Whether you’re an entrepreneur running a small business, a studentmanaging a course load, or a professional balancing work life with family obligations, time management is a vital skill that can help boost productivity, reduce stress, and improve your overall well-being.
Here are eight ways to sharpen your time management skills, so you can make the most of every day.
1. Plan Your Day
Successful time management begins with planning. Start each day with a plan – before jumping into any tasks, take the first 15 or 30 minutes of your day to figure out what you need to accomplish, then set it down in writing.
Whether you prefer to use technology to plan out your day (like an online Calendar tool or a digital to-do list) or would rather stick to plain old pen and paper, time management is made much easier with some planning first-thing in the morning.
2. Assign Time Limits
After creating your to-do list, or filling your calendar with tasks, allocate how much time you’ll be spending on each task. While a list may help you get organized, allocating time for each item on your to-do list will help you stay on track throughout the day, so that you don’t inadvertently spend an hour chipping away at a task that should have only taken you ten minutes.
Next to each item on your to-do list, note how much time you’ll be spending on that particular task – give yourself two hours for “complete the first draft of that presentation.” Or, get even more specific by aiming to “complete first draft by 2 PM.”
Settling time limits for your tasks also helps with the next time management tip: prioritizing.
If you don’t prioritize the tasks before you, you won’t be spending your time as efficiently as possible. Take a look at your list of tasks and separate them by importance – those that need your immediate attention, those that need to be addressed in the near future, those that you have more time to complete, and those that are ongoing.
Once you’ve broken up your task list, you can focus on completing the most urgent tasks first. What’s more, the best time to take care of your most important tasks is right in the morning, before afternoon inertia sets in.
It might seem counter-intuitive, but taking time to unplug is essential in successful time management.
According to multiple studies, the key to productivity is taking regular mental breaks every 50 – 90 minutes. Why 90 minutes? As it turns out, our ultradian rhythms (those recurrent periods or cycles repeated throughout one circadian day) operate in 90 minute cycles, meaning that every ninety minutes, your brain and body simply need a break. If 90 minutes is too long, try 50 instead. Then, take a 15 to 20 minute break.
5. Steer Clear of Distractions
The biggest killer of productivity? Distraction!
It goes without saying that, if you find yourself doing more instant messaging, internet-surfing, and Facebook-browsing than actual work, it may be time to steer clear of those distractions rather than trying to live with them.
Starting a complicated report? Turn off your instant messaging until you’ve completed a rough outline. Working through the last few paragraphs of an important proposal? Turn off your cellphone until it’s complete.
Whether you’re working from a home office or a corporate one, knowing your distractions, then steering clear of them, is key.
6. Set Internal Deadlines
Besides the formal deadlines you may have for any given task or project, it’s wise to set your own internal deadlines so that you aren’t left scrambling to finish a project at the last minute.
That could mean completing the first draft of a final paper a few days earlier, or making sure that every member of your team at work completes their portion of a project a week in advance so that you have time to piece everything together.
7. Don’t Strive for Perfection
Paying excessive attention to every aspect of a task, down to the minutest of details, can actually hinder your productivity rather than help it. If you tend to forget about the broader goal of a project, and spend too much time and energy focusing on minutia, it may be worth it to take a step back and make a conscious effort to limit your tendency for perfectionism.
Perfectionism is essentially a type of procrastination – instead of trying to be the very best at everything all the time, try to set attainable goals then do your best to achieve them.