Time management is one of those things I am constantly striving to improve. For one thing, I’m very passionate about planning – far more so than I am about the actual doing, to tell the truth. Case in point: this blog. I’d like to post two, three times a week, and I have those posts all plotted out. But so far I’ve managed only about one weekly post. Like everyone else, I’m a work-in-progress, and hopefully going to improve that record soon.
Time management is one of many things I think most of us will never truly perfect, and to some extent, we all have to learn to live with that. More often than not unexpected things happen, we just feel lazy, or our priorities change. But that doesn’t mean we can’t do better. To that end, here are some of the best tips I’ve picked up over years of striving for improvement, as well as a few things I’ve figured out for myself.
1. Personalize your prioritization
I’m not going to go on about the benefits of prioritizing in and of itself, but I think it’s important to recognize that just like every individual learns differently, different people need to prioritize differently, too. For some, getting smaller tasks out of the way is more beneficial, but others might do best to tackle larger, more daunting projects first. Sometimes figuring out what methods are suited to you takes some trial and error. For instance, I love the idea of assigning a chore to each day of the week, but in practice, I’ve found it’s better to lump chores into one or two days, because I gain energy from one activity that helps me to tackle another – even those I find least pleasant.
I also like the prioritization method Stephen Covey preaches in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. He talks about the necessity of recognizing the difference between tasks that are important versus those that are urgent. Most people spend too much time on urgent tasks (such as answering the phone,) Covey claims, when it’s more effective to focus on those that have high importance. Of course, what’s most important in our lives is a question each individual must answer for themselves.
2. Give yourself some credit
It sounds too simplistic, but I’ve found that feeling good and feeling good about myself lead to greater accomplishment. To be more specific, if my productivity is good one day – or even for one hour – I feel motivated to tackle even more. In order to capitalize on that, I don’t just make to-do lists. I make lists of things I’ve done.
I almost never finish my entire to-do list by the end of each day, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t accomplished a lot. Sometimes I’ll do different things, or extra things. Sometimes I do something I put on the list for the next day just because I felt like it, or felt like getting it out of the way. And there are always little things we do automatically that go unacknowledged. I don’t put feeding, clothing, reading to, and playing with my daughter on my to-do list, but it’s a big part of my day, and the most important part!
Take some time at the end of each day to acknowledge what you’ve accomplished, and I bet you’ll find yourself feeling much better about your productivity than if you merely counted the number of items you did (or didn’t) do on your list.
3. Let go of excuses
“There’s no way I’ll get anything done in 15 minutes.” “Right after I beat the next level on ____.” “I’m just too tired today after dealing with X.” Sound familiar? These are only a few of the things I tell myself on a fairly regular basis to avoid doing tedious, unpleasant things like vacuuming or making a phone call or sometimes even working on a post for this blog. But at the end of the day, it feels much worse to have accomplished so little (and have extra to do the next day) than it would to push through and get some things done.
One of the most helpful things I learned while working in mental health was the maxim do the next right thing. Just ask yourself: What’s the most important thing I could be doing right now? Decide to see how much you can accomplish in whatever time you have, and you’ll be surprised at how much mileage you achieve.
4. Make use of dead time
I talked about this a little in a past post on parenthood, but I think everyone can benefit from being aware of ways to squeeze more use out of periods of dead time – those pesky minutes we all spend waiting in lines or making long commutes, for example. Maybe you do need that time to unwind and do nothing – or play a mindless game on your phone – and that’s absolutely valid. But if you’re feeling up to it and circumstances permit, it’s often possible to knock out a few emails or finally listen to that book (or lecture!) on tape.
5. Be ready with some motivation
It sounds ridiculous, but when it comes time to de-clutter a room, I still hear that “clean up, clean up, everybody everywhere…” song from Barney in my head. Yes, the big purple dinosaur. But the fact of the matter is, that works for me. That idea I first learned as a child of challenging myself to get as much done as quickly as possible is still one of the best ways I can motivate myself to clean.
What motivates you to achieve your goals? Maybe it’s pictures – mental or physical – of what you ultimately hope to achieve. Maybe it’s the dream of success, or some upbeat music that puts you in the mood. Maybe you need to push through a little harder, or maybe it’s time to step back and take a break. Whatever it is, having a few personalized tricks to pull out of your proverbial hat when you’re tired or overwrought or just not feeling it is absolutely essential.
Whether you find these tips useful or not – and I really hope you do! – I hope this post has inspired you to take a closer look at how you’re spending your time and find ways to make sure those minutes are making you happier and more productive