Most of us have heard the phrase, "Work smart, not hard" before. It's basically shorthand for knowing how to manage our time effectively and make life easier on ourselves by being as productive as possible.
And that's all well and good, but in today's world of Twitter, cell phones, and internet memes, efficiently managing our time has perhaps never been harder. It's just never been easier to find other things to do with our time than a necessary task at hand. If we don't feel like starting on that big paper, or doing our taxes, then our fingers are literally just a few short clicks away from an entire virtual universe of distractions. Not to mention there's still all the old-fashioned ways to be inefficient with our time, like getting into a super long conversation about the most recent Game of Thrones ep with an office-mate when you really should be finishing up that report.
Good time management is hard, but the good news is it's absolutely not impossible. And even if you'll never be an absolutely perfect, robot-like person who never wastes a single second of your day (and honestly, who is?), it's something you can definitely get better at with a few key hacks. If you find yourself struggling with time all too often, here are 11 super easy ways to become a time management master — or at the very least, get way better at it.
1. Set Internet Time Limits
In a piece for LifeHack on the habits of highly successful people, professional life coach Samantha Sutton recommended creating a time limit for your email and internet use. "Don’t fall into an email pit and spend the whole morning on email: set a time limit and address only the most important emails at that time," she said. I also find that setting an "internet limit" keeps me focussed on the task at hand (for example, looking up information or responding to an e-mail) and prevents me from going down a rabbit hole of click bait.
2. Take Five
A compilation piece for Entrepreneur on good time management recommended taking five minutes before each new task to reassess what your goals are before starting. For example, if you're about to get on a work call, or go into a meeting, remind yourself what you need to get out of it. This will help keep things focussed and efficient and will prevent the time from being misused.
3. Practice Ignoring People
This may sound harsh, but hear me out. That same Entrepreneur piece stressed the importance of not answering that phone call, text, or email just because it's there. If it's not something that needs to be addressed now and you're already in the middle of something important, just ignore it until you have time.
4. Turn Off Electronic Alerts
And leap-frogging off that last point is a personal tip. If you (like myself) find it super hard not to check your phone or email when you hear that familiar message alert, try to get in the habit of turning off alerts. It can be the difference between getting fully immersed in a task and stopping every few minutes to look at your phone.
5. Know Yourself
And this is another personal tip. Most of us have a time of day when we know we're most productive. For me, I'm a complete and utter morning person and know that I'm less and less productive the later in the day it gets. My roommate's the opposite. She can spend an entire day trying to get things done but doesn't really get focussed until early evening. Know yourself, and schedule tasks accordingly to best set yourself up for success.
6. Don't Undervalue Small Pockets Of Time
In a piece for Forbes, productivity expert Francis Booth said that we have a tendency to think, "I only have 30 minutes before my next appointment, that's not enough time to get anything done." However, there are usually a ton of tasks that take less than 20 minutes. Whether it be completing an excel or organizing paperwork, you can use this time to cross items off your list.
7. Follow The Two-Minute Rule
Productivity author James Clear said that if any of the tasks you are putting off will take you less than two minutes, just do them now. "It’s surprising how many things we put off that we could get done in two minutes or less," he said. "For example, washing your dishes immediately after your meal, tossing the laundry in the washing machine, taking out the garbage, cleaning up clutter, sending that email, and so on." So just do it.
8. Recognize When You Need A Break
Booth noted the importance of recognizing when you need to take a break. Trying to focus when your brain is clearly fried can be pointless, or at the very least can make a task take way longer than needed. Instead, take a walk around the block, or allow yourself some mindless internet time, and approach the task again when you've had time to recharge.
9. Constantly Re-Prioritize
In that same Forbes piece, Anita Attridge, a career and executive coach, recommended creating a To-Do list several times throughout the day, and to reshuffle priorities as needed. It's not uncommon for unexpected things pop up and displace other things at the top of your list, but this way you won't loose track of everything you want to get done.
10. Do The Most Important Task First
In a piece for The Creativity Post, Jordan Bates, founder of the site Refine The Mind, recommended always starting with your most important or dreaded task first. "This is the golden rule of time management," he wrote. "Each day, identify the two or three tasks that are the most crucial to complete, and do those first. Once you’re done, the day has already been a success."
11. Learn To Say No
Bates also stressed the importance of just learning to say no. "Making a lot of time commitments can teach us how to juggle various engagements and manage our time. This can be a great thing," he wrote. "However, you can easily take it too far. At some point, you need to learn to decline opportunities. Your objective should be to take on only those commitments that you know you have time for and that you truly care about."
Solid time management isn't a super secret or unattainable formula. It usually just comes down to limiting distractions and staying focussed on your top daily priorities. And the best part is, you'll be creating more time for the things you actually want to be doing — and who doesn't want more of that?