Are you always flying by the seat of your pants? Never quite able to keep up with deadlines and important dates? You may suffer from procrastination and poor organizational skills. It will come as no surprise that this can affect more than just your work and academic life. It can disrupt your relationships and so much more.
Luckily, there is hope for you even when you have a to-do list a mile long. Everyone is capable of keeping a balanced time table, if they’re willing to take steps towards sustainable habits.
Choose any one of the suggestions below and you’ll be blown away by the difference they can make, choose them all and be astounded by the leaps and bounds you can make, tackling one hurdle at a time.
To find out how you can effectively manage your time and maybe even find time for your hobbies again, read on:
1. Turn off your notifications: It should come as no surprise that you need to mute your notifications to keep from checking your phone. You may need to check your email every couple of hours, but you don’t need to know the very instant you receive a message, especially not one from Facebook or any other social media.
You want to distance yourself from your phone as much as you can. Train yourself to leave it in the other room, and don’t even rely on it as your alarm in the morning. That way you grow accustomed to being on your own schedule, not your friends’.
2. Drop what you’re doing when it’s doing you no good: How many of your daily activities do you actually enjoy? How many hours do you actually want to spend online or watching TV? These are the easy ones, but you may also need to limit the time it takes you to read and respond to emails, texts and calls, or you may want to choose one passion instead of five.
You want to keep things short and sweet and simple without feeling like you’re missing out on your social life.
Simply pay attention to the way you spend your week and become aware of the time-consuming activities of your daily routine. Then you can drop the pointless ones, or at least significantly reduce the time you devote to them.
So, find out what’s really important to you so you can prioritize. Then use the next few tips to help you become more efficient with the tasks you can’t eliminate.
3. Divide your daily tasks: Dividing your daily tasks can significantly reduce your distractions, since many times we’re distracted from work by other work. An easy way to prioritize what’s important is to categorize your to-do list.
Urgent tasks need to be done immediately. This might include repairing your printer, or replacing your laptop because you need them to work.
Important tasks are not as pressing, but they still have a time limit. Within that time-frame, they may become urgent. This might include hiring a new employee or finding a new supplier at work.
Unimportant tasks still need to be done, but they might be something you can delegate like picking up an ink cartridge or calling a client back. We’ll talk about delegation later on.
Trivial tasks are the ones that suck you back into distractions. They might include binge-watching a Netflix series or subscribing to a YouTube channel that doesn’t benefit you. Use them as a reward system in order to hijack your brain’s desire for fun and entertainment. If you complete your urgent and important tasks, then give yourself a treat so you know it was all worth it.
TRACK YOUR TIME
1. Set a Timer: The Pomodoro method is a popular technique for time management, and for good reason. You can work more efficiently when you set a timer for yourself. Start by allotting time for work, like two hours. That’s not so scary.
Then set your timer for 25 minutes and work uninterrupted until you hear the alarm go off. Give yourself five minutes of absolute rest. Then repeat. If you can work through four of these easy cycles, that rounds up to two solid hours of work.
Eventually you will be able to work for longer chunks, but for anyone with ADD, start with 15 minutes so that you’re not overwhelmed. Make sure you can’t see the timer counting down. That defeats the purpose, but this is a great technique to help you focus. You know the break is coming, so you can relax into your work and let the beeper bring you back out again.
When the break does come make sure you’re mindful that it is for rest, meaning bathroom/stretch/water/food/fun. Don’t start a mini game and don’t get drawn into a conversation or email. Otherwise you’re just as likely to go overtime.
2. Set a time: Tell yourself how long it should take you to finish, but be generous. By setting a time for any given task, you can motivate yourself to finish within that time frame and you can reward yourself for the successful completion.
Think about how many minutes it will take to write your report and then hop too it, using the Pomodoro technique. If you use minutes rather than hours, it will feel like you’ve achieved more in a shorter span of time, so again, trick your brain into working faster. Also, don’t be afraid to challenge yourself. If you read a chapter in 120 minutes last week, try for 110 minutes this week.
You can see a significant improvement in productivity once you master one time interval after another. It takes practice, but the process makes routine chores and duties become more like a game and after all, a challenge brings more fun into the boring bits of life.
3. The 3-minute challenge: When you don’t feel motivated to do anything, just admit that you can work on ONE THING for three minutes. If you are faced with a house-full of chores, pick one duty and tackle it for three minutes.
The trick is, you can usually get a lot done in that short time, and what’s more, you can compel yourself to keep going once you’ve committed ANY time to a task.
The idea isn’t that you’ll complete that task in 3 minutes, but you will build momentum and if you work on menial tasks, you might only need 3 more minutes after that. After the time is up and you find you hated every second of it, fine, at least you are closer to completing it than you were before.
