My most powerful time tool

It’s hard to be a well-read, worldly individual in the 21st century and not hear about concepts dealing with managing your time. Or as some call it, managing yourself.

When you dip your toe into the world of goal achievement and productivity, you’ll  read or hear tips like these:

1. Start your day by tackling your most important task
2. Plan to check and respond to email or voicemail once or twice a day to avoid becoming a virtual slave to the demands of others – likewise for social media
3. Set a timer to start, stop, and keep your focus
4. Say No to say yesWrite out your list of tasks the night before so you can jump right in the next day

These are all good tips, and they sound relatively easy to do, right?

So, when was the last time you had a day that you checked off everything on your list and felt like you’d had enough time to get it all done?

There are people walking the planet right now who would be able to say “yesterday” to this question, or maybe even “today.”

People who, if they looked in Albus Dumbledore’s Mirror of Erised, they would see themselves smiling and content, maybe with a book and glass of wine. Maybe their desire is to relax or go on vacation because they spend all of their time being super productive.

If I looked in the Mirror of Erised, I would see myself holding a clock in one hand and my to-do list with great big checkmarks next to each item – my desire would be to have mastered this time/self management thing and have a huge sense of “hell yeah – done and done!” Unlike Harry Potter’s vision of his parents standing behind him in the mirror, mine would be images of my finished book project, my house neat and tidy on a Tuesday, and happy children eating whatever I cook for dinner on any given night.

What would you see in the Mirror of Erised?

So, how do we become one of those super productive people who have a handle on self management and walk through their days with a focused gaze and persistent steps moving from one task to the next? Or maybe just making the time to engage in a a creative endeavor – whatever it is that you want or need to do in order to feel like you’re moving forward.

All of the tips listed above are relevant. Yes, we need to know what our most important task is. (As a side note, if you’re a mommy, there are few tasks that seem unimportant. Keeping kids fed, clean, and happy is an ongoing task that does not stop unless you drop them off somewhere or leave your house. )

Setting a timer of course works, once you’ve identified that important task and set yourself some time free of distractions to work on it.

I could go on and on here, but in my experience, limited as it may be, there is one self/time management tool that has proven to be more powerful than any other. And it’s one that is available to all of us.

One small little word. (It’s one of my favs.)



And one more time. No.

Imagine this. You’re at work, you have an important meeting in 20 minutes, and as you’re getting what you need together, your phone rings. It’s your child’s school and he or she needs to be picked up. Fever. Vomit. Lice. Take your pick, they send your kid home for all of those reasons.

You quickly transition from productive and savvy career-woman to mommy mode. The first thing you do is reschedule your meeting. It is no longer the most important thing – so you say “no” to it.

Saying “no” doesn’t mean that you are rude or snarky, it just means that in this moment, there is something more important, more meaningful, or even more fulfilling that you would like to do with your time.

Another example. My number one parenting rule is this: when asked to read, all menial tasks stop, and books are read. (This is one of my most important things – they’re only going to ask for stories for so many years, you know?)

I say “no” to the dishes or laundry and I read my kid a book. We cuddle and have a few moments together that are precious to both of us.

“No” is about survival. We are lucky women. We live in a time when we can work, have babies, start our own businesses, write and publish whatever we want, raise our daughters to love math and science, and all kinds of cool things.

The danger of not getting anything done comes into play when we pile on more and more stuff, but we put off saying “no” to something else.

Saying “no” is hard. When you’re a parent, you think about all the stuff your kid could, or you think should, be involved in, and its overwhelming. Do you do a sport, an instrument, maybe a foreign language? And what if your kid needs tutoring too?

Volunteering. Book clubs. Play dates. Going to the gym. Visiting relatives. Planting a garden. Reading the classics.

Take your pick. I’m sure you have your list of things you’d like to do and feel as though you don’t have time for.

At some point, your plate will be full. You won’t be able to put anything more on it because if you do, it will topple over.
Cleaning up a spilled plate is no fun.

And so we say “no.” Politely. Gently. But firmly, “no.”

We say “no” to one thing so that we can say “yes” to another.

I’m participating in the Startup In 60 Blog Party! Startup In 60 is a time management course for busy women for are ready to finally start their own businesses whether they’ve got 60 days, 60 minutes, or 60 seconds. Click here to join the program.  [Link to]

Like this article? Please feel free to use it on your own blog or newsletter. I simply ask that you please include this blurb:
Sara Marchessault is a coach, writer, teacher, and mom who helps busy women use journaling to create more space in their life for being productive without feeling overwhelmed. To learn more about Sara and her work in the world, please visit or


  1. sagegrayson | 8th May 15

    Thanks so much for participating in the Blog Party, Sara! I agree, there’s nothing more satisfying than a completely checked off to-do list. 🙂

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