Time management is one of the hardest aspects of this adult life. As responsibilities mount, having the time to accomplish more becomes a task in and of itself. It all can get quite overwhelming between the 40-hour-plus work week of a full-time job, the unpredictable schedule of a part-time job, the desire to stay on track to your exercise goals, and all the needs you take for granted like eating, sleeping, and simply relaxing.
Though majority of the time, you're confident in your promise and ability to check everything off your to-do list, a lack of time management skills will leave you scrambling, stressed, and generally off track. In the moments of mounting stress, when you'd rather shut down than press on, there are strategies to make life easier – imagine that!
Whether you're a procrastinator, an overachiever, a mom, an entrepreneur, or all of the above, strategically managing your time is the only way to stay sane and also productive. To reveal some of the best tips and tricks to a more organized schedule, I consulted with experts Christina Hidek, organizing guru and de-cluttering coach in Cleveland, OH; Melinda Massie, owner of A Side of Fabulous; and Professional Organizer Rachel Rosenthal.
Here are 13 ways to get better at time management.
1Recognize Your Shortcomings
"If you don't feel you're very accomplished with time management, start small by bringing awareness to the situation. Take a week or two to write down everything that you do and how long it takes you to do it. Simply seeing where your time goes can be eye opening. Then if the time spent doesn't align with the goals, adjust as necessary until the majority of your time is spent on things that align with your goal," Massie reveals.
To see your daily accomplishments on paper will reveal gaps of time spent wasted, or time spent on activities that didn't bring you any closer to your goals. Once you've written everything down, you'll see where you can make adjustments for maximum productivity.
"If it takes less than five minutes, do it now. When you're scanning through your to-do list and see an easy task that you know will take under five minutes, address it right away. Clear your bucket of these easy to-dos so that you can focus your time and energy on the tasks that require the most attention. You'll thank yourself for clearing out these quick items so you're not adding to your already-long list of what needs to get done," Rosenthal tells me via email.
Responsibilities like paying bills or returning items to the store can be accomplished and checked off, making your workload feel significantly lighter.
3Test Out Specific Techniques
"I highly recommend the Pomodoro Technique. Here's to do it: Work for 25 minutes straight and then take a five minute break. After four rounds, take a 30-minute break before returning to work on the task. This technique keeps you focused on a task and allows you to block off your time to get more done in less time," Hidek suggests.
Treat your hours spent dedicated to work like a tabata workout routine: Stay totally focused for a certain amount of time to allow yourself a break before returning to be productive again.
"You may need extra focus and work with a 52/17 split – 52 minutes of focus followed by 17-minute break," Massie adds.
Another way to break down your tasks to feel more manageable is simply by mentally preparing for what's in store ahead of time.
As Rosenthal recommends, "Prepare the night before. Dedicate a bit of time each night to preparing for the next day. Review your schedule for the following day so that you know what to expect and how to prepare. For example, iron your work clothes, pack your gym bag, and prep your lunch so that your aren't rushed the next morning – especially if something unexpected comes up that throws your schedule off (kid tantrums, sleeping through your alarm, etc.)."
"The first step is to make a realistic plan and then stick to it. People tend to get off track when they are too optimistic about how much they can get done in a day. Instead of powering through everything on their mile-long list like some mythical creature, they instead get overwhelmed and feel like a failure! The best to-do lists are only five to seven items long. That's a nice, focused, and well-thought-out list! Not everything you could do should be on the list, but things you have to do and that you can do should be listed. ... Whether it's in a beautiful planner or on the back of a receipt, write down the plan for the day. After you finish a task, refer back to the list for guidance on what to do next," according to Hidek.
This is a simple step toward major productivity. Write down your big goals, align your small goals to those big goals, and press on with daily goals that will lead you closer to the big picture every day.
The hardest part of being productive is staying in the zone and avoiding distraction. Whether you're in an office, at home, or at a coffee shop, distractions are everywhere, but the biggest one is on your person: your cell phone.
"Stay off of the time-suck of social media! It takes 23 minutes to re-focus after getting onto social media. It's easy to get distracted, and lose track of time while you're watching the latest cute kitten video. Turn off as many notifications as you can for all social media platforms, your email, and anything else that acts as a shiny object distraction for you," Hidek advises.
