Many people feel overwhelmed by their schedules, trying to pack in as much work into a day as possible, only to wonder why they don’t have enough time. Figuring out how to manage your time, versus having it manage you, isn’t something we are born with: it requires some work.
Keep a time budget
The first step to effective time management is to figure out how you spend your time. Just as you keep a financial budget, keep a budget of your time so you can figure out how it is spent. You cannot save time, you can only spend it, so be sure you are spending your time effectively. Keep a log for a day or so and see how much time you spend on what activities. Could you put your time to better use by being productive or investing in leisure time?
You may already keep a to-do list and still be unable to complete it. The principle that tasks expand to fill the time allotted for them absolutely applies to time management. Train yourself to make a list based on what the absolute top priorities for the day are, and then do them. Estimate the time the task will take then set an alarm. Creating a deadline for yourself can keep you motivated and on task. Check off your to do list so that you are focusing on the results, not just on keeping yourself busy.
An important facet of good time management means setting goals, then breaking larger goals into manageable chunks. Figure out your long-term goal, then set intermediate goals that will build toward that larger goal. Make sure your short-term goals are achievable and measurable, and you will find you are spending the time allotted to the task wisely.
Text messages, phone calls, and email all interrupt the flow of the day. Effective time management means managing these interruptions. Schedule a time to check email, and prioritize what can wait until you have finished your scheduled task. Set an “out of office” reply email if you’re in the midst of a big project, then set aside time to answer your email, texts, and return phone calls. Being available around the clock via IM, text, and email creates the illusion of urgency where urgency may not actually exist.
If you schedule yourself some fun time, you will feel less overwhelmed by the tasks that are not so fun. Making leisure time something that is part of your schedule, not something that just happens if you have time left over for it, lets you control how you spend your time.
Effective time management is something you can handle on a daily basis and does not necessarily require a formal course or training series. Utilize these strategies in your daily life, and start to manage your time, not have it manage you.