Time Management Skills to Help You Prepare for this Year
How many times have you started your day with a mental list of the things you wanted to accomplish, only to fall onto your pillow at night with precious few of those items actually done? It happens to me all the time, even though I know how to avoid the problem. Hopefully, you’ll make a stronger effort than I have and you’ll apply these tips regularly enough to make a difference.
Taking control begins with a plan. Remember our earlier scenario? We woke up with a mental list of things to do. That’s the first mistake. A mental list is nothing more than a recipe for disaster. The first thing we need to do, before anything else, is turn that mental list into a written document. Now you have a contract between yourself and the clock and you’re obligated to your portion of it. The clock will give you the time. It’s up to you to keep your commitments.
Ok, so we have a list, now what? Sometimes a notebook or notepad is all we need for our daily list, but what if our things to do are time-sensitive and labor intensive? What if they have to happen in stages? Sometimes these things happen with other people. These are called appointments and they usually happen at a specific time. What if we need to finish a project before we go to an appointment? Now that sticky note is looking pretty inadequate. It’s time for a calendar.
Daily, weekly, or monthly planners are designed to help you accomplish your tasks on time without the stress of a last-second rush. Choose the format that’s best for you and write your list there. Decide what needs to happen when and which items are the most important. Mark the most import tasks as priority items. Use letters or numbers to distinguish your hierarchy of needs.
Now that you have your list written in your planner by priority and all your appointments are scheduled, it’s just a matter of following your schedule throughout the day, right? Not quite. Often you’ll find at least one item on your list that is just a bit too large to tackle at once. Whenever possible, break large projects down into smaller parts that are easier to finish. If you plan ahead, you can work on each piece of the project throughout the day, week, month, whatever is necessary, so you can accomplish your task on time without overdoing it. The secret is to constantly look ahead.
Don’t overschedule your day. It’s easy to look at our list and say, “That’s easy. It should only take ‘x’ amount of time for this.” But you’ve probably noticed activities often take longer than planned. Always schedule more time for each project than you think you need. A good rule of thumb is to add ½ of the time again for each project. If you think a project will take 2 hours, plan on 3. If you think something will take 20 minutes, plan on a half hour. This will give you a cushion so you can transition from one task to the next without feeling rushed. (Sometimes this still isn’t enough.)
Fine-tune your schedule over time. The more often you schedule your day or week, the easier it will be to get it right. Keep track of how long your daily routine lasts, so you can more accurately plan.
Leave time open so you can relax. Schedule time to work on your hobbies or to read a book, or just take a break. Constantly rushing will wear you down and could even lead to illness.
Personal aspirations are very important. If you’ve dreamed of learning the guitar or dabbling more into art, you’ll never get there unless you schedule time for it. We wear a lot of hats—employee, parent, neighbor, child, or coach. Sometimes we forget that our personal goals, hopes and wishes are as important as any of these. Improving our talents and fulfilling our dreams makes us happier people and who doesn’t like to be around happy people? Plus, the more we improve ourselves, the more help we can be in all of those other roles we play.
So don’t downplay your own hopes and dreams and say that you don’t have time for them—that other things in your life are more important. Instead, work them into your daily schedule and give yourself a chance to grow and to feel the joy of achieving the things you’ve always dreamt about. Unless you take the time to schedule you into your life, the obligations and stress of the day will push you out—and one day you’ll look back and wonder where all the time went. In fact, there are those who not only wonder where the time went, but where they went as well.
Don’t let that be you. You have a wonderful day ahead of you. Don’t just have a good day by accident; make a good day on purpose.