How DO you actually manage your time?

It’s about lists and hacks

There’s a book by Chet Holmes called The Ultimate Sales Machine, that I used on my post Saturday to springboard into a discussion about time management and productivity.

I’m going to be continuing that thread a bit today for our round-up. This sort of information (about my life and about trying to make it better) doesn’t usually show up here on my blog. It’s usually on my substack, LIVING HAPPY. It’d be awesome if you go check it out. There’s usually not really any overlap.


Holmes’ second tip on time management is to make lists. And the key, he says, is that you want to keep your list to the top six things you want to get down that day — maybe list them out every day on a sheet of paper. I do this the day before because I get anxious if I don’t have a clear idea of my next day.

Over on the Muse, Lily Herman suggests,

“If you’re new to making a to-do list, start small (only four or five action items per day) and use a simple tool or app to write down your tasks (like MacBook’s reminders app or just a traditional paper list). For everything else, I like to keep a separate tab on my MacBook reminders app for tasks that need to be done at a later date (aptly called “Later To-Do”), so that I am only focusing on what’s most important on any given day or week. I would highly recommend doing something similar, regardless of whether you have a paper list or a digital one.”

Full disclosure: I currently have a really long workday because Shaun can’t work full time right now because Xane’s type of autism requires them to be at home and dial in for about 90-minutes worth of classes. It also means they have a lot of needs. This means that I have to make up a majority of the income. I honestly don’t know if I’ve ever had a six item or a four item to-do list in the past few years. So, if you’re into big to-do lists and don’t think they are intimidating, go for it. I do.


The next thing that Holmes suggests is something else I’ve started doing this year, which is figuring out how much time each task will take.

So, you just go through those six items and put how much time you’ll spend on it.

Here’s my Saturday example:

  • Work on Brooklyn’s story 60 pages– 2 hours
  • Work on Ross’ story 50 pages — 1 hour
  • Get Loving the Strange Up — 30 minutes
  • Write Living Happy Extra — 1 hour?
  • Emails — 30 minutes
  • Marc notes to him — 1 hour
  • Write Iceland revise 1 chapter plus 500 words — 1 hour
  • Revise Magic — 30 minutes
  • Write On the Agenda — 30 minutes
  • Write Round Up — 30 minutes

I tend to try to overestimate my time and then if something takes 20 minutes instead of 30, I have a happy, little party inside my head. It’s always good to have a happy, little party in your head.

Sometimes, you can’t control the amount of time things take. Like if I’m reporting on a Town Council meeting and it ends up running from 6 to 11 instead of 6 to 9 like I was hoping. That’s okay. Life is like that.

Planning out your time is super helpful to get your goals done. I mean, if you look at my list, a lot of those items aren’t going to be completed on Saturday because they are working on big novels (my own and other people’s). But because I dedicate time to it each day, it happens.

Holmes says you should you should keep your productive tasks to six hours. I fail at this. However, the science is starting to agree.

Forbes article by Julia Chang writes,

“Past research has also made the case that productivity isn’t harmed by working fewer hours. A 2016 study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development of its member countries found that productivity actually went up when people worked fewer hours. And a 2014 study out of Stanford University found little correlation between the number of hours worked and productivity, even finding that results start slipping after people worked 50 hours.”

And an article by Steve Glaveski for the Harvard Business Review writes,

“Many of today’s organizations sabotage flow by setting counter-productive expectations on availability, responsiveness, and meeting attendance, with research by Adobe finding that employees spend an average of six hours per day on email. Another study found that the average employee checks email 74 times a day, while people touch their smartphones 2,617 times a day. Employees are in a constant state of distraction and hyper-responsiveness.

Jason Fried, co-founder of Basecamp and author of It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work, said on my podcast, Future Squared, that for creative jobs such as programming and writing, people need time to truly think about the work that they’re doing. “If you asked them when the last time they had a chance to really think at work was, most people would tell you they haven’t had a chance to think in quite a long time, which is really unfortunate.”

“The typical employee day is characterized by:

Hour-long meetings, by default, to discuss matters that can usually be handled virtually in one’s own time

Unplanned interruptions, helped in no small part by open-plan offices, instant messaging platforms, and the “ding” of desktop and smartphone notifications

Unnecessary consensus-seeking for reversible, non-consequential decisions

The relentless pursuit of “inbox zero,” a badge of honor in most workplaces, but a symbol of proficiency at putting other people’s goals ahead of one’s own

Traveling, often long-distance, to meet people face-to-face, when a phone call would suffice

Switching between tasks constantly, and suffering the dreaded cognitive switching penalty as a result, leaving one feeling exhausted with little to show for it

Wasting time on a specific task long after most of the value has been delivered

Rudimentary and administrative tasks

“People waste a lot of time at work,” according to Grant. “I’d be willing to bet that in most jobs, people would get more done in six focused hours than eight unfocused hours.”

Okay, back to time management.


There are a ton of templates on the internet where you can plan your day out either digitally or via a piece of paper. I’m a scrap paper sort of person usually.

Yes, I am messy.

It helps me not feel overwhelmed if I can see that I have the time to do the tasks that I need to do.

Canva has some free daily plans that you can customize. And there are apps too. Here’s a list.

I hope that helps!


How Do You Actually Manage Your Time

90 Day Goals Can Change Your Life

The Power and Magic of Weirdness


Author: carriejonesbooks

I am the NYT and internationally-bestselling author of children's books, which include the NEED series, FLYING series, TIME STOPPERS series, DEAR BULLY and other books. I like hedgehogs and puppies and warm places. I have none of these things in my life.

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