No better way to start simple than to just leave early wherever you go- school, work, or breakfast. While traffic is a main obstacle to overcome here, you are also compensating for any other unexpected event. With this simple tip, not only will you arrive at work on time, you are also avoiding that “rushed” feeling and anxiety. Leaving early allows you to exterminate that ferocious road rage, and it gives you time to collect your thoughts before your day.
Make use of spare time
So, I leave early, and guess what? I get to work super early and the boredom is killing me! This is the perfect opportunity to make use of dead time. These time frames are normally not enough to get huge assignments or projects accomplished; however, they may be enough to get the little things out of the way. The same goes for waiting in a long line. Bring a book wherever you go; make phone calls; check emails; study flashcards. Note, this is NOT the opportunity to sit in your car playing Angry birds or words with friends.
Look at your watch
Notice, I said “watch.” What do watches have that most current phones don’t have? I’ll tell you one thing, they don’t have wasteful time-consuming apps! Frequently, look at your watch to keep track of time (unbelievable, right?). The purpose here is to keep a small mental tab on your progress. If you haven’t gotten anything done after one hour, it’s time to move on. Even better, get a watch with a ‘timer’ or ‘stopwatch’ feature. This may be tacky, but if you are really stringent about saving time, visually seeing those seconds fly by will motivate you to stay focused. Time yourself to really see where your time goes.
Keep a time journal
What better way to keep track of something than to write it down? If you want to save your time down to the second, it is not good to rely on your mental power. It will be too overwhelming. Also, when you write things down, it tends to ‘stick’ better with the person. The more you record how long it takes do something, the better you can estimate how to portion your day. Hopefully, the statement, “Yes, I did work on this project for 4 hours” will not mean “Yes, I started the project 4 hours ago but I also browsed the internet, walked bought to the vending machine, ran into a friend that I haven’t seen in a while, and chatted an hour away.”
Figure out your optimal work flow
Learn to recognize when you are most productive and focused. Do you feel energized or motivated to the point where you don’t want to take a break or when you don’t feel fatigued? Is there a point in the day where you are not distracted? Finally, are you an early bird or a night owl? Physiologically and mentally, do you work better at night? Or in the morning? Or some time in between? There are benefits to each, but finding out your optimal work flow is something you have to assess yourself.
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Now, that you know your optimal work flow, your next goal is to replicate this practice each day. The answer- habit. Without getting into too much detail, the basal ganglia governs the part of the brain where habits take place as well as having some connection in choosing what routines reap the most reward. In short, we spend less effort thinking when performing a habit. If you come up with a habit that incorporates your optimal work flow, you may find that motivation will come naturally. For example, let’s say you are an early bird. An ideal habit would be to wake up, brush your teeth, fix your bed, eat breakfast, then immediately get into your productive mode.
Start work early
This is self explanatory. If there’s something you have to do, go ahead and do it. Do not put it off. If you are assigned a project, start planning on that same day. Of course, you do not have to finish it or even get far. However, planning even the least bit can work wonders in the long-term. Starting your work early carries many benefits. It reduces anxiety caused by procrastination; it avoids those unexpected last-minute occurrences that always seem to happen when we least expect it; and, it provides a sense of satisfaction at the end of the day.
Make to-do lists
As previously mentioned, writing tasks down carries a lasting effect on our motivation. By having a list of things to do, we can automatically prioritize tasks at hand. Imagine having a short guideline to look at instead of sporadically thinking of what you have to do. When finished, “to-do” lists can definitely provide that sense of accomplishment. As an added tip, start fresh. This means that you handle the stuff that takes more brainpower at the beginning of the day and end with the easy, mindless tasks.
Limit pointless online activity
What is the easiest way to turn one minute into one hour? Try: email, Facebook, Youtube, Reddit, and I’m sure you can name many more. Let’s face it. It’s not easy staying focused when a multitude of new information is available at our fingertips. To avoid this, set aside specific times to check your favorite websites. For example, force yourself to check Facebook only four times a day: mid-morning, after lunch, mid-afternoon, and before bed. Spend no more than 10-15 minutes at a time. Alternately, there are numerous online programs that WILL FORCE you to check these websites for only a specific amount of time. The program, Self Control, is just one full-proof example.
