One Simple Trick to Get Your Time Back

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I spend much of my time helping clients simplify their physical stuff–minimizing the excess in their cupboards, hauling bags of donations to their cars, and helping them make hard decisions about what to keep and what to let go.

But one thing always seems to happens when I help people manage their stuff–I also help them manage  their time.

Time and stuff are inextricably linked.

You spend your time dealing with your stuff. Your stuff absorbs your time. If you have your stuff organized, but not your time, you will still feel unorganized. And vice-versa.

I stumbled upon my favorite time scheduling trick when working with a client with ADHD. She was in graduate school, struggling with deadlines for her classes, and unsure of how to prioritize all her must do’s with her could/should/want to do’s. During one particular session, I was trying to help her figure out how to tell the difference between what she HAD to do and what she WANTED to do, and an idea popped into my brain:

“What if we write down all the things you HAVE to do in red and all the things you WANT to do in pencil? The red things will be like ‘do-or-die’. They have to be done or they bleed, that’s why they’re red. The pencil things will be like ‘It’d be nice to do that, but nothing really bad will happen if I don’t.’ They can be erased and moved to the next day.”

She nodded.

I nodded.

A system was born.

I have since taught my “Red Pen & Pencil Trick” to hundreds of clients and students.

And I’ve started using it myself. The genius is in the simplicity. You don’t need a fancy planner or high-tech gadget to do this. You just need three things:

  1. A notebook

  2. A red pen

  3. A pencil

It really couldn’t get easier.

If you’d like to try this system to create a daily schedule, here’s how to do it:

STEP 1: Every night before you go to bed (or first thing in the morning) write out a daily schedule in your notebook. I use a basic spiral notebook that you can find just about anywhere for about 25 cents. Like I said, this system is SIMPLE with a capital S!

STEP 2: Check your CALENDAR for things to write in RED. These are the “do-or-die” items, the MUST DO’s. I sometimes call these “hard appointments” because they can’t be easily moved. Think doctor’s appointments, sports practices, meetings, etc. Write all your RED APPOINTMENTS down first, leaving approximate space where you have time in-between them.

STEP 3: Check your TO-DO LIST for things to write in PENCIL. These are the COULD/SHOULD/WANT TO DOs. You could do them that day, but nothing awful will happen if don’t. Think calling your sister, buying groceries, looking up stuff online, etc. I often call these “soft appointments” because they can flex around your hard appointments. Write them in pencil because pencil is a flexible medium; you can erase them and move them to the next day.

Then live your day, focusing on the hard/red appointments. If I get through my day and I’ve done everything in red, I feel like I’ve had a good day. I didn’t let any must do’s slip, so I can go to bed feeling pretty good about how I spent my time.

Important note: I almost never accomplish all my soft/pencil appointments and that’s okay. They are could/should/want to do’s. I can move them to the next day or I can simply not do them and nothing bad will happen.

Here’s an example of what a daily schedule might look like:

Welcome to a typical day in my life!

Notice that I put some things in red–like a morning workout–that I really, really want to do, but probably aren’t technically hard appointments. I do that to make myself take them more seriously. You’re welcome to turn soft appointments into hard appointments if you like. Just be careful not to do that too much or you will lose sight of what is truly a priority!

I hope this post helps you gain some insight on how you could organize your daily schedule to make sure you get done what you NEED to get done, but also leave room for those things you want to do.

I’m curious… what tips and tricks do you use to manage your daily schedule?

Cheers to less stuff and MORE time!

PS Ready to start your own minimalism journey? Check out my FREE Minimalism Starter Guide and get started today!

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