For almost all of us (besides the superhuman), poor time management is the bane of our existence. We’re constantly trying to find new ways to be productive, stop wasting time, and cross off every item of our to-do list.
What many of us don’t realize is our problem isn’t that we’re easily distracted or terribly unproductive people. Instead, the problem is that we have too many tasks and no idea how to prioritize them.
This impedes our ability to work in two ways:
- We have no idea where to start, so we never do.
- We attempt to do everything simultaneously, which divides our energy in too many directions and makes us feel like we’re never getting anywhere.
Here’s how you can better manage your time and direct your energy, so that you no longer feel as if you’re constantly playing catch-up.
Simplify and Clarify Your Goals
The biggest impediment to getting stuff done is being unsure of exactly what you should be doing. Are your goals vague? Try to make your goals as specific as possible, and then give them hard deadlines that cannot be broken.
This is harder to do if you’re not working in a team, as the only person who knows if you met your deadline is you. Still, make your deadlines nonnegotiable. By simplifying your goals and assigning them deadlines, you will automatically begin to prioritize. It will become clear which tasks have to be done first, and how the completion of one to-do affects another.
Decide Who You Are Serving
If you’re self-employed or have clients, you can end up spending most of your time serving other people instead of moving forward with your own goals. Before you know it, the tasks that serve your business have been pushed to the very bottom of your priority list in favor of doing work for your clients.
Of course, you have to do some work for other people in order for your business to be successful. However, this doesn’t mean dedicating all of your time to other people’s goals. You are allowed to say no to projects or assignments that are going to take more from you than they give you. Is it out of your scope of experience? Do you dread doing it? Say no, and use that time to further your personal goals.
Identify Whether Small Tasks Help Your Big Goals
It’s easy to spend a few minutes (that quickly become hours) doing “research”, checking email, or doing various behind-the-scenes management tasks. But are you actually wasting time and just calling it productive? Begin to observe how you spend the moments between tasks. You should either be using that time to prepare for your next project, or doing something entirely unrelated to work in order to recharge your energy.
Use Time Blocking Techniques
One of the most famous time blocking techniques is The Pomodoro Technique. Using a timer, you assign 25 consecutive minutes for work and then five minutes for rest. After four cycles of 25-minute work intervals, you give yourself a longer break of five to ten minutes. The idea is that frequent breaks help improve mental agility, but twenty-five minutes is also a manageable amount of time for most people to maintain uninterrupted focus.
Choose an amount of time that’s doable for you, and then use a timer to make sure that you don’t stray from your work in that time. No checking email, refreshing Facebook, or scrolling through Twitter. Also, use the break interval to prepare yourself for the next task – opening the necessary applications, queuing up the pages you will need, etc.
As with anything, improving your time management is going to take continued practice. You most likely won’t wake up tomorrow as the Queen of Time Management, with boundless amounts of energy to spare, but with continued application of these techniques, you may find yourself much more organized than ever before.