Freedom vs. Structure: Time Management for RVers

The terms “eight-hour day” and “forty-hour work week” don’t mean much when you work from home. They mean even less when that home is a motorhome or travel trailer that periodically travels around the country. When you are living full-time in an RV, it is extremely easy to develop a relaxed, vacation lifestyle that isn’t conducive to “keeping a schedule.”

To keep your rig functioning properly, however, there are certain things that must be done on a set schedule. Filling your fresh water and emptying your waste tanks, for example, as well as fueling up and filling your propane tank when needed takes priority. Accommodating these chores can easily alter an entire day's plans.

It’s important to remain flexible, but also manage your workload, chores, and activities to more effectively use your time. The benefits include less stress, more productivity, more energy, more positivity, better self esteem, and greater levels of happiness. For your health and the well being of your family, check out the following strategies.

Assess Your Current Time Use

The first step is to determine how you currently use your time. In other words, what are your patterns? This helps you to more realistically plan your time.

Journal Your Activities. Take a week or two and write down all of your activities throughout the day. Don’t wait until the end of the day, or you won’t get an accurate picture. Every 15 to 30 minutes, jot down what you’ve been doing during that time. Journal everything as small as checking email or sending a tweet to as large as waxed the RV.

Assess Your Findings. Go over your journal looking for patterns. Do you do most of your activities during the morning or the afternoon? Analyze where the bulk of your time is going, such as job, family, personal, or recreation. Look for regular time wasters, so you can take steps to eliminate them.

Organize Your Space to Organize Your Time. Living in a cluttered, disorganized space is one example of a time waster. It often results in a lot of time each day spent navigating around, relocating, and cleaning things. Messes and organizational issues are even more of a distraction when you live in small spaces like a motorhome. If you shower doubles for extended closet space, for example, you may be spending time each day rearranging things and would likely benefit from a better organizational plan.

By minimizing the number of belongings you have in your RV, you can better manage your time. Begin to get rid of clutter. Categorize things under the following labels: keep, give away, and throw away. From there, you can research efficient organizational methods that make the most of your space and reduce the time you spend dealing with your belongings on a daily basis.

Things You Keep. These fall into two categories. The first group consists of things that are used for a particular purpose. Also assess whether they can be replaced with a smaller, more versatile version. The second group is for things that have sentimental value. Even then, you should make sure that a photo of the item couldn’t easily take its place in order to make the best use of your limited space.

Things You Give Away. Give away things you don’t use, but are in good condition, are valuable to others, or have sentimental value to you. Maybe you can’t bear to throw it away, but would be satisfied giving it to a friend or family member you know would cherish it.

Other options are to sell things you don't use on sites like eBay or Craigslist, or donate things to a thrift stores or shelters. In fact, donations are often tax-deductible.

Things You Throw Away. When you decide to throw something away, it's always best to do so immediately in order to quickly reduce clutter. If you want, separate items into those that can be recycled and those that can’t, then take them to the dumpster or appropriate receptacles.

Note: Do the same with your electronic clutter like emails and news blasts that you haven’t gone through or removed from your inbox. The process is similar: only keep things that you intend to address immediately in your inbox. Anything else that has been there for over a week should go in a folder or the trash.

Avoid Multi-Tasking. Although it has long been the view that by multi-tasking, a person could get more done in a shorter amount of time, this has been proven false. While attempting to do more than one thing at a time, you actually lose time, as you switch focus from one task to another. Additionally, when you split your focus between multiple activities, typically each one takes longer and isn’t completed as accurately.

Figure Out Your Priorities. Look at your obligations and determine what is the most important to accomplish quickly. Label chores and responsibilities on a scale of “high,” “medium”, and “low” importance. When you make a to-do list, place the important and urgent items first followed by the ones of less importance, then focus on the most important tasks first.

Choose or Develop a System. Make sure your system is one that works well for you. For some, it is an electronic planner or a virtual assistant. For others, it is series of calendars and hand-written to-do lists. I personally utilize a combination. I have a whiteboard on the refrigerator with urgent or important things that need to be addressed, but I also use electronic reminders on my phone for appointments and things that occur daily. I’m also a fan of the phone app, “Anylist,” which I use to jot down and automatically share my grocery list, so it is available to whoever is doing the shopping. It's also important to review your management plan frequently to ensure that it's working.

Schedule Your Time on Your Chosen System. It's easy to get into relaxed habits when you are traveling. Being laid back is fine if you don’t have anything in particular that you want to accomplish; otherwise, it's essential that you introduce structure back into your life.

