You’ve heard about time management. You may even still hear about it anywhere—especially at work. (Do you hear people complain how they don’t have time to exercise?)
Whatever you do, the importance of time management can never be neglected. In fact, time management is one of the skills for success you’ll ever need. Below are the lessons you’ll absolutely learn as you cut your time into blocks, whether it’s only for a few or a lot of activities for the long day. You may have already learned them the hard way, but let this article guide you in any case.
1. Saying no is bliss.
Admit it, you can’t have all the time in the world. And in reality, there’s nothing about time that you can manage. Time management may not even be the right term for this subject matter at all—self-management would be more appropriate. The clock keeps on ticking away. You can’t do anything about it. It’s actually yourself that you manage in order for you to do what needs to get done.
Saying no is generally hard, especially if it’s your boss you’re saying it to. But saying it has to be done. When you agree to do almost everything you’re asked to, you’ll always find it hard to achieve an outstanding work—results will only be second-rate.
Determine whether a project or task is urgent or important—these two are close but entirely different. The repair of your malfunctioning wristwatch may be urgent but not important; you have other gadgets that display time. Meditation is important to your mental health but not necessarily urgent. At 12 o’clock, eating your lunch is both urgent and important. Depending on your routine, you can identify what’s urgent and what’s important. Regularly check your tasks list. Before moving an item up or down, weigh them first according to their urgency and importance, and don’t be hasty.
Saying no is simply being brutally realistic—try it, this could just be the easiest way to realize the importance of time management. If you can’t commit to finishing a task, just be honest with yourself and don’t commit! It isn’t about avoiding the task (that’s not it, really!) It’s merely refusing to handle it because there’s another that’s more important. You’re not a robot—you can’t say yes to everyone and true enough, you can never work like a robot.
When you get the hang of saying no, people around you will be convinced of its importance—they’ll start to respect that. And good for you, your life gets easier.
When you say yes, on the other hand, stick to your commitment and finish your task on time. By the time you say yes, you must have already decided what other potential tasks you would have to finish along with it within a specified timetable. You must have thought them through, and already motivated yourself to finish that particular task.
Avoid multitasking. Just do one task at a time. Research shows that multitasking is just a myth. You only switch your attention from one activity to another, but you can’t put your whole attention on both at the same time. Why is multitasking so bad? It disrupts your attention on one activity. When it’s disrupted, your depth of engagement to it decreases. To bring back that same depth of engagement would take time. When you allow that to happen every time, those chunks of time to regain your focus combined become nothing but wasted time. Do one thing at a time. When you’re finished, move on to the next, and so on.
2. Plans should be effective. You should be efficient.
There can be plenty of tasks that would demand your attention. Carefully pick those that need to be done and include them on your calendar. Certainly, not all of them have the same weight at any given time. A task may be the right thing to do tomorrow afternoon, but won’t be applicable anymore the day after tomorrow. And at this moment, a different task should be undertaken, a task perfectly fit right now.
That is what effectiveness means. Identifying the right thing to do at any certain point in time.
You need effectiveness in the planning phase. It helps you determine how well you’re going to use a specific block of time, for a particular activity you’ll handle. Laying out steps, considering possible obstacles, and including fallback plans constitute an effective plan. However, effective plans won’t be of any use if you’re not efficient—or if you don’t train yourself to be efficient.
Be aware that there are people who make “perfect” plans, only to accomplish little—they are not efficient. Efficiency is carrying out your plans at maximum effectiveness but at minimum pain.
How exactly can you be efficient?
Think of your time simply as it is—as time. Don’t think of it by the tasks you have to finish. Choose to accomplish the harder tasks first, which are usually the more important ones—do them consistently so you’ll get yourself into a routine.
Find your best time of the day. If you don’t realize this already, start discovering the times when you’re most efficient, and when you’re least efficient. Start here: morning, afternoon, evening—do you know when you’re most efficient among these three parts of the day? If you say afternoon, at what particular time then? Discover your time. You can’t force your physical body during its downtime—your mind may be willing and motivated, but listen to how your body responds. That’s the importance of time management. Embrace the difficult tasks during your prime time—don’t look for the alibi of doing the easier tasks so you can postpone the difficult ones.
