Time is our most valuable possession, but we all seem to find a thousand ways to squander big chunks of it.
Not only that, but many of us feel guilty or beat ourselves up when we fail to accomplish everything we’d like to in a given time period.
This is certainly true for me. I also get anxious and stressed as I try to discharge all of my responsibilities at work. However, there are time management methods that can help all of us get a better handle on our lives if we’re willing to put them into practice consistently.
The time management tips listed below are not original to me, but they’re sound, effective advice. And I’m using all of these tips currently as I seek to beat back my own anxieties, find a positive focus and take my life and career to another level.
Do An Audit
It may not seem like fun, but it’s essential that you perform a time audit if you’re serious about improving your time management skills. The audit means that you take a week or two and make a list of exactly how you’re spending your time. You can learn a lot, including how long it typically takes you to complete certain large, recurring tasks or projects in your business. The audit may also show you the situations in which you tend to procrastinate or fill your time with busy work. App Recommendation: Toggl.
Find Your Peak
Everyone’s a little different, so try to isolate the blocks of time in a typical day when you are the most alert, engaged and effective. For some people, that peak time comes in the morning. Your peak – whenever it comes – is the ideal time for you to work on tasks that require your full creativity or concentration. App Recommendations: Sunsama, Sorted^3
Plan, Plan, Plan
Some creatives may recoil at the concept, but you must plan ahead in order to make the best use of your time. This means planning the next week. It also means planning each day so you know the tasks that should take priority. If you don’t schedule your time, you’ll likely lose focus and find yourself checking emails or playing on social media. An old-fashioned to-do list can be a part of your daily planning. If you write down each appointment or obligation or task on a list or in a calendar you can focus on actually completing those items rather than having them bouncing around in your brain. App Recommendation: Fantastical
Break Up Big Jobs
Big projects are not accomplished all at once. To plan such projects effectively – and to actually get started, rather than procrastinating – break them down into a list of sub-tasks related to the main project. Then you can jump in immediately and get a few of those tasks accomplished, thus building some momentum on the project. App Recommendations: Things, TickTick
Do Not Multitask
Prioritize your work each day and work on only one task at a time. You will not be as productive if you continually jump back and forth between different projects, studies show. “When our brain is constantly switching gears to bounce back and forth between tasks – especially when those tasks are complex and require our active attention – we become less efficient and more likely to make a mistake,” according to the Cleveland Clinic. App Recommendations: Freedom, Cold Turkey
Use the Clock
Here’s a trick to make yourself finish a small but necessary task that you seem reluctant to do for some reason. Figure out how long that task should take – 30 minutes, for example – then set the timer on your cell phone. Work on the assigned task without stopping until the timer goes off. App Recommendation:The built in timer on your phone.
Learn to Say No
This is one of the lessons I wish someone had imparted to me when I was much younger. It is OK to say no when someone – an employer, a client, a coworker – asks you to take on an additional task that you simply do not have the time or resources to fulfill or which should not be your responsibility. Be polite, and feel free to offer the person a logical explanation as to why you are saying no, but don’t feel bad and don’t back down. No. It can be the most powerful word in the language.
Steal Time For Your Dream
Decide what is really important to you. List the things you want to do in life that really matter long-term. For example, you may want to create a new computer game or write a novel or start your own business. Then pick one of those goals and start working on it right away. Break down the big task into smaller chunks (as we discussed earlier) and dedicate a certain amount of time each day, or at least each week, to working on your dream. Take the time! No one else is coming to give you permission.
Keep Hope Alive
Even if you continue to struggle with time, or if you don’t always get everything done on your to-do list, don’t get down on yourself. It does not do any good to wallow in shame or make yourself feel bad. Just try to stick to your plan and do better the next day. And focus on the positives – for example, how good you will feel when your next big project is done on time. App Recommendation: Headspace