One of the most valuable lessons we should (but often don’t) learn in school is how to manage our time. Regardless of what we end up doing once we’re out of school, knowing how and where to spend our time is an essential life skill.
Without time management skills, you will feel pressure, and there will never be enough hours in the day. You will overcommit and will stress yourself out about minor inconveniences. But, on the other hand, with time management skills, you will complete more work than you ever thought possible, and you will effectively maintain a healthy work-life balance.
Sounds pretty important, right? Here are 13 time-management tips they didn’t teach you in school:
- Investigate How You Are Currently Spending Your Time
- Set SMART Goals
- Wake Up Early
- Prioritize, Prioritize, Prioritize
- Put a Time Limit on Complex Tasks
- Review Your Deadlines Daily
- Use a To-Do List
- Say “No”
- Focus and Block Out Distractions
- Limit Social Media
- Get Your Hard Stuff Done Early
- Experiment with Half or Quarter Days
1. Investigate How You Are Currently Spending Your Time
When it comes to learning how to manage your time, the best place to start is by creating a baseline. To improve, you need tangible information on where you are spending and where you are wasting the most time.
You can audit your time the old-fashioned way or, ideally, use an app to help you. Using an app to track and record how you are spending your time is more generally better than doing so manually because the process is more seamless and doesn’t leave room for you to make creative edits about, say, how much time you spend (waste) on social media.
A few of the most popular time audit/time management apps are:
- Screen Time (Apple) or Digital Wellbeing (Android): Built-in time management apps to track your mobile phone usage. No extra installation needed, but these may only be available on newer mobile operating systems.
- FocusMe: FocusMe is a popular anti-distraction app that you can download onto your phone and computer. The app will help you lock out distracting apps like social media and break your day down into small 25-30 minute increments followed by breaks.
- Harvest: Harvest has been around for a long time. And that means it has had years to develop and add on features that work for freelancers and even teams. Use this app to focus your professional life and the lives of your coworkers or employees.
- Toggl: Toggl is an all-in-one solution for managing your personal and professional time. Use Toggl if you want to find out how and where you are spending your time from the moment you wake up to when you go to bed.
Odds are, once you see how you are spending your time in clear, black-and-white, you are going to be eager to make a change. It can be distressing at first to see how much time you are wasting aimlessly watching TV or just surfing the internet when you could be doing more productive things. But don’t worry! Understanding where you need to improve is the first step in the right direction. Time management tips are meant to first and foremost be honest!
2. Set SMART Goals
After figuring out how you are currently spending your time, the next step is to set some goals for yourself. You want these goals to be concrete. Meaning they should be specific and have clear ways in which you can pass or fail.
If you are looking for a tried-and-true goal-setting method, try SMART goals, which stands for goals that are:
SMART goals are an essential time management tip because if you are going to make dramatic changes to how you conduct your life, it is going to take more then minor changes. You must reconsider how you think about achievement from the ground up.
Using SMART goals, you won’t make the mistake of dooming yourself to failure by setting vague goals like “I want to be more productive”. Instead, you will say things like, “I want to spend 30-minutes a day less on social media, and 30-minutes more per-day in the gym with my family every day for the next three months.” Now that’s an excellent time-management goal!
Setting goals is one thing, but visualization is the fuel you can use to feed your fire.
You are going to encounter obstacles when you start making changes in your life. Just because the changes are positive does not mean your body or mind is necessarily going to reward you for them from day one.
The first morning you decide to get up and hour earlier to get some reading done before work is the morning your mind fights you. Part of you will scream to hit the snooze button, to sleep for just ten more minutes. You have to ignore that negative voice in your head.
One way you can shut the negativity up is by visualizing who you want to be. Think of yourself in a year or ten years and picture who you want to be. Do you want to be the man or woman who is still bogged down in all the same time-wasting minutiae that is dragging you down now? Or do you want to be better? More productive? Happier? Closer to your ultimate potential? It’s mental exercises like these that can keep you going and get you out of bed when times get tough.
Of all the time management tips this one may seem the most ethereal. It is, however, incredibly useful.
4. Wake Up Early
This one is a no-brainer. GET UP EARLIER! For some people, this seems to be tougher than others. But don’t allow yourself to make excuses. The simple truth is: If you want to get up earlier, you CAN get up earlier. You just have to do it.
The first few days of getting up early can be rough. But just accept that fact and know that you are going to be a little extra tired for a couple of days. Maybe take a brief 30-minute nap during your lunch break to lessen your fatigue. After about a week, things will get significantly easier as your body clock adjusts. After a month, you will wonder why you haven’t been waking up earlier for years.
You can get some of your most laborious work done first thing in the morning while others sleep. It’s a great way to kick off your day.
5. Prioritize, Prioritize, Prioritize
One of the most obvious time management tips is to simply figure out how you like to work. Most people prefer getting their most challenging tasks done first thing in the morning, while others like to wait until late at night. Regardless of your approach, prioritize your most demanding tasks during the times when you feel most energetic and focused.
6. Put a Time Limit on Complex Tasks
If you do complex or mentally burdensome work, you may want to put time limits on your individual tasks.
Let’s say you have to finish reviewing a long proposal. It should take less than an hour, so set a timer to go off in an hour. If you are still working on the project when the timer goes off, get up and go for a quick walk or maybe grab a cup of coffee before returning to the task with fresh eyes.
7. Review Your Deadlines Daily
One of the first things you should do in the mornings is to review your deadlines. This is a great time management tip because not only does reviewing your deadlines ensure you won’t miss them, it also helps you to relax and not experience anxiety from lack of certainty about what needs to be done and when.
8. Use a To-Do List
To-do lists are a must. You can simply use a pen and paper, or you can use one of the many task-based apps available for download in the Apple and Android stores.
Having what you need to get done written down will reduce your cognitive load and allow you to focus on knocking out one thing at a time.
9. Say “No”
Don’t overwhelm yourself! Saying “no” is one of the most difficult time management tips for some people.
Maybe you just want to make everyone happy. That is not an inherently bad thing, but you cannot allow yourself to be taken advantage of, and you have to prioritize your mental health. It is good to practice saying “no” to people and projects that you simply do not have the time or inclination to take on.
10. Focus and Block Out Distractions
Whether you wear noise-canceling headphones, or just seclude yourself to a quiet part of the library, you have to focus if you want to use your time productively. The amount you can get done when you are in a focused “flow” state versus when you are only partly paying attention is tremendous.
11. Limit Social Media
Odds are your self-audit on how you spend your time will reveal that you spend too much of it on social media. If social media is distracting you from other, more important things than you need to find a way to limit its impact in your life.
12. Get Your Hard Stuff Done Early
This time management tip has already been mentioned, but it deserves its own place. If you are a morning person, do not waste those early hours! Jump into some of your harder tasks as soon as possible and start knocking out some of the hard stuff that you need to get done. Doing so will make your afternoons and evenings so much easier.
13. Experiment with Half or Quarter Days
While some people take the weekends completely off, it’s worth considering doing half-days on either Saturday, Sunday, or both. Even just an hour of work on Saturday and an hour of planning for the week on Sunday can make a tremendous difference.
If you find you don’t mind working on the weekend, try doing four hours! Just make sure you leave time for friends and family.
There you have it, some time management tips that are sure to improve your life.
Follow these tips, and you will notice a tremendous difference in the amount of stress you feel and in the amount of work you’re able to get done. Your stress will go down, and your productivity will go up.
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