Did you know that not conforming to the natural highs and lows of your body can induce anxiety? When you don’t follow your body’s natural patterns, you’d end up putting off the difficult tasks, which may lead you to getting anxious before going to bed. All the anxiety due to the avoiding of those tasks can make you hate such tasks. It becomes a cycle but the ugly feeling you allowed to start will only worsen.
Be sensitive to your body—you’d be the one who’d know it best. Be one with yourself. Don’t force it.
Work on making your plans effective first, before focusing on your efficiency. Doing the right things is what matters more.
3. You do have to make a plan—however you don’t like it.
There’s no denying it. There’s no escaping it. But is it actually that bad?
There are different levels people make plans. The worst level is planning only when the need arises. People who plan this way actually don’t like to make plans. The best level, on the other hand, is planning things by the hour. This could be the most sophisticated yet the most flexible and enlightening. On this level, you can see all your responsibilities more clearly—including your opportunities to relax. When you can see how you live for a day, you can have an idea how you would your entire life. Planning by the hour actually pushes you to be more aware of yourself.
Write down all your regular everyday activities—the main ones, and the corresponding time slot for each. After that, write your smaller routine activities too—your commute, breaks or power-naps. Now, add all the time durations. Take a moment to realize that the time you have for a day is actually little. Now, think of the activities that would recharge you—exercise, socializing, meditation. Rediscover and reexamine all these, especially the ones that truly matter to you. Do you realize that planning for them would certainly help? You don’t have to be generally strict and hard on yourself, but following a plan for your life is much, much better than nothing. You can invest in a calendar that can show you a milestone at once. Follow it, be guided.
4. To know whether you’re actually improving, you have to monitor yourself.
Being skeptical is the right attitude, especially if you want to experience the importance of time management. What may work for someone else may not work for you, and vice versa. But what works for others would give you an idea you can only try for yourself.
Monitor yourself. Evaluate the strategies you’ve been using. If they are not effective, try different ones. Don’t stop testing your methods. Establish an initial observation, then make room for a little experimenting. Record important points on your next observations, analyze, then evaluate them whether they’re in line with your objectives.
Get back to your tasks list. Look for the deadlines you have met. Look for those you haven’t yet; write down the reasons why. You may just have underestimated some factors. By doing this, you can have a general gauge on how heavy your upcoming tasks are. You can also manage your “buffer” time—for breaks, or other less significant tasks you can tuck into your schedule, maximizing productive time.
Again, don’t be hard on yourself. Self-monitoring gives you insights, especially on negative situations that arise—it enables you to find their source and do better next time. Don’t feel bad. Learn instead.
5. Change is inevitable.
Unless you can pull off cramming on all your tasks every time, consider that change is always happening you just might not cope up with mere self-centeredness and hesitance to grow. If you want something to change for the better, you may have to change your attitude especially in facing problems that come your way. As others say, the problem may be the heart—you simply don’t want to change. If, for a long time, you aren’t getting the results you want, try reflecting on yourself first.
Besides being intrinsically flexible, also accept that there are external factors beyond your control. Try not to be too attached to these events. See them as they are—they just happen. Looking for something positive about them would be your best response. Calamities, sicknesses, accidents—basically all of us are prone to such unpleasant circumstances. Similar to a previous point, make a plan in case any of these happens. In such unfortunate cases, your backup plans should still be effective; you should still be efficient. It’s perfectly fine and humane to grieve and be frustrated sometimes—but efficiency during these times actually helps you take hold of such situations with a positive mind, not focusing on adversities themselves—no matter what the situation is.
Experiencing change both internally and externally would surely yield distractions. Some experts even suggest we should plan for only fifty percent of our time. The other fifty percent should be for surprises, a.k.a. distractions.
Find out ways you can catch up on delayed tasks because of interruptions. Set a day in a week, about three hours of that day, for catch-up. Though discipline can always be developed, and the importance of time management familiarized with, don’t set this day to Friday. Momentum flows better earlier in the week than on days near the weekend. If you can, set it anywhere from Monday to Wednesday.
Take care of yourself. You wouldn’t want to lose your focus just because you’re pressured to catch up. Get the right amount of sleep, same as you normally would without catch-up. Keep exercising. Keep eating the right kinds of food.
