Time-management skills are essential to success in all areas of life including work, education, family life, and health. Ideally, a person learns about time management through parental, athletic, and academic coaching. And a lucky percentage of the population has an innate ability to organize and utilize time well. However, most people struggle with managing their time—especially as autonomy increases.
Think of time as a type of currency, except once it is gone, you can’t get it back. “Time is what we want most, but what we use worst,” according to William Penn, an English philosopher. One way to battle this is to consistently ask yourself if what you’re doing is the best use of your time. This post will touch on a few of the many facets of time-management that can apply to students and non-students alike.
Think ahead. Take time to figure out a plan and make lists. (If it’s easier to do it than write it down, just do it.) Budget your time, so you can make good decisions about your time. Rags-to-riches entrepreneur and motivational speaker Jim Rohn said, “Either you run the day or the day runs you.” If something is important to you, you will make time for it.
Plan on it taking longer. Everything takes more time than you think it will—especially if kids or chronically late people are involved. Build in extra time and buffer time to transition between activities. Try to be early to everything.
Prioritize. What’s important? What’s your top priority? What can wait? Set smaller goals and give yourself intermediate and final deadlines. Remember that spreading out work, rehearsal, and study will often help you improve; you’ll retain information better, have the advantage of fresh perspective each time you return, and be able to perform more confidently.
Be efficient. Work smarter, not harder. Make sure your study tactics are effective, that your writing process is efficient, and that you have chosen the optimal project flow.
Avoid multitasking. For the most part, multitasking produces poorer work after a longer amount of time. Stay focused by removing distractions. Turn off the TV, put the phone on silent, send the kids to the playroom, and close Facebook. Don’t switch activities too much, as transition time eats up a surprising amount of time. Here’s a caveat: if you can successfully do two things at once, go for it. For example, catch up on emails while you’re waiting at the dentist, review flashcards in the bus on the way to the volleyball game, or read or squeeze in friend time while you bike at the gym.
Simplify. Things take a lot more time if you’re a perfectionist or do everything over the top. Now that doesn’t mean you should always do the bare minimum for a work assignment or an academic paper. Decide when something deserves more detailed attention and when something is sufficient as is.
Be aware of your time. Use a calendar to set up your day and determine how you’ll use your time. Then track how you actually spend your time. You may be surprised to see how much time you waste. Analyze your day to figure out how to utilize your time and discover possible pockets of productivity. Try something like TimeStats to track your Internet use, get an app like QualityTime to see how much you use your smartphone, or fill out this calendar by hand to see where your precious hours are going.
Be purposeful. Spend your time deliberately—particularly on passive activities like internet shopping. Academic activities shouldn’t be passive. We should be actively reading, studying, and writing. Taking time to be organized in the first place will save you time figuring out an assignment, searching for receipts, or going through stacks of old mail.
Ask for and take help. Let people (including Siri or Cortana) help you. Set reminders on your phone, use calendar and to-do list apps, put post-it notes by the door, etc. Let go of your “my way or the highway” tendencies and delegate. Make sure students, kids, and family members are pulling their weight. We can all scratch each other’s backs.
Maya Angelou said, “All great achievements require time.” But as Buddha pointed out, “The trouble is, you think you have time.” Get started on your goals. Tackle that project. Build that gym habit. Make time for friends. Plan that family trip.
Comment below with any time-management tips you have!