When you know what you want to do, why not just sit down and get it done? The millions of people who complain frequently about “not having enough time” would love it if it were that simple!
Time management isn’t actually difficult, but you do need to learn how to do it well.
Time and Your Personality
People’s attitudes toward time vary widely. One person seems to be always rushing around but actually gets less done than another person who seems unconcerned about time and calmly goes about the day.
Since there are so many different “time personalities,” it’s important to realize how you approach time.
Start by trying to figure out how you spend your time during a typical week.
Where Does the Time Go?
See if you can account for a week’s worth of time. For each of the activity categories listed, make your best estimate of how many hours you spend in a week.
People who estimate too high often feel they don’t have enough time. They may have time anxiety and often feel frustrated. People at the other extreme, who often can’t account for how they use all their time, may have a more relaxed attitude. They may not actually have any more free time, but they may be wasting more time than they want to admit with less important things. Yet they still may complain about how much time they spend studying, as if there’s a shortage of time.
People also differ in how they respond to schedule changes. Some go with the flow and accept changes easily, while others function well only when following a planned schedule and may become upset if that schedule changes. If you do not react well to an unexpected disruption in your schedule, plan extra time for catching up if something throws you off. This is all part of understanding your time personality.
Another aspect of your time personality involves time of day. If you need to concentrate, such as when writing a class paper, are you more alert and focused in the morning, afternoon, or evening? Do you concentrate best when you look forward to a relaxing activity later on, or do you study better when you’ve finished all other activities? Do you function well if you get up early—or stay up late—to accomplish a task? How does that affect the rest of your day or the next day? Understanding this will help you better plan your study periods.
While you may not be able to change your “time personality,” you can learn to manage your time more successfully. The key is to be realistic. The best way to know how you spend your time is to record what you do all day in a time log, every day for a week, and then add that up.
You might be surprised that you spend a lot more time than you thought just hanging out with friends—or surfing the Web or playing around with Facebook or any of the many other things people do. You might find that you work well early in the morning even though you thought you are a night person, or vice versa. You might learn how long you can continue at a specific task before needing a break.
Time Management Strategies for Success
Following are some strategies you can begin using immediately to make the most of your time:
Prepare to be successful. When planning ahead, think yourself into the right mood. Focus on the positive. “When I get this done tonight, I’ll be prepared for tomorrow's meeting.” Visualize yourself doing well!
Use your best—and most appropriate—time of day. Different tasks require different mental skills. Some you may be able to start first thing in the morning as you wake, while others need your most alert moments at another time.
Break up large projects into small pieces. Whether it’s writing a business plan, researching a project, or reading a long book, people often feel daunted at the beginning of a large project. It’s easier to get going if you break it up into stages that you schedule at separate times—and then begin with the first section that requires only an hour or two.
Do the most important tasks first. When two or more things require your attention, do the more crucial one first. If something happens and you can’t complete everything, you’ll suffer less if the most crucial work is done.
If you have trouble getting started, do an easier task first. Like large tasks, complex or difficult ones can be daunting. If you can’t get going, switch to an easier task you can accomplish quickly. That will give you momentum, and often you feel more confident tackling the difficult task after being successful in the first one.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed and stressed because you have too much to do, revisit your time planner. Sometimes it’s hard to get started if you keep thinking about other things you need to get done. Review your schedule for the next few days and make sure everything important is scheduled, then relax and concentrate on the task at hand.
If you’re really floundering, talk to someone. Maybe you just don’t understand what you should be doing. Talk with your coworkers or boss to get back on track.
Take a break. We all need breaks to help us concentrate without becoming fatigued and burned out. As a general rule, a short break every hour or so is effective in helping recharge your study energy. Get up and move around to get your blood flowing, clear your thoughts, and work off stress.
Use unscheduled times to work ahead. You’ve scheduled that hundred pages of reading for later today, but you have the book with you as you’re waiting for the bus. Start reading now! You may be amazed how much you can get done during downtimes throughout the day.
Keep your momentum. Prevent distractions, such as multitasking, that will only slow you down. Check for messages, for example, only at scheduled break times.
Reward yourself. It’s not easy to sit still for hours and stay focused. When you successfully complete the task, you should feel good and deserve a small reward. A healthy snack, a quick video game session, or social activity can help you feel even better about your successful use of time.
Just say no. Always tell others nearby when you’re working, to reduce the chances of being interrupted. Still, interruptions happen, and if you are in a situation where you are frequently interrupted by others, it helps to have your “no” prepared in advance: “No, I really have to be ready for this meeting tomorrow” or “That’s a great idea, but let’s do it tomorrow—I just can’t today.” You shouldn’t feel bad about saying no—especially if you told that person in advance.
Have a life. Never schedule your day or week so full of work that you have no time at all for yourself, your family and friends, and your larger life.
Use a calendar planner and daily to-do list.
People “use” time very differently. To develop strategies for managing your time, discover your time personality and observe how much time you spend in different activities in the course of a week.