If you think you’re getting stressed, seek comfort from your loved ones and friends. Have a talk with them. It would certainly help you, especially if they’re in the same situation. Share your thoughts about stressful situations; listen to theirs. Try the advice they could give you.
The worst case would be when you finally can’t meet a deadline. Talk to the person you have given your commitment to—your boss, client, or your family. Talk to them and ask for an extension. Now, don’t abuse this. Worst it may be, but this could also be the easiest getaway. If you’re given another chance, don’t ever cheat simply to make up fast for your shortcomings. Catching up is an opportunity for you to grow.
The catch-up phase would help you value your time more. Chunks of time would then become crucial to you. These are the times when you’re in the subway or waiting in line at the grocery. Transform your waiting time into productive time. Always bring with you a small notebook where you can write your ideas whenever they’d dawn on you. Bring a book that’s helpful for your work or business. Bring an audio gadget—listen to audio books, or use it for relaxation if you want. Waiting time when compounded every day, every week, every month, every year, becomes really significant when you look at your life as a big picture. You have a choice; you can always choose to use your time wisely.
After you have successfully finished a particular job with all the delays, stress and unexpected drawbacks, look back through your timetable and critically think why they happened. Write them on your notebook—you’re definitely going to need it.
6. Distractions: You have a choice.
You’ll realize the importance of time management if you can deal with distractions.
When you’re at work or at home, is there a way to avoid distractions? Could you talk to other people to help you get less distracted? The answer is a loud “Yes.” If you want something, you can find a way; if you don’t, excuses are easy to find.
If you want your brain to work better, consider bringing your audio player and listening to Mozart. Research shows truth in it. Don’t want all the noise and can’t do anything to make them stop? Invest in good earplugs. Make yourself aware of your surroundings through your other senses—perhaps position your seat such that you can get a view of the whole room or area. The point is, as much as you can keep all distractions from your sight, you can also block distractions that get into your ears. Talking to your colleagues or basically anyone near you is a common cause of distraction. While we are all social beings, we have work to do. Remember, social activity should be planned too. If you work at home, find time to have fun with your loved ones, but when it’s time to work, they should respect your limits.
Look out for physical distractions when you’re on your work. Keep visual distractions in your drawer. Instead, place anything that would motivate you. Or you could be minimalistic if you’re the type who really gets easily distracted. See to it that you maintain good posture when you’re in your seat. Modify your environment into something that won’t encourage laziness. Ensure proper lighting. Dealing with distractions also means dealing with your overall health.
As previously mentioned, you can get distracted by those you don’t have much control over, but watching out for your emotions is a good practice in every situation you have to undergo. Compartmentalize—only work when you work. Set a time for thinking of or contemplating something that’s bothering you. For example, focus on your current task for the next two hours. Thirty minutes before the break, stop what you’re doing and think about that something that’s bugging you. Again, don’t multitask. You become productive at both when you do them one at a time.
7. Burnout is but temporary.
Now, this is the fun part—it’s actually looking for fun!
But before that, realize that burnout comes to everybody. It is common. Being able to identify the cause of such burnout is what’s important. Are you getting bored? You don’t see progress? Find out why.
When you’re on a project, review your progress. Don’t ignore what you have accomplished along the way. Be proud of yourself for any developments. Appreciate what’s done. Don’t be guilty—if you think about it, what is guilt for at this stage? You wouldn’t need it. You need to move forward—you want it. Guilt is like anxiety; when you’re guilty, it gets in the way of anything you’re doing—including having fun, when you should be “escaping” from any stress caused by work. This is why fun time should be on the timetable too. Remove the guilt by doing your best on your job. By the time you’re having fun, your mind is then clear, not thinking of anything else, receptive solely for fun. Responsibility doesn’t exclude having fun. So what’s the importance of time management? You set yourself free.
Reward yourself. Don’t let it break your momentum though. Make the rewards motivating and positive for you. Beware, you may find rewards as rather a punishment triggered by guilt trips when you were previously serious with life—when you were working. Rewarding yourself encourages a good balance between work and fun.
