What is the ultimate benefit of becoming a minimalist and enjoying a life of less? I would say: taking back your time and defining your priorities and passions in life.
Being a minimalist is not just taking away and discarding useless stuff and clutter from your life. That is only the beginning to make room for the good and the meaningful. Minimalism gives back time, meaning and purpose to your days, time to do more quality things and achieve more clarity in your pursuits with less. Much less.
So what does minimalism teach about managing time?
In mid-April, I attended a Zoom business networking event where the discussion was time management, e.g. balancing everyday work with social media and other digital tasks.
Time management is a complex and relative topic, especially when working from home as an entrepreneur or freelancer. During the discussion, I could identify some strong and also weak points in my current work schedule.
In truth, my schedule has evolved quite a lot in the past year, and I only have to look at the core minimalist principles to realise the significant impact on my life.
Previously, I used a daily journal to jot down the many things I wanted to do on a specific day, including the must-do ‘urgent’ things. I didn’t need to look in the diary to realise that some tasks on my long list were incomplete or postponed for the following day. I knew that some activities were too much, too unimportant and not at all as urgent as I thought they might be. The increasing workload wasn’t helping, either.
Some years ago, when productivity apps became more popular, I downloaded the app One Big Thing. Instead of coming up with a sizeable to-do list every day like most other productivity apps, the application said to identify the one important thing to do per day and advised a maximum of three things to accomplish in the daily schedule.
Although I didn’t use it regularly as I planned, the idea of fewer tasks per day stuck with me. I began to unload some of the daily burdens and learned to prioritise better. Also, I gave up the notion of burning urgency. It is something that most of us do out of habit, but rarely things become so urgent that they must be done there and then!
Fast forward into the minimalism journey, and I can now say I’ve adopted a simpler way of managing my work and downtime schedule. Here are the changes I’ve made and how I organise my time:
Use weekly planner vs daily notebook.
In 2021, I switched from a daily notebook to a weekly planner. Instead of filling up a daily page with a long list of tasks, I now have limited space to pick the most important things I want to achieve daily. In just one page, I can see the whole week ahead and what needs to be done. It simplifies daily planning and allows me to focus on what is essential for that week.
Plan a maximum of three big things daily.
Every day of the week, I choose a maximum of three activities that I prioritise. I stick to completing them during that day. These activities combine client work and a leisure activity or exercise, such as yoga or hiking, usually in a ratio of 2:1 or, on slower days, 1:1.
For example, one day can include writing a blog post for a new client, invoicing customers, and a Yoga class. Another day may consist of editing work, researching blog topics, and having lunch with a friend.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach. The point is not to overdo the daily planning with too many tasks but to spread them evenly throughout the week.
Get the most out of the schedule—batch similar activities.
As a freelance writer, I have to organise my schedule to include all paid writing projects and client work. To maximise planning efficiency, I make a point not to incorporate typical errands such as grocery shopping, for example, among the three daily things.
I also do not include activities that are already a daily routine for my lifestyle, such as cooking and bedtime reading (I read fiction or non-fiction books almost every day). Similarly, I also have not included my daily Duolingo lessons (learning foreign languages).
This fact frees the shortlist to accommodate a maximum of two essential work-related tasks among the three things. That said, I further streamline planning by batching similar activities or scheduling related tasks for a designated chunk of time.
Once done, I don’t have to go back and forth on these issues when I need to focus on more important work. A batch can be grouping admin tasks – emailing, invoicing, quotations, statements – weekly social media updating for multiple accounts or self-care activities for a half-day indulgence.
Include at least one self-care activity daily.
It’s easy to lose track of time and oneself when immersed in work, and it’s true for all writers. The most significant change I made to my schedule was to make sure I took care of myself first before taking on more projects or more responsibility.
It means adding more stress-free activities and making space for wellbeing, health and personal development. For example, I go to yoga classes twice a week, I enjoy a walk or hike at least weekly, and I try to visit a chiropractor or health practitioner at least once a month to improve my back health and posture.
