Managing your time effectively takes time, so it’s easy to just try “winging it” and diving right into your full plate of tasks. But time management is crucial to getting the most out of your day, and not having a plan to manage your time could leave you overwhelmed and behind task.
Much of time management comes down to staying focused, modifying your behavior, and organizing your time to devote ample attention to each individual task. Try mastering these 10 habits to become an effective time manager!
Stay Realistic when Setting Goals
When looking at what you have to do, you may take on more than is feasible. It’s impossible to do everything in one day, so don’t try. Assess your bandwidth and realistically decide what to do today and what can wait until tomorrow. Don’t overload yourself.
Create a Schedule, and Stick To It
Creating a schedule is a very basic time management technique, but it is also highly effective in staying focused. Knowing exactly what you have to do and when helps you allot the appropriate amount of time. Try not to spend too much time on one thing. It could take away from the rest of your to-do list and you can end up overextending yourself to finish everything else.
Set Few Priorities
Not everything has to be done at once. Some things are more important than others, so tackle those first. Don’t set too many priorities—you’ll stretch yourself thin if you have too many “urgent” goals.
What’s actually urgent? Is that fast-approaching final exam more important than that paper due next week? Chose one as your primary focus before starting the other one. Setting few priorities puts your goals in perspective and focuses you. You won’t panic about having too much, and once you accomplish your urgent tasks, you can prioritize those of lesser importance.
Break Goals into Small, Actionable Items
When final exams roll around, instead of studying material for the quarter as a whole, break it down into topics or chapters. Goal yourself against each smaller segment of material, and study for each chapter one at a time. This makes your goals digestible—smaller, more manageable – and can ensure that you can reach the larger goal. Apply this habit to any major task.
Do One Thing at a Time
Multitasking is a great skill to have, but when it’s time to really buckle down, spreading your attention between too many things actually hinders you. You’ll only devote a fraction of your energy and this can lead to mistakes you need to go back to fix, missed deadlines, and overall mental burnout. Stick to that schedule you created and only focus on your current task.
Use Visual Reminders and Cues
Visuals are a great way to—well, visualize—your time. A colorful calendar is stimulating and attention-grabbing. Bright, but well organized, sticky-notes can be great reminders, especially if they are color-coded by type of task. For to-do lists, it helps to have something you can physically check off.
Take Advantage of Breaks
If you have a break, take a break! Don’t work during your downtime—you don’t need to, especially if you’ve scheduled the break. We get burned out when we work too much, and breaks provide a much-needed opportunity to recharge. If you can leave work at the office, don’t take it home over the weekend, and try not to do school work during your lunch hour. Whatever you do, just spend your break away from your tasks.
Eating right, sleeping well, and exercising are crucial to staying energized. You need to maintain energy to stay on top of your time. Don’t let simple things like snacking regularly or taking a morning jog fall to the wayside—they are just as important as the things you have to get done!
Learn to Say No
The demands on our time come from many directions: family, coworkers, classmates. While teamwork is important, especially for class projects or tasks at work, you can’t lose sight of what you have to do. If too many people are asking you for things to the point where you don’t have time to accomplish your own tasks, learn how to politely decline certain things. You’re not helping anyone if you’re stretched too thin.
Look for Ways to Improve Efficiency
Do you often find yourself losing time doing the same things over and over again? Are there ways you can reduce the amount of time you spend on mundane or repetitive tasks? You should always look for ways to work faster and more efficiently. Keep an eye out for bad habits that waste time like checking social media during the time you’ve allotted for a certain task, or taking phone calls unrelated to the task at hand, and find ways to stay focused and optimize your time.
While it may be difficult to take a step back from everything, it pays off in the long run. Forbes cites Benjamin Franklin’s techniques for developing positive habits, which included introspection, repetition, and commitment to self-improvement are key. Remember, you must invest time into managing your time!