Work a little each day
The idea here is to avoid procrastination. And, when we avoid procrastination we avoid cramming. If you want to go about doing this, make blocks for designated times each day (or weekday if you want weekends off). They don’t have to be large either. You can portion them to be 30-50 minutes long with spaced breaks in between each session. It’s whatever strategy works for you as long as you are progressing little by little each day.
Keep sleep consistent
Let’s be real. When was the last time you had 7 hours of sleep? If you’re twitching over a cup of coffee, chances are you haven’t gotten much. Sleep is a natural way to rejuvenate your body. In fact, research shows that little sleep in the long run will hinder performance. If you really can’t afford at least 7 hours, do you sleep at the same time everyday? Sleeping at the exact same time every day may actually be better than the amount of sleep that you get. This contributes to maintaining your biological “internal clock” and keeping your optimal workflow consistent.
Call in advance
This is a simple trick. All you have to do is call ahead if you have a list of errands that require travel. How many times have you gone to a store to find that they do not have the product you want? Or, to find that it was closed? Or, how many times were you on your way to a meeting only to find that it was cancelled a few hours before? You may save yourself a few hours and gas if you call ahead of time. As a bonus you’ll probably end up saving money. You are less likely to buy something out of impulse to compensate for an entire car trip wasted.
Keep a planner and a calendar
This is a foundational rule to time management. Planners are portable enough to keep track of dates. They are made to visually assess a weekly schedule. More importantly, it is best to pencil in an event immediately when you know of it. Don’t put it off. Calendars serve the same function except they help visualize a schedule for an entire month. Plan your day by looking at your planner every morning. Plan your week by looking at your calendar. These tools exemplify time management organization at its finest.
Breakdown large tasks into smaller ones
Find a way to break down large tasks into multiple smaller ones. That way, projects do not look as daunting and they become more easily manageable every day. This means that you must begin planning a project on day one. If you are in fact afraid of brainstorming immediately, then suck it up. Eventually, you’ll need to brainstorm, and it’s better to do it now than later. Also, be very specific with your instructions. Instead of saying “I will study chapter 3 and 4 tomorrow,” say “I will read chapters 3 and 4; I will take notes; and, I will do the study questions at the end of each chapter.”
Set long-term goals
Work without purpose is pointless. If you cannot see your accomplishments weeks, months, or even years from now, you will not be committed enough to make deadlines. I’d recommend this mentality when learning new skills or hobbies. Again, be specific! Let’s say you want to get good at guitar by the end of the year. You don’t make any goals, and you decide to just practice for 12 months. More than likely, you will find yourself unsatisfied after one month, and you may quit. Great job- you just wasted one month of practice and learned how to hold a the right way.
Over-estimate when dealing with people
Whenever you plan events with other people, such as a family gathering or romantic date, you cannot calculate time to the minute. I’d like to shoot rockets out of my arms as much as the next guy, but the sad truth is that we aren’t machines. Good quality human interaction is not precise. If you rush a social event, the quality of a personal relationship deteriorates. Would you want to hang out with someone that keeps looking at their watch thinking of other things than the current conversation? Compensate by over-estimating the amount of time for the event.
Delegate responsibilities to others
Often times there are moments when we realize we can’t do something even if our life depended on it. The fortunate thing is that there is someone out there that will get the job done better and faster. You’ve got an oversized gator under your refrigerator? Don’t push all the work on yourself; call the gator boys! You get the idea. Take advantage of those around you, and get the job done. Effective communication is key, and your helpers will often expect something in return. Teamwork can effectively lighten the load of each individual while maximizing work output.
Do NOT multitask
Multitasking and productivity do not coalesce. Similar to a warm up, concentration requires a bit of time before you hit a point where you are ultimately focused. However, once you hear that annoying noise that comes with a new text message, that concentration is broken. You then have to rebuild that motivation from scratch. This is why you shouldn’t have your phone on you when you work. Lower the volume; turn it off; throw it into a fire; do anything you can to not be distracted. Likewise, STOP looking at your phone when you have a face-to-face conversation. Nobody wants to have to repeat themselves when they talk.