8. Procrastination can be deceptive.
What do you think of when you hear the word procrastination? Watching TV? Hanging out with your friends? Sleeping in the middle of the day? Doing nothing? The answer is none of these—if these are all planned.
Just to remind you, procrastination is putting off, delaying or deferring an action to a later time. Those I mentioned above become procrastination if you do them in exchange of an important task you have postponed to do. When the importance of time management becomes clear to you, you’ll get a better understanding of what procrastination is all about.
So did you clean your house instead of making an important errand that would take an hour? Did you choose a two-day easy task rather than a weeklong major one? Did you go to a late-night party instead of taking rest and doing meditation? You see, all these first choices could actually be vital to you. But doing them means the same thing—you procrastinate when you delay an important activity. This is one of the most misleading forms of procrastination, where you can get disillusioned that another task is as important as that which you should be really doing. It becomes an escape, and you get a sense of feeling that you’re actually productive. Try this: if you bump into something you don’t like to do, break it into smaller tasks. Set time intervals for each smaller task. This would eventually push you to finish that one large task as a whole.
When you’re pulled into chaos, stop. Just stop. Be still. Clear you head. Don’t move. If you’re in your seat, just stop moving for a moment. Take deep breaths. Regain your focus on the task you’re currently on. Don’t expect motivation by looking to do other tasks—don’t let them distract you. Just stop. You have to get yourself together. Then continue with the work.
9. If you can manage your time, you can manage everything else in your life.
What are the things you wish you could manage right now? Why do they seem impossible to manage so?
Manage the quality of any work you’re on. Depending on the need, any level of quality can be achieved. This means not creating mediocre work, and at the same time not overdoing it.
Manage stress on a day-after-day basis. You are allowing time to work for you, not against you. Stress is caused by a lot of factors, especially by the likes of frustration and dropping everything else due to a rushed task. If you can manage your time, satisfaction and a sense of pride develop in you, leaving little to no room for stress.
Manage your own fulfillment. When you’re fulfilled, you are most probably finding purpose on your life’s path. Think that up to now, considering your age, why aren’t you possibly fulfilled yet? Is fulfillment supposed to come to you out of nowhere? Have you considered looking into the few available time you have every day and taking action with it?
Manage your energy. When you have accomplished something, your energy increases due to the satisfaction from finishing it. When you keep going, satisfaction goes with you. You can say that you can also manage your laziness. Laziness can strike you anytime, but again, this type of your “downtime” can be anticipated in your unique and effective plans.
In general, you manage yourself. You develop self-discipline and other qualities. And all this won’t be up to the personal level only. Proper time management also becomes evident in your social development. When you develop the traits as a product of how well you manage your time, people around you would notice a better version of you. They would appreciate you and love to have you around. And all that is because you’ve taken the importance of time management seriously.
Think About It
Time is one of the things in life you can only enjoy right now—you can’t pull the future, you can’t repeat the past. Time is as absolute as the second hand ticks away. Whether it’s the greatest moment of your life, or the most frustrating—time doesn’t change. And you can’t blame it for anything that happens to you. Timing could be lucky sometimes, but it doesn’t give you the excuse to not use time to your advantage. There are two sides of it—you may always rant that you have so little time for the many responsibilities you have, but you may also appreciate time and see it as an opportunity for everything positive—in hardships, disappointments, happiness or success. Where you are right now is because of the different decisions you have made in the past. You may not have been aware then, but you can make better decisions right now for a better future. It’s all but the same—you create your future. Don’t blame your previous self for not having learned what you are presently learning every day. And much more, don’t blame others. Don’t blame your parents, your teachers, your neighbors, your friends—even your enemies—anyone. You can always seek help from others, but nobody else can help you the way that only you can.
You see, that’s the wonder of time. It can leave a mark—whether good or not—in our life. Treasure the good, forget about the bad if you can—accept that they’re not really helping. So ask yourself how you are going to use your time. Don’t be impatient. Make a plan. The importance of time management can’t be denied. It doesn’t matter if it would take five years—if you don’t plan, that five years may become twenty. Remember all your dreams. Think of the people or things that keep you going. Reflect on yourself. For sure, you’ll become faster, and might even say time is in your hands!