Move on to something less daunting and work 3 minutes there. That’s only 6 minutes total. One YouTube video. More than likely, you’ll find that the task wasn’t as brutal or overwhelming as you originally thought. Be honest with yourself when the 3 minutes are up and see if you can’t work through another 3 and another.
This technique is less of a mind trick and more of a source of encouragement. If you just needed a little push to get on the treadmill, then set the timer for three minutes and start running. Your heart rate probably won’t even be up yet and you’ll want more. It may not always work, but if you want to be more productive this can be a trick up your sleeve.
4. 5-second rule: When faced with a decision, you don’t want to waste time choosing what to do. Use the 5-second rule to make up your mind and get to work immediately. Take out the bureaucracy of your mind and weigh the pros and cons before you have the time to second guess yourself.
If you don’t know which item on your list is the most urgent, then simply start with the one you dread the most. That’s probably the most important, but also the most difficult. Don’t bother analyzing it, just start working.
If you are uncertain which task to choose, then you have five seconds to decide. Skim your finger down the list, or have another person choose a number between one and five or whatever you need to make that quick resolve.
Remember, you’re talking about a list that NEEDS to get done, so by breaking the ice, you can build that momentum towards tackling the whole thing.
Making the quick action means you lose no time at all in the limbo between tasks. You just point and click and overcome inertia all in one go. Plus you get the added bonus of feeling proud because you made the decision efficiently and without too much prodding.
VALUE YOUR TIME
1. Find your Method: Whether you are learning new skills or starting to get into better habits, you can take small, incremental steps towards a process that fits your personality and your mind. You need to build yourself up, otherwise your work will not be sustainable. You want to be able to handle setbacks by getting right back into the groove.
So find your groove, write your schedule, set your goals. Mark each step you’ve taken along the way and look how it moves you forwards.
Let’s say you want to start running in the mornings. Start with one mile, not five. Start with walking, not sprinting. Move slowly, but surely, and check in with yourself to make sure you’re still keeping up. Remember you’re in this for the long-game.
Small steps lead to consistent distance. Set yourself up for success by moving with your mind and your body, not against them.
2. Multitask: Most people think that multitasking means growing an extra pair of arms or moving at the speed of light. Actually, you are simply pairing mental tasks with physical ones. You are moving your body and working your brain at the same time.
For example, you can make a phone call on the way to your next meeting. You can brainstorm ideas while walking your dog. Or, you can learn a new language while cleaning the kitchen.
Generally speaking, focusing only on one task at a time will yield optimal results. But in certain cases, you can do two different things simultaneously to manage your time better—especially if you are physically doing something that requires only muscle memory.
- Call family while you make dinner or go grocery shopping
- Listen to podcasts or watch TV while you exercise
- Play online games and chat with distant friends
3. Delegate: Your time is precious and irreplaceable. So, you must delegate wherever you can. This will take some planning if it’s a new concept, since it’s best to assign the right task to the right person. Mainly you want to free up your time by hiring out anything you can afford to (and will bring you benefit).
This doesn’t mean you have to pay for a weekly maid service, but you could pay for a monthly one. Or you could sign up for a meal-prep service. It’s hard to admit that we deserve these little breaks, but when you see the difference they make in your schedule, there’s no denying the benefit of outsourcing menial jobs.
As an added effect, your increased productivity can often lead to an increase in pay, so the luxuries will seem less trivial when they pay off.
4. The 4-D’s: Delegation is actually part of a whole system, including: Delete, Delegate, Delay, and Do.
Delete is a throwback to the pointless tasks we do mindlessly everyday. Delete the trivial tasks on your list because they add zero value to your life and they take up space from the things you actually care about.
Delegate anything you can afford to, at home, but also at work. Ask your employees to take on responsibilities that are within their capabilities and talents so that you can move and develop your services and products, or otherwise take time for your personal well-being. There’s nothing wrong with hiring a freelance writer for your website instead of doing it yourself.
Delay. Remember the important tasks on your list? What can you delay without it becoming urgent? Delay is a handy tool for anyone with five or more projects on the go at all times. Just make sure you’re actually prioritizing tasks and not just putting them off.
Do all the urgent items on your list and do them now. Don’t stress. Don’t rush. Just do the thing.
MAKE UP YOUR MINDSET
1. Assume you will Succeed: Pay attention to the way you speak to yourself. Are you constantly telling yourself that you will fail? Or are you encouraging yourself to keep going? Whichever route you take, that’s going to be fuel you have throughout the process. So why get down on yourself?
Your time is better spent executing incremental steps towards your goal. Complete short and simple tasks that lead to the larger project. Each small success contributes to both your mental fortitude and your faith in yourself for those duties which seem most daunting.
2. Follow the Pareto Principle: Do you ever notice how your results are never equivalent to the amount of work you put in? That’s because there is an underlying principle that governs business and creative ventures. 80% of your output stems from 20% of your input. In other words, you can invest 20% of your efforts into ventures that will gain you 80% of your earnings.