Start the Day Off Right. To maintain a schedule, always set an alarm clock. Plan a morning routine that consists of preparing and eating breakfast, along with 30-minutes to figure out what you want to accomplish during your day. Block out the most important items by adding them to your system. Follow this with exercising, gardening, meditating, or anything to increase your energy levels and get the day off to a great start.

Schedule Regular Obligations. Start with time commitments and obligations. Schedule daily activities like work, meals, showers, and RV chores for specific times, then follow through with your priorities by adding them to your system and sticking to a routine. Make sure to leave part of your day free to do whatever is you want, as well.

Plug Activities in Where They Fit. Use your time wisely. If you know you will be sitting in a waiting room for a while, spend the time paying bills, responding to email, corresponding with friends, reading, or engaging in a hobby like sketching or knitting.

Schedule Interruptions. Even with a tight schedule, interruptions are bound to happen. Whether it's a family emergency, unexpected visit, or an unexpected RV repair, it's always best to buffer your schedule with a little extra time.

If you are working on the computer, for example, assume that you'll lose your internet connection, and allot more time than the task would usually take. If you are traveling or relocating, assume that traffic will be worse than you expect. Planning for the inevitable not only helps you avoid over-scheduling, but also allows you to be more flexible.

Cooperate With Others for Better Time Management. Rather than delegating chores, determine who is most interested in one or who does it most efficiently. For example, if one person is capable of washing dishes with the least amount of water, they should have that as one of their daily chores. Maybe one person is very organized and mathematically inclined, so they should be responsible for handling the finances. The person who can navigate the grocery aisles most efficiently while remembering everything on the list should do the shopping, and so forth.

The important thing is to make sure the tasks are balanced so everyone can best manage their time while contributing to the overall lifestyle. It doesn’t work if one person does everything or someone is assigned a task that he or she hates. Again, cooperation is more important than delegation in this case. And it's always best to revisit your tasks periodically to ensure that everyone is still on board with the system.

Avoid Time Wasters. Although you should make scheduling allowances for interruptions, you should also make an effort to avoid common time wasters. Not everything can be controlled, but if you can identify them and have a ready remedy, you are far less likely to get sucked into the trap.

Emails and Social Media. Internet interactions are important, especially when you live in your RV. You don’t always have a central location with the same neighbors, a physical postal delivery service, and a brick and mortar job, so these communications take the place of the more traditional ones. That said, not every message is of equal importance.

Set up your email for instant message alerts so you can immediately determine whether incoming messages are important or not. Respond to only those that are truly important, then schedule one or two times a day to go through the rest of your Inbox and redirect mail into appropriate folders or into the trash.

Social media sites, although enjoyable, informative, and a great way to stay connected with friends and family, can become a time-sucking abyss. Pick one or two times a day to scroll through. Directly look up anyone that you are particularly concerned about. Make sure your loved ones are aware of your plan, so your absence throughout the day doesn’t cause alarm.


Becoming sick or tired is a huge time waster. You obviously wouldn’t be functioning to the best of your ability and would be less capable of meeting obligations.
Consider the following tips to preserve your physical health:

  • Avoid eating out, as much as possible.
  • Stay physically active through exercise.
  • Drink lots of water.
  • Get enough sleep.
  • Manage your stress.
  • Take a good multi-vitamin.

Maintaining your health not only helps you avoid becoming sick, but it increases your energy levels and helps you work more efficiently.

Arguments. Very little wastes time more than arguing with someone. In fact, they rarely accomplish anything else. Make sure that you are on the same page with those you are traveling and living with. Don’t let negativity fester. Practice good communication skills by speaking and responding how you would want someone to do so to you. Speak assertively, respectfully, and practice forgiveness.

Avoid Uncertainty. Procrastination doesn’t always come from a desire to avoid a task; it often comes from an inability to make a decision. Sometimes a person isn’t presented with two clear choices. In this case, it's sometimes better to merely make a choice and be done with it than to wallow in the unknown.

Eliminate Time Wasters on the Road. Plan your route, as well as your destination. Consult websites like RVParking and apps like Allstays to make sure that the campground you are headed for is open and has sites available, then call ahead to verify. Little wastes more time than detours and unaccommodating RV parks.

In Conclusion

To add structure to your life while maintaining the freedom that RVing allows you, it's important to know where you spend the majority of your time. Organizing your space, creating a more structured environment, and having a routine that allows for flexibility are great places to start. Before that, however, it is essential that you know how you currently spend your time to make accurate estimations, as well as assess which parts of the day are most productive for you. Make it a habit to periodically journal your time to look for improvements. Please share this with anyone you know who wants to become better at managing their time, especially if they have a mobile, RVing lifestyle!

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