Like the rest of the world, I’m constantly striving to improve my time management. My struggles are probably familiar to you: too much to do, too little motivation, dread of unpleasant tasks… and the list goes on! Planning my time is easy. Carrying out those plans, not so much.
Most of us will never be perfect at managing our time. 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 found on how to get the most from the hours in your day.
Personalize your prioritization
I’m not going to go on about the benefits of prioritizing, 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, while others might do best to tackle larger, more daunting projects first. Figuring out what methods work for 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. 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 teaches in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. He talks about the necessity of distinguishing important from urgent tasks. 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 every person must answer for themselves.
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 this, 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 the 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. 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 note what you’ve accomplished, and I bet you’ll find yourself feeling much better about your productivity.
Let go of excuses
“There’s no way I’ll get anything done in 15 minutes.”
“Right after I finish this chapter!”
“I’m just too tired today after dealing with X.”
Sound familiar? These are only a few of the things I tell myself to avoid doing tedious, unpleasant things like vacuuming, making a phone call, or sometimes even working on a blog post 😉. But at the end of the day, it feels worse to have accomplished so little (and have extra to do the next day) than it would to push through and get 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.
Make use of dead time
Everyone can benefit from squeezing 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 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.
Be ready with some motivation
It sounds ridiculous, but when it comes time to de-clutter a room, I still hear the “clean up” song from childhood in my head. It works for me. Challenging myself to get as much done as quickly as possible is still one of the best ways I 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. You might need to push through a little harder, or step back and take a break. Whatever it is, having a few personalized tricks to fall back on when you’re tired, overwhelmed, or just not feeling it is 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 🙂
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