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12 Steps to a New You: May: Manage Your Time

time management skills

Caught up in the myth of “having it all,” we over-schedule ourselves, whether it be our work responsibilities, our social engagements, our commitments to our families, or our focus on maintaining our living space.

Time management is an essential tool for becoming the happiest, healthiest version of yourself. If you manage your time well, not only will you be able to get more done in a day, your stress levels will decrease and your health will improve in a myriad of ways. Whether your newly honed time management skills allow for more sleep or simply make you more calm on a regular basis, you’ll be feeling like a new you in no time.

Here are some tips and tricks for managing your time.

Plan Ahead

One of the keys to time management is planning ahead. Too many people go through life just taking on the next task that comes across your desk. Taking phone calls and answering emails as they come in or addressing household tasks as they need to be done (i.e. doing laundry only once all your clothes are dirty) lead to mounting stress and a lack of control. If you take care to plan ahead, you’ll have a better handle on your time overall. Don’t wait to think about what you need to do on Monday, consider your schedule on Friday afternoon or Sunday night so that you can be ready to hit the ground running.

One of the biggest issues with planning and time management is that many of us do not actually know how long tasks take. Keep a diary for one to two weeks of everything you do and make a note of how long it takes. That way as you begin to plan ahead and build a schedule, you’ll be sure you’re not overbooking. This means leaving plenty of time for thought and conversation in tasks that require it. Keep a detailed schedule and appointment book with time outlined for all of your responsibilities, not just meetings or phone calls. Take 30 minutes at the start of your day to build your schedule each day and determine what tasks are most important.

If you merely have a never-ending to-do list without specific times attached to the items, you’ll never be able to get through it all (and you’ll end up feeling overwhelmed and disappointed in what you accomplish). Finally, while you’re planning out your schedule, be sure to leave time for interruptions or unforeseen issues. Don’t book every second of the day from the time you wake up to the time your head hits the pillow. Building in unscheduled time is key for leaving the space you need to problem solve or finish tasks that take longer than anticipated. If the unscheduled time isn’t needed to accomplish something, even better -- use it to relax!

Make the Most of Your To-Do Lists

time management tips

Sometimes a to-do list can merely be a mounting source of stress -- it can start to feel overwhelming if it feels like you’re not checking off the boxes quickly enough. To effectively manage your time, you have to effectively manage your to-do list. Take five minutes before you begin each task on your list and think about what you want out of the task -- this will help you know exactly what you need to accomplish and better evaluate when you’ve spent enough time on the task.

If you really want to accomplish everything on your to-do list, you need to employ a few tactics. First off, select a chunk of time in the day to power through with no distractions -- we recommend focusing on your most important tasks in the morning as our brains are freshest earlier in the day. If you want to avoid interruptions from co-workers or family members, place a “do not disturb” sign on your desk and stick to it. Working remotely can make it easier to focus, but if you do that, be careful to avoid the temptation of household tasks -- multi-tasking is a great time management tool, but don’t let it prevent you from actually finishing anything because you start everything. This includes the temptations of social media as well -- don’t let an email or a Facebook message distract you from accomplishing your most pressing goals. Social media can double the time it takes to finish something if you keep stopping to check how many likes that photo of your lunch got.

Lastly, Women’s Health suggests that you make your to-do lists according to a tiered system. Organize the lists according to due dates and most pressing tasks so you know what you need to accomplish before moving on to more minor responsibilities or long-term projects. Along these same lines, make three separate lists -- a daily to-do list, short term goals, and long term goals. We advise making the daily list each night before bed with short, specific tasks you can accomplish the next day. The other two lists can be projects or more nebulous goals you want to accomplish over the next 6 months to a year. Keeping the three lists can help you manage your time effectively by recording your priorities so that you can trim items from your schedule that don’t align with these lists.

Leisure Time & Making Time for Fun

One of the most important aspects of time management is not checking off every item on your to-do list, but rather making sure you have the time for some TLC. Many of us don’t get enough sleep because we simply have too much to do during the day and we choose to forsake our resting hours to accomplish more. This is the first thing you should work on if you’re focusing on time management -- proper rest is key for maintaining your health and making sure your brain is in top form. If you’re too tired, things are bound to take longer and it will actually decrease your efficiency.

Along with sleep is getting enough time for yourself. The Real Simple/Families and Work Institute (FWI) survey "Women and Time: Setting a New Agenda” found that 49 percent of women say they don't have enough free time. Free time is crucial for pressing reset on your brain and making time for social outings, heart-to-hearts with friends, and engaging in your hobbies. Managing your time should ensure that you have time for that spa date or a walk at the beach or even a glass of wine and a good book.

Experts advise cutting back on watching television in your free time -- it eats up more time than other activities and is both less productive and less restful and rewarding than other options. So, don’t forget to schedule in time for yourself (and don’t let it be interrupted by checking emails coming into your phone or getting up to do some chores). Re-energize in your free time so you can get even more done in the time you’re working.

In order to be the best version of yourself, it’s important to prioritize time management. Consider about what small changes you can make today to be more efficient tomorrow.

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