For those of you who feel overwhelmed in school or work, seek help! Talk to your peers. Ask people who are going through the same struggle how they manage time. Don’t just stop there. Seek professional help, as well. At school, these may be your professors, program advisors, or campus counselors. At work, you can speak with your supervisor or other helpful hotline. Also, assess advice. If you tried something that worked 100% for someone else, but failed for you, keep asking questions. Drop the stuff that fails, but maintain the stuff that works.
Maybe there are kids out there that did every sport in high school, and made straight A’s. But when you ask them how they do it, they shrug their shoulders and say “I just practiced everyday.” Then they reach college and find they aren’t doing even half as well. As you grow older, your available time declines drastically. Just because you work hard day in and day out, doesn’t mean you will achieve ALL your goals. You need a sense of direction that aligns with your long-term goals. Try ranking your top 5 goals within 5 years. If you are failing goal 1, reduce the effort spent on others and make time for goal 1. Adopt this mentality when your friend Johnny invites you to a huge house party the weekend before an exam. Ask yourself: does socializing at a party align with my overall long-term career goals? Know your priorities; they always come first!
Implement periodized training
This idea is best applied to learning new hobbies. Much like exercise, you want to prioritize one task or goal a few weeks (or months) at a time, something I call ‘periodized training.’ I bet we’ve all met the guy who claims his hobbies are beat boxing, rock climbing, square dancing, extreme ironing, and wrestling platypuses. But, can he or she really do all those proficiently? Say, you want to learn to play guitar and improve your Spanish. Each of these hobbies requires dexterity- something that can’t be acquired in small sessions a day. Instead of doing 45 minutes of each everyday, focus one month on Guitar sessions lasting about an hour and 15 minutes and just 15 minutes of learning Spanish a day. When that one month is up (or when you feel you’ve hit a “plateau” with guitar), switch to focusing on Spanish. With this training schedule, you are at least intermediate with a few skills instead of a beginner at many hobbies.
It is never possible to fix every little detail of your life. In fact, successful individuals are the ones that plan ahead of time for mistakes. Having this mindset will allow you to accomplish your goals faster, and it saves time in the long run. To better illustrate this example, say you have to write a twenty-page report on the Battle at Krugar. There is absolutely no deadline, but you are not allowed to graduate until you submit it. Will you spend an entire week revising the structure of the paragraphs, deciding what words best illustrate the event, and arguing about what evidence best shows which side won? Or, will you spend only 3 hours submitting a mediocre yet satisfactory paper that will finally get you back to your actual life? The choice is yours.
Good work habits require a satisfying award to avoid burnout. The more you withhold a fun break, the more miserable and monotonous your work becomes. In order to stay motivated, try scheduling one awesome event at the end of your work day. Playing music or doing yoga are a few examples. (Drinking could also be an option if you have an invincible liver). Now, when you’ve started your work, have the mindset that you will get as much as you can done BEFORE you go to that reward. Make your tasks realistic and manageable. If you do not finish, then you do NOT earn that reward and you try again the next day. Alternately, you can plan to have one entire free day on the weekend by pushing through your work on the weekdays. Just have something to look forward to.
Review your progress once a week
You can follow all the tips and tricks, but if you are not frequently assessing the areas for improvement, you are not maximizing your time. I’d suggest taking one day out of the week to look over your time journal, planner, and calendar. Pick out three things that you can wholeheartedly improve for next week. Maybe, there was one specific website you wasted a few hours on. Maybe, you got sucked into a marathon of a popular TV series. Maybe, you didn’t get enough sleep one day. Now, make SURE you do not repeat those mistakes again. This is why I recommended you limit yourself to three improvements. You do not want to feel overwhelmed. You are more likely to reverse a few mistakes gradually than to reverse a bunch all at once.
Know Your Limits
Sometimes, you have to get back to the basics. In other words, never bite off more than you can chew. We’ve all heard the term “yes man.” While this mentality is beneficial to motivation and commitment, there is always some limit to how much you can handle. Unfortunately, there is no universal measure, and this is something you have to evaluate yourself. If you have incorporated many of the above tips however, finding your personal threshold shouldn’t be a daunting task. More importantly, remember to finish your priorities first and to delegate tasks to others if necessary.