Being overworked and taking too much work on our plates is a reality to most full-time employees or business owners. This fact complicates time management, too, and leads to burnout sooner or later.
The great advantage of being a freelancer is that I can decide on potential work leads based on my best abilities, current schedule and lifestyle choices.
- I do not take extra work if I have already filled my desired quota for the week/month. It means cutting down on workload if needed.
- I also opt not to take on too many clients simultaneously if it adds unwanted load, stress, and conflicting schedules.
- I do not take a job if I don’t feel it is beneficial to my schedule or if I cannot allocate the proper effort or time to see it to completion.
Be flexible but firm.
Irrespective of the planning above, I do not have all these activities scheduled to the minute. I do, however, a rough estimate to avoid overcommitment or overbooking the day. Finishing a lengthier blog piece may take up extra time with research, outline and editing. A yoga group class can easily extend to two hours, including travelling to the nearest studio (not every session is online).
I do not fuss over strict schedules. It’s essential to allow some flexibility for short deadlines, sudden changes and the unexpected. Meanwhile, I stay committed to the task at hand and finish the job. Now and then, I dedicate a day entirely to rest and exercise without feeling guilty.
Plan ahead. Take it easy.
In my work, looming deadlines can bring extra stress and hastiness. I am no stranger to completing work assigned the same day or waiting to submit minutes before the deadline. It happens.
Therefore, I try to complete a job or finish half of the commissioned work at least a day before the deadline. Then I only do a final editing and a quick check-up on the day of submitting. Sometimes I complete small projects or blogging several days before the deadline if the schedule allows. The point is not to hurry and make mistakes at the finish line.
Limit screen time and interruptions.
I should have probably started with this crucial point in managing my daily schedule efficiently. It is necessary to avoid distractions, interruptions and mindless online browsing to focus wholeheartedly on the currently scheduled activities.
Firstly, I’ve reduced my screen time on my devices (smartphone and tablet) from three hours a day on average to one hour daily, limiting the amount spent aimlessly on social media feeds or whatnot. I’ve committed to only using social feeds purposedly.
Working from home also means that I have to limit my time on major distractions like Netflix or similar app streaming services (I do not have cable TV, just streaming services).
Say no to multitasking. Do one thing at a time.
I am not a big fan of multitasking. As a minimalist, spending time in the present moment, one thing at a time, clears the mind of excessive thoughts and actions.
When you focus on one thing – writing a blog, for example – you do not need distractions and interruptions to your flow. Going back and forth between writing and checking or replying to new emails distracts the mind and adds extra time to complete the writing task to the best ability.
Our scattered minds are not trained for multitasking. I’ve read studies acknowledging that it takes at least 10 to 15 minutes for our brains to refocus (get in the zone or flow) on the initial task after being disturbed by other requests. That is why I immerse in one thing at a time from my schedule. It’s normal to have slip-ups sometimes but make an effort to focus on the present moment before moving to the next thing on your list.
Live more. Spend time wisely.
Finally, it’s critical to achieve a balance as far as time management goes. As a lifestyle, minimalism focuses on doing away with unnecessary activities to accommodate the essential things that make up your lifestyle. Everything takes time. Therefore, according to what defines me, I choose how to spend time and what to spend it on. For the rest, I can always delegate or cut down. In a way, minimalism has helped me to live more, according to what defines me and my lifestyle.
My schedule is far from perfect. There is no such thing as perfection in time management, but you can optimise specific tasks if possible, as long as it improves your life and doesn’t add extra stress or worry. Consider delegating or removing certain activities for another time if you’re prone to excessive working.
I still want to allocate an extra lot for my personal projects – daily fiction writing. The Zoom meeting provided some great ideas to make this happen. I may need to mark specific times on my calendar to keep this commitment on top of regular paid client work. Overall, I must prioritise this dream if I want to move ahead and see it done.
Photo credits to Unsplash