7 practical ways to make the most of your time

Managing your time can be a juggling act. Here are seven tips to get the most from your day.

Editor’s note: This article is a portion of a document written by Mary Whelchel on The Christian Working Woman. It has been republished here with permission.

She worked very hard; she stayed late every evening; she hardly ever took lunch breaks; she always seemed overwhelmed and overworked. She was working so hard that she generated a good deal of sympathy. “Poor Susie, I feel so bad for her. She has so much to do and never gets out of here on time.” Those were typical comments her coworkers made about her.

I was one of those coworkers, often feeling guilty myself for not working as hard or as long as Susie did. However, after getting to know the situation better, I began to see that Susie did indeed work long hours and expended a great deal of energy, but many of us were accomplishing the same amount of work in much less time because Susie did not use any discipline in planning her work, scheduling her time or controlling her energy.

Sometimes I even got the idea that she was trying to solicit those expressions of sympathy. It made Susie feel good about herself to be able to say how late she worked last night, to remind us that she didn’t have time to go to lunch today, to be there at the office every morning before the rest of us. I concluded that Susie was doing this in part to convince herself that she was important and valuable.

Many times in my career I’ve worked with people who worked hard but not smart. People who really thrive on their jobs are ones who know how to use that eight or nine-hour day really well, completing assignments and keeping up with the work in a fairly normal schedule, leaving time for the rest of their lives and achieving a balance in lifestyle.

Have you heard the slogan “Plan your work and work your plan”? I remember having that drilled into me early in my career, and there’s an awful lot of good advice wrapped up in those few words.

Time is our most valuable resource — the one we can never replace once we use it. God will hold us accountable for our use of time. We’ve each been given 24 hours each day, but some use those hours more wisely than others.

Paul told the Ephesians they should “be careful how you walk, not as unwise men, but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:15-16 NASB). We need to learn practical ways to make the most of our time, and in so doing, we will become approved by our Lord as wise servants.

Time management is a topic that has been covered in depth by many other people, yet few of us really manage our time well. Certainly we cannot say it is from lack of information or help, because most any bookstore or library is a resource for good help in how to plan your work and work your plan. Mostly it’s a matter of just making up your mind to do it.

However, I’ve discovered that some people really have no concept of what they need to do in order to get the most out of their 24-hour days. So here are some practical ways to make good use of your time — whether it’s on your job or in your personal life.

Internal and external prime time

One way to manage your time better is to be aware of your internal and external prime time. Internal prime time is that time when you work best. For me, it’s 5 a.m. to noon. I’m running at highest capacity then; my energy is high, my drive is high, my creative juices are flowing. As much as possible, I save my prime time for time with God and for writing.

It’s easy to let your prime time slip through your fingers, eaten up with telephone calls and incidentals that could be done in non-prime time. I always try to schedule appointments outside my office in the afternoon if I can. My staff is very helpful in keeping interruptions away from me during the morning hours. I try to push tasks that are not as mentally demanding into afternoon and evening time, when I slow down.

As much as possible, use your internal prime time for your most important tasks — the ones that require the most energy and creativeness on your part.

External prime time is when external resources — usually people — are most readily available for decisions, inquiries and information. Make telephone calls when you have a high probability of getting through to that person. Learn the best time to catch your boss for those needed times of interaction. When are you most likely to find office equipment available? Plan your duties to eliminate as much waiting time and telephone tag as possible.

Plan for interruptions

Unexpected happenings take time, and I seriously doubt we ever have a day that isn’t interrupted at some point or another. We certainly have to plan to be flexible as we plan our work and work our plan. But starting out with a plan, even if it gets changed, is still the smart way to manage your time and make the best use of it.

Simplify and unclutter your environment

What does your desk or your work surface look like right now? Is it totally cluttered and covered with stuff? Do you hang on to things too long? How often do you just reshuffle things that need to be done? Is your desk or work station loaded down with papers and projects that you keep rearranging, refiling, relisting on your to-do list? If you added all the time you spend shuffling the papers, you could have accomplished many of the tasks while you were rearranging the papers!

