Time Maps: Visualizing How You Spend Your Time

Do you feel like you’re overcommitted?  Do you feel like there aren’t enough hours in the day for you to get everything done?

Maybe there aren’t.

In her book Time Management from the Inside Out, Julie Morgenstern explains that time is as limited as the space in your closet.  If you have too many clothes and you run out of space in your closet, you see it.  When you have too much to do and you run out of time in your schedule, you feel it.

So Julie suggests creating a time map.  Basically, a time map is a template of your schedule for the week.  It’s what you assume you will be doing each week unless something unusual comes up (which often happens and is OK).

I started creating and using time maps about a year ago and have found them very calming.  I know what my default schedule is and I can “see” how I spend my time.

Time Management from the Inside Out leads you step-by-step through the process of creating your own time map.  In short, this is how you do it:

1.  Create a grid of the week.  (I made mine on Excel.  There is also a blank one in the book that you can copy.)  Each day has a column.  Each hour has a row.  The first row is the time you wake up most days.  The last row is the time you go to bed.

2.  Fill in your regularly-scheduled activities that have set times.  If you need to be in the office by 9am, write “Office” in the 9am slot and draw an arrow until the hour in which you leave the office.  If you have committed to volunteering in your child’s classroom on Wednesdays from 10-11am, write that down in the appropriate block.

3.  By now, your grid will probably be one-half to two-thirds full.  Now think of the things that you do each week but have no standard time assigned to them (yet).  Assign each of those “flexible” activities a set time in your schedule.  For example, I can go to the grocery whenever, but I’ve decided that Monday mornings is the best time for me to go.  So I’ve assigned 9-11am on Mondays as my time to plan meals and go food shopping. 

4.  Have you run out of space yet?  The first time I made a time map, I did.  It was really enlightening to see how much I expected myself to accomplish despite the fact that my schedule was already so full.  This is when you start making decisions about what’s really important to you, what’s relevant to your life right now, and what you need to put “on hold” for a different season.

In addition to walking you through the process of creating a time map, Julie does a great job helping you identify some possible reasons why time management has been difficult for you so far.  She suggests several technical errors, external realities and psychological obstacles that could be what’s holding you back from a schedule that feels well-paced and in control.

The biggest lesson I have learned since using a time map is that I need to revisit it every few months.  Is this how I’m really spending my time?  Have my priorities shifted and I need to revise my schedule to reflect that?  Whenever your or your family’s schedule changes, it’s time to look at the time map and re-evaluate.

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