One of the most common concerns I hear from people is they don’t believe they manage their time well. They find themselves running late, being unprepared, not meeting deadlines, or feeling as if they are constantly playing catch-up. Once they start implementing a time management technique or two, they begin to feel more in control and settled.
Here are some of the strategies we talk about:
1. Assign blocks of time to specific tasks.
This is about taking your to-do list to a new level, blocking off segments of time with specific start and end times and assigning them to particular tasks. This is especially helpful when you have multiple projects looming.
For example, I recall speaking with a college student who had several exams and papers due in close proximity at the end of her semester. We mapped out on paper (yes, I still use paper) the two weeks to follow with specific blocks of time allotted to studying for each exam and every paper she had to write. Once we did this, she was able to breathe, and her sense of overwhelm decreased. She was better able to focus on the more immediate tasks, knowing ample time had been set aside for the things that came next. She didn’t have to worry she’d never get to certain things, as she had a visual reminder that everything was assigned its own “block.” She knew if she adhered to the plan and honored her time accordingly, the end of her semester was likely to go smoothly.
This technique can be helpful in mapping out a few weeks (helping you get a sense of the “big” picture) or just a day at a time.
2. Assign deadlines that are a couple of days prior to the actual ones.
If you find yourself scrambling to meet deadlines, this strategy is for you. If something goes awry, you have a buffer, and your stress doesn’t have to skyrocket. Treat the deadline you have recorded early in your calendar as the real one, and abide by it. This way you won’t fall prey to technical glitches, last-minute gaps in information you didn’t know you needed to have, or rushing because an emergency came up and left you with less time than anticipated.
3. Don’t dismiss short periods of time. Use them!
Do you sometimes have small pockets of time—10 minutes here, 20 minutes there—and say to yourself, “Why start something since I won’t be able to finish?” These are golden opportunities to accomplish much more than you may have imagined.
In less than 20 minutes, you can do one of the following: sort your mail, throw a load of laundry in the washing machine, return two or three phone calls, empty the dishwasher, make a shopping list, schedule two meetings, eliminate junk from your email, read a news article, or clean your desk (or a corner of it). Recognize the usefulness of the time you do have.
Multitasking all day long might not be the best way for you to maximize your time. Batching is grouping activities so you are not constantly driven by distraction. Examples are checking email only two or three times a day, paying bills twice a month, or returning phone calls right after lunch and at the end of the day. Let others know what they can expect from you. It is helpful if others know you won’t be responding to an email right away and that you rarely return phone calls first thing in the morning. Batching allows you to give greater attention and focus to what you are doing in any given moment.
5. Plan ahead.
If you need to leave for work at 7 a.m. and realize at 6:55 you haven’t packed a lunch or your gym bag for afterward, you’re probably now late. Do what you can to set the stage for success. Have what you need packed or set aside, ready to go, ahead of schedule. Assemble lunches, take out your clothes, put together your work bag, and charge your phone the night before.
Have a call to make at 2 p.m.? Don’t start searching for the phone number at 1:59. Giving a presentation at 4 p.m.? Checking the audiovisual equipment and the layout of the room at 3:50 could cause you (and others) a headache.
Proper preparation lays the groundwork for greater productivity, less stress, and better performance overall. Your time will be used for what it was originally intended for.
Bonus strategies include waking up early to make use of quiet, uninterrupted time, and overestimating (by 20%!) the time it takes to travel places or the time required to complete projects.
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