yes, it’s totally doable.
But after time tracking, I realised that writing a full post of over 2,000 words has taken me two hours to write, which is fine if I were in an office and had 8 hours to simply focus on the job.
The thing is, I’m a full-time mom who works from home so the two-hour focused workday doesn’t happen.
I only had 1 hour of focused writing time in the morning and another hour right before bedtime (and this last hour, I also had to contend with listening to my husband and child arguing over toothbrushing).
In between, I was busy being a mom and doing all the things moms of young children do.
Time tracking helps me get more free time because I can see at a glance where my time goes (and reallocate it in the future).
More importantly, it helps me set my expectations to a more realistic level and prevents planning fallacy.
And let’s face it, sometimes knowing these things is all you need to get important things done as quickly as possible and, as a consequence, get more free time.
How To Time Track – Learn how to time track effectively in four easy steps. This is basic step of time management that most people forget.
Time tracking helps you learn where your time is going and how much time it actually takes you to get things done (no more guesswork!).
Plus: A bonus list of all the tools you need to time track effectively.
Time blocking, according to Rescue Time, is “the practice of planning out every moment of your day in advance and dedicating specific time “blocks” for certain tasks and responsibilities.”
I’m fairly new at time blocking but I’m already blown away by my results.
When you time block, you set aside certain periods of time for certain things. And although my routine-hating self was resistant to the idea when I first heard of it, now that I’ve actually tried it, I’m a convert.
Basically, what you have to do is create a schedule, allocate blocks of your time to complete certain tasks (and nothing else!) and make sure you add a 15-minute buffer in between tasks (to help your mind switch gears).
And that’s it.
In other words, instead of just relying on a to-do list (which may never end because you don’t put a deadline to it), a time blocked schedule helps you decide what tasks need doing today and when exactly you’re going to do them.
This was a real game-changer for me.
In fact, the first day I tried this at work, I completed all the blogging tasks I’d added in my to-do list in half the time it normally takes me.
How To Time Block – A step-by-step guide that will help you effectively time block and get the most from your daily schedule.
Getting Things Done (GTD)
GTD is one of the most popular and also one of the simplest personal time management systems available.
Fairly new to my time management arsenal, it’s nevertheless something that I’ve been unconsciously using in my life.
[Not continuously, mind you, just every time I tried my hand at time management, which wasn’t often I must admit.]
GTD is pretty basic.
All you need to do is start taking down notes and creating a task list.
Now, this is where most people stop.
GTD, on the other hand, takes this further.
After you write down all the tasks you need done, you then spend some time reflecting on your list.
Check which tasks you need to do ASAP and which ones you can’t delegate. I love using Tim Ferriss’ workflow here.
Once you’ve streamlined your to-do list, organise them. Create categories if you must and list all action items under each category.
As time passes, go back on all that you’ve accomplished.
See if there’s anything you need to change and make sure that you change them.
See if there’s anything worth repeating and keep doing them for as long as they’re effective.
It’s an excellent way to increase your productivity and free up the time you commonly spend deciding what to do in the first place.
I love this technique and have used it since I was a postgraduate student in 2012, which was when I first heard of it.
The downsides of not really having (or being able to have) a routine are that you can’t really focus on your task. And when you can’t focus, you can’t really get things done quickly.
In fact, if you’re not focused at all, you might find yourself at the end of the day with nothing to show for it and wondering where the time went.
If you don’t even have a journal where you write about your day, you might even find yourself at the end of the week with none of your priorities ticked from your list and wondering where all that time went. (erm, yeah, don’t ask me how I know).
The Pomodoro Technique goes like this:
Step 1: Choose your task (in order of priority).
Step 2: Set your timer for 25 minutes (25 minutes = 1 Pomodoro).
Step 3: Spend those 25 minutes on the task you selected (and nothing else).
Step 4: If you remember something that’s not connected to the task at hand or you get interrupted, make a note (preferably in your journal) to tackle it later.
Step 5: When the timer rings, make sure to take a five-minute break. If you find it difficult to stop working on the task you selected, force yourself to go to a different location.
Step 6: Rinse and repeat four times. After the fourth Pomodoro, take a 30-minute break.
The Pomodoro Technique was great for me because it forced me to focus but at the same time, gave me an out for when I got interrupted (happens a lot).
It also appealed to the free spirit in me because I knew it was only 25 minutes. I could sustain focused work without taking a breather for that long.
It’s also a sort of time tracker because I can see at a glance how many Pomodoros I needed to complete a given task and that helped me adjust my schedule accordingly.
I no longer feel overworked and overwhelmed.
How To Pomodoro Effectively – Another easy-to-follow step-by-step-guide that will show you how to use this one simple time management technique to free up your time.
Final thoughts on how to get more free time (and the personal time management systems)
When you absolutely chafe at the thought of being tied to a routine or if you want to have a routine but circumstances prevent you from doing it (shout out to all mothers of very young children out there), don’t despair.
There is hope.
It is possible to get so productive that you accomplish all your important tasks in the shortest time required and actually get more free time.
Just understand that this is a process.
It will require you to make a commitment to yourself, face your fear and remember to eat the elephant.
For your convenience, I’ve included a list of the four personal time management systems that I personally use (in combination with each other) and which I can vouch for.
I hope they help you get more free time as much as they’ve helped me.
Have you tried them or another time management system before? Which one worked best for you and why?
Let me know in the comments section below!
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in April 2019 and has been completely revamped and updated for relevance and comprehensiveness.