We’ve all been there: You have a paper due tomorrow and you haven’t even started the book yet, you have a thousand things to get done over the weekend, or you didn’t write your blog post ahead of time and you have no idea what to do.
Everyone struggles with managing their time (anyone who says they don’t is probably lying and playing Candy Crush in class). And look, I’m no angel either (re: writing blog posts), but I have learned a few things over the years, especially after starting college. Today, I want to take a few minutes and talk about time management and a few ways I’ve gotten better at it.
1) Turn Off Distractions
Let’s make one thing clear: I am not a fan of Facebook. Between being a page manager for a group at school and trying to get my friends to see my blog posts, this is one platform that has not been kind to me. And yet, for some reason, I always find myself coming back to it, endlessly scrolling, scrolling, scrolling…
And it’s not just Facebook either, but Pinterest, Twitter, Goodreads, Instagram, pretty much anything that has an endless stream of content. Social media is great in many ways, but it started eating up so much of my precious time without me even noticing that I had to do something about it. How you get rid of your own distractions is up to you (I recommend the Cold Turkey blocker), but focusing on the task at hand is a step in the right direction.
2) Stop Multitasking
There are two kinds of multitasking: There’s “Let’s listen to music/a podcast and clean my room” and there’s “Let’s watch a YouTube video while I read my organic chemistry homework.” I’m talking about the latter.
There are some things we just have to work on without any distractions. You might think you still understood that history chapter while you were watching the new episode of [insert favorite show here], but what usually happens is you grasp the information at a surface level and miss the deeper meaning behind it. Then you have to go back, read it again, and spend twice the amount of time you meant to. Save yourself the trouble and stop multitasking.
3) Set a Time Limit
Remember when you were a kid and you really didn’t want to clean your room, but your mom said if you did it in ten minutes she’d give you a cookie or something? (Or maybe that was just my family…)
Deadlines keep us moving, even if we make them ourselves. For example, if I didn’t make myself sit down and write a blog post every Monday, it probably wouldn’t happen at all. This works for shorter tasks too: Say you really don’t want to start that problem set for calculus, but it has to get done. Set a timer for 20 minutes and see how much you can accomplish in that time. When time’s up, take a break (more on that in a minute), and then get back to work for another 20 minutes. Before you know it, you’ve finished the task and it didn’t even take as long as you thought.
4) Take (SHORT) Breaks
What I don’t mean: watch an entire season of The Office between writing paragraphs of your report.
What I do mean: Read a chapter of your favorite book after completing a task. Read a blog post. Text your friend. Take a few minutes and let your brain recharge before you start the next thing on your list (avoid burnout). As long as you get back to work, it’s good to take a break every so often.
5) Know Your Limits
We all burn out – some earlier than others – but we all do at some point. When it gets to be 3am and you’ve been reading the same article over and over and still don’t understand it, it’s probably time to stop. Go to bed and try again in the morning when your mind is fresh.
In other words, know when you’ve reached the point that you can’t be productive anymore and let your brain get some rest. We can be tempted to just push through, but our time is often better used when we’re in the right headspace to get things done.
6) Reward Yourself – LATER
Give yourself something to look forward to when you’ve completed all your tasks! Just make sure you actually wait until you’ve completed everything before you give yourself your reward – “celebrating early” often leads to procrastination, and it can stress us out. Work first, then play later.
7) Make a List & Prioritize
Most of us have to-do lists of some form or another. They can be very helpful for mapping out what needs to be accomplished, but to use your time well, you should take the list a step further. One you’ve gotten all of your tasks in one place, figure out what each one relates to: For me, my tasks are split into my school subjects, Minds Matter tasks, tasks for my job, personal tasks, and blogging tasks.
From there, I figure out which ones should take priority. For example, my macroeconomics homework isn’t due until Wednesday, and I need to write my blog post today, but schoolwork takes precedence over blogging, so I decided to do my homework before working on this post. Sometimes, priority will depend on due dates, impact, or whatever else is important to you. As long as you’re making a plan of action though, you’re on the right track.
8) Learn to Say No
Sometimes, our lack of time isn’t our fault: we might have other commitments we don’t have control over, like jobs, meetings, classes, etc. However, there are some times when we need to decide what’s most important and say no to the things that interfere with it.
For example, I had to do some homework and write a blog post today, but I also considered going to the movies this morning. However, it was more important to me that I got my work done, since I could go to the movies anytime. I said “no” to myself in terms of the movies so that I could use that time to complete other tasks.
9) Take Advantage of Every Spare Moment
There’s a lot of “dead time” in our days. Think of things like eating times, early in the morning, a few minutes between classes, etc. We can “redeem” that time to accomplish small tasks: if you have a few minutes before your next class, send that e-mail to your professor about the homework assignment. If you’re eating lunch alone, read over your notes for the upcoming exam.
I’m not saying that it’s bad to play mindless games while your ride the elevator, but there are small pockets of time in our days that we can use to our advantage. Keep an eye our for them!
10) Just Do It
Sometimes, we procrastinate because we’re scared. Tasks can be daunting sometimes, and we just don’t want to do them. When it gets to that point, we just need to buckle down and get it done. If that means duct-taping yourself to your desk, so be it. Yes, it can take a lot of willpower to force yourself to start working, but you’ll be thanking yourself once it’s all over.