Busy work days, seemingly never-ending responsibilities, and overflowing calendars. I commonly hear from professionals who struggle to keep up. Long to-do lists can be exhausting or lead to burnout. Scheduling downtime and self-care is also a challenge when deadlines and responsibilities loom.
Here are some tips on how to better manage time to increase efficiency and reduce procrastination:
1. Organize your to-do list and set priorities.
When you have a lot of tasks, it can be difficult to keep track of everything. Stay organized and accountable by making a list of everything you need to get done. Once your list is complete, consider what needs the most attention, how much time each task may take, and which items can wait. Select a few to focus on immediately. It may feel frustrating knowing some lower-priority tasks will not get done right away, but remind yourself that you will soon make time for them.
2. Check your boundaries and identify what to say no to.
Looking at your list, are there items that overextend you or that put you at risk of burnout? Are there any tasks you can ask someone else to help with? It’s noble to want to do it all, but if your health or the completion of another task could be jeopardized, consider passing.
3. Schedule “appointments” for tasks to reduce distraction or procrastination.
You’ve prioritized your list and it’s time to get to work. Schedule your day as if each task has its own appointment. If you know you have a few meetings or other appointments during the day, plan the tasks around those.
4. Set a timer and focus for periods of time.
Sometimes, focusing on one task for several hours at a time can make it difficult to maintain momentum. Expecting to start a task and not stop until it is finished can encourage procrastination. Think about the effort it takes for certain tasks and if you can spread it out over a few days. Within your scheduled appointment time, try to work in brief, regular intervals of attention. For example, if you plan to work for two hours on a task, set a timer for intervals of 20 minutes at a time and focus on that project only during the intervals. After the 20 minutes is up, consider a brief break, no longer than 5 minutes. After your break, set the timer for another interval of 20 minutes. Repeat until your 2-hour appointment is over.
5. Schedule regular breaks and make them count.
Allowing brief and longer breaks that take you away from work for the moment can help you maintain energy and focus while working. Eat lunch away from your desk, go for a walk, check your personal email, or practice a 10-minute mindfulness meditation. When you leave work at the end of the day, leave it all there until you return.
6. Create incentives to stay motivated.
The feeling of accomplishment that comes with completing a task is a great experience. However, getting started can be difficult. Get creative and think of ways you can reward yourself after you meet your goal. Some people consistently put a few dollars in a jar after finishing a daily task and at the end of the week/month spend it on whatever they like. Others may plan to watch their favorite television show only after two hours of studying for an exam. Some like to create a vision board and use colors or stickers when a job is done. Think of incentives that can help keep you motivated—and follow through on rewarding yourself.
7. Be flexible, not perfect.
When something doesn’t go as planned, adjust your strategy and keep moving. You may have to rewrite your plan or follow it loosely. Think of your plan as more guide than requirement.
8. Use visualization techniques.
Envision yourself accomplishing your goals. Visualize your plan being carried out and imagine the feelings of accomplishment you will experience.
If nothing seems to work, consider contacting a therapist who can help you figure out what’s getting in your way.
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