Unfortunately, a lot of people waste 80% of their energy on ventures that will only gain them 20% of their income and this is a leak you want to staunch as soon as possible. Find out where you’re burning your power. Are you going for lower paying gigs and trying to do more of them? Are you shelling out discounts without capitalizing on return clients?
Wherever you find a leak, be willing to say that your time is worth more because it is. Then you can put more effort into fewer projects, but wind up making more money because of the quality of your clients. The Pareto Principle helps you dial into what matters most: creating quality products and services for grateful customers. This is especially pressing for artists who may not be as canny with business practices. Just be willing to cut back on quantity, so you can focus on quality.
3. Visualize your Future: Even though you need to break your goals into smaller, manageable pieces, you do not want to lose sight of why you’re doing what you’re doing. Envision your goal and keep it close to you by having a visual cue or journal entry to review.
When your goal is in the forefront, then all of your minor tasks guide you closer to your purpose effortlessly. Otherwise, you may be attracted to less worthy work because it seems more tangible.
Make your goal tangible by mulling it over, sharing it with others, and tacking it up on your wall or computer screen. When it’s right there in front of you it will bring you more satisfaction each time you make progress towards it.
4. Set reminders: Similar to how you want to keep your end goal in mind, you also want to make sure you’re meeting your deadlines. Don’t be surprised when life comes in between you and your goals, simply set reminders for where you should be and move forward accordingly.
If you know you’re going to have a busy week, then set a reminder for the appointments and events and help yourself to remember the little things by writing them into an agenda. If you aren’t keeping an agenda yet, stop reading now and order one straight away.
Trusting your schedule to your memory is a feat that you simply don’t need to accomplish. You can save brain power by writing things down and checking them off accordingly. A sticky note in your office may work for short-term reminders, but don’t forget to program alarms for important meetings and wherever possible, ensure that you have access to your weekly and monthly appointments so that you can easily manage surprises.
KEEP IT REAL
1. Audit like a boss: Ever wonder where your time goes? Deep down, we all know what our vices are. We know exactly how many hours we spent online or in front of the TV, or gossiping, or shopping, or whatever it is.
Tomorrow, keep track of your time. It’s not going to be an enjoyable activity, but it will be eye-opening. Whether you’re grooming yourself, or exercising, or making a meal, just write down how long it took. Let that be the baseline so that you can get real about your day-to-day time spending.
Although the time audit is time-consuming, you’ll be grateful for the awareness it brings to all the areas in your life where you could be way more efficient. For example, in an 8-hour workday, you should know how many minutes you spend on communication, how many on labor, how many on management or procuring resources. If you find out that it takes you way longer to write an email than to call an employee directly, then change your strategy. Work with your skill set and look back on which tactics you can implement once you know where all your time goes.
2. Brainstorm on Paper: Record your ideas, your dreams, and your accomplishments somewhere simple and accessible. Journaling is especially beneficial for visualization and to-do lists, but your notebook really is a source of inspiration that you can return to again and again. No matter the size of your aspirations, you need bursts of joy and confirmation, so jot down your ideas on paper.
If you’re not much of a writer, you can easily record memos to share with your staff or your partners. Whatever route you choose, make sure it’s something you’re excited to return to. If you don’t revisit your journal, that defeats the purpose. You want it to be a place to store future plans where you can tinker with ideas and come up with your next goals.
3. Make downtime work for you: The final tip for you is to never be without your work materials, or your journal, or at least something productive to work on. If you’re waiting for the dentist, you can answer emails. When your car is in the shop, you can call that contractor back. No matter what kind of downtime you face, you’ll feel a burst of energy knowing that you have less work to do later because you came prepared.
Going back to the 3 minute rule, just imagine if you took 3 minutes to write your to-do list in your notebook while sitting on the bus. Imagine 3 more minutes spent reading a news article or a book. Unexpected productivity gives you the same feeling of having a surprise meal cooked for you. You’ll wind up having more downtime in the evening (when you really need it) and you can go home knowing you spent the better part of your day getting things done. That way, the rest of your time is yours to spend.
BE GENTLE ON YOURSELF
Remember this article has so many tips that you’ll need to pick and choose which ones apply to your circumstances. The point is to find out where your time is going, then organize your schedule based on YOUR needs.
Work with yourself, not against yourself and don’t beat yourself up for the way you’ve wasted time in the past. Each day is a fresh start, so set the pace for your day by making a to-do list, sorting your tasks, and setting out with a determination to take things one step at a time.
You CAN be productive and you CAN take control of your time. You’ll know you’re on the right track when you start to move smoothly from one task to the next. Even when there are hiccups, you’ll learn to delegate some tasks here, delete some tasks there, and always always prioritize the tasks that are most meaningful and beneficial to you.
However your final schedule works out, remember to go easy on yourself and reward yourself for getting real with your time and setting a healthy, sustainable pace in life.
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