Sometimes I have to stop and make a high priority of getting rid of the projects that are sitting on my desk and gumming up the works. As you reshuffle papers, ask yourself, “Why should I not do this right now?” If you can’t think of a good reason, and if it truly has to be done, then get it off your mind, off your desk, out of the reshuffle mode. “Handle each piece of paper only once,” is a good rule to follow. If it can be done now, do it now.

Procrastination — a deadly habit

Of course, sometimes we go in the other direction and keep ourselves busy doing low-priority items in order to avoid facing the more difficult and demanding priorities. Perhaps you just don’t know how to begin one of those projects on your list, so you’ve been keeping busy doing a bunch of little stuff to avoid facing it.

I have learned that the only way to start is to start. Just jump in with both feet, over your head, and start swimming!

Procrastination is a deadly habit. How many things do you have lined up to do that you just haven’t started? I encourage you to do something today that makes a start on the project. Make a telephone call, ask a question, write the first page — start. That’s frequently the hardest part; if we don’t start, nothing will ever happen.

Learn to say no

A good time manager is one who knows how to say no when appropriate. I have to admit that I find it difficult to say no, but I’m learning.

Just because you’re asked to do something doesn’t mean you necessarily are the right person to do it. Don’t be pressured into saying yes. Be careful of saying, “I’ll do it right away,” when you know you can’t.

If your boss asks you to do something you feel is not the best use of your time, you could say something like, “I’ll be glad to do that for you now, but if I do, I won’t be able to complete this other project you gave me yesterday. It was my understanding that it had a higher priority. Is that right?”

When people say, “Do you have a minute?” they usually want much more than a minute. You could ask, “Are you serious about one minute? I have a minute now, but if it takes longer, we’ll have to do it later.”

Minimize interruptions

Who interrupts you the most? How can you minimize those interruptions? Perhaps you can suggest to that person that the two of you can confer at specified times and try to cover all that needs to be covered at one sitting instead of those multiple conversations that interrupt your work flow and eat up so much time. That would be a great timesaver.

Group activities together to avoid start-up time. Instead of writing a few checks every day, for example, write checks on Friday. You’ll eliminate a great deal of start-up time.

Set some routines in place to avoid delays and harassment. For example: Are you always running out of needed supplies and inventory? Set up a routine and a checklist that forces you to check all supplies on certain days or turn in an order form when supplies are low. This will help you avoid those panic moments when you’re trying to locate what you need. It can save lots of time and hassle as well as money.

Give God the first fruits of your time

Let me conclude these thoughts on time management by reminding you to reserve a key part of your prime time each day to spend with the Lord, reading his Word and praying. Every Christian should have that at the top of his or her to-do lists.

It seems as though we have a hundred good reasons to skip that time with the Lord, and so many things seem to get in the way. But I can tell you from firsthand experience that if you try to operate without quality and quantity time with God each day, you are handicapping yourself.

If you’ll spend time with God at the beginning of each day, you’re going to discover that the rest of your day will be much more efficient and productive, much less hassled and frantic. Believe me, you cannot afford to not make that your highest priority.

I believe much of our frustration comes from poor use of our time. It causes confusion, it makes us feel like failures because things don’t get done, and it adds much stress to our lives.

Remember Ephesians 5:16 “[Make] the most of your time, because the days are evil” (NASB). It may not seem like a spiritual function to plan your work and work your plan, but indeed we honor the Lord when we make the very best use of what he has given us — time.

Mary Whelchel

Mary Whelchel is the founder of Christian Working Women, a radio broadcast addressing the issues of women in the workplace. After 28 years, the program is now aired on 500 stations and includes both the three minute daily program, which airs Monday through Friday, and the weekend edition, which is a fifteen minute program.