Managing Time When Life is Out of Control

Time management is not a new topic. You may be looking at this article wondering what new thing could we possibly cover that you haven’t already read (and tried) before. It’s a fair question. At least it could be if this article simply covered the same old life hacks we’ve all tried to apply with some varying degree of success. 

That success, however, may come with conditions. The hacks work when you’ve got long deadlines and control over the demands on your time. They work when life isn’t tossing you curveballs that throw your well planned processes out the window. How do you manage your time when time is unmanageable? 

Goals & Values

Whether we’re talking about your professional life or your home life – or both – being able to manage your time even when you’re navigating a bit of turbulence begins well before the unexpected sets upon you. Take the time now to clearly identify your goals and your values. What matters most to you? What are you trying to achieve? What is non-negotiable? 

You may identify self-care as a high value for you (you should, by the way!) You may set a goal of allocating a certain amount of time a week to working out or to mastering a hobby that relaxes you. Completely a new certification or degree may be a priority. Being home with your family for dinner every night may be a high value activity. Write it all down and refer to that list as often as you need to be reminded of them.

Be Realistic

No matter how hard you try, there are still only 24 hours in a day, 7 days in a week, and 365 days in a year. Time is a finite resource. Just because something has thrown a wrench in your carefully-orchestrated schedule doesn’t mean it added more bandwidth as well. Something is going to have to give. 

You need to re-evaluate your to-do list in light of whatever curveball you’ve just fielded and then adjust your expectations, and your time allocation, accordingly. 

Identify Priorities 

Of course, allocating your time well means understanding your priorities. Remember, urgent isn’t the same as high-priority. Pull out that list of values and goals. Understand what aspects of your calendar are non-negotiable. Identify what can be rescheduled or postponed, as well as what can be adapted. 

However, be honest about this new demand on your time. Is it really a priority? Does it really require your attention over the other things you’re already juggling? (And notice, we did say “your attention.” That will bring us the next point. )


Just because something is urgent, doesn’t mean you need to own the urgency. Is this task something that you and only you can address? Is there someone else that can either share the added responsibility or own it entirely? 

As a leader, it can feel like the urgent new thing that blustered in should have its own space on your plate. Maybe it should. Although the truth is, there’s probably at least some aspects of the resulting workload increase related to it that can be tackled by your team. Assess the added tasks honestly and allocate the tasks and ownership to others appropriately.

Get Organized

If you’re not a natural list maker, this may be time to develop a habit of documenting the tasks on your plate. When we’re wading through a bit of added chaos, it can be easy to lose track of what has to be completed and why. 

Get organized. Make a list of what needs to be accomplished, when those tasks need to be accomplished, and who is assuming responsibility for accomplishing them. Build in time during your week to check in with team members to assess progress.