6Plan For Necessary Breaks
"If you want to schedule in tv time, then carve out some time for it. There's nothing wrong with taking a break. In fact, it can help you re-focus and recharge in order to power through the rest of your day," Hidek recommends.
Don't feel bad or guilty for scheduling breaks into your days. It's possible you're working on a heavy task, or feeling mentally or physically bogged down which affects your overall performance. Give yourself time to recoup.
"I think it's perfectly great to take some downtime and spend 30 minutes to an hour with your favorite TV show. We need moments of rest to give us the energy to maintain focus and times of high productivity without burning out," Massie adds.
7Set Realistic Expectations
"This point goes back to being realistic about schedules and what can be done in any given day. If you have a full day of meetings at work that you must attend, don't expect to be able to have enough time to schedule appointments during the day," Hidek states.
To be an overachiever is both a blessing and a curse. Be honest with yourself and your abilities, while maintaining a healthy outlook and remembering everyone works on the same number of hours in a day.
8Reconsider Your Passion Projects
"If the thought of your side hustle exhausts you, you've chosen the wrong side hustle. Choose one that the mere thought of energizes you. If the mere thought of it only on the side exhausts you, you should know that full-time entrepreneurship isn't any easier," Massie tells Bustle.
It's admirable to chase after your dreams and work towards realizing your passion as a full-time career. As Massie says, however, if you're constantly feeling stressed or inundated by the pressure to do more, you've likely come one step closer to achieving an even bigger task: discovering your true passion. If you're not enjoying it, it's not for you.
"Side hustles only happen when you make time for them. Find a few hours a few times a week for the side hustle. Write it on your calendar and then make it happen," Hidek further details.
9Prioritize On Paper
"Get a weekly calendar that has the day broken into at least three slots – morning, afternoon, evening, if not hourly – and start with filling in all of the non-negotiable. Things that cannot be re-scheduled and have to happen at a certain time. Then, take your list of things that have to be done and start filling in the holes until you have realistically achievable schedules for each day and week," Hidek tells me via email.
Identify the big-picture tasks and priorities first, then everything else will fall into line. On each day, you know what's most important to accomplish, and if you manage to knock off the rest, you deserve a cookie.
To reiterate that point, Massie says, "We only have a certain amount of time in the day and can't realistically do everything. Knowing your goals and top priorities allows you to say no to the things that don't fall in line."
Again, it's crucial to say no to the opportunities that don't align with your current goals. It's also essential to your happiness and wellbeing that you continue to make "me time" to have your mental check-ins and reboot.
"Make yourself as much of a priority as your career. Just like you would schedule a meeting with your colleague, schedule time for the rest of your life. For example, if you are looking at your calendar and know you have an open weeknight, block off and hour to handle a personal task that you need to get done. Your entire life doesn't have to be scheduled and rigid, but making tasks that you may not typically get inspired to do on your own (like getting an oil change or cleaning out your closet) a priority by putting them on the schedule should help you remain accountable," Rosenthal adds.
10Alleviate Stress By Removing Fluff
"If you feel overwhelmed by your schedule, think about what can be removed. As you look at each item on your calendar, do you think, 'Hell yeah!' or, 'Oh no!'? Remove the things that fill you with dread. Fill that space with more items that move you towards your goals and are things you look forward to," Massie suggests.
Not everything needs to be done today, tomorrow, or even this week. Give yourself a break and re-evaluate without pressure.
11Block Out Your Schedule
"If your schedule is ever-changing due to having a few part-time jobs, [other commitments, etc.], embrace that. Whenever you get your schedules, block them out in the calendar. Then, block out time for the other commitments you want to make. If you have the luxury within your part-time job, tell them when you can work and allow them to work around you. In addition to my very full-time business, I'm the volunteer Marketing Director for a non-profit and I perform occasionally as well. Everything gets blocked into the calendar so that I'm able to accomplish what I want to do," Massie reveals.
Take advantage of a sporadic schedule by fitting in opportunities where you otherwise couldn't. Again, blocking off time in an organized manner will keep your head from spinning.
To stay on schedule, Rosenthal says, "Set a timer. Whether it's while you are relaxing in front of the TV or are working on a work project with a tight deadline, we recommend setting a timer so that you know when it's time to move on. It's all too easy to get distracted by Netflix marathons or fall deep into a work project, but when there are other important tasks that are equally time sensitive you'll want to make sure you are keeping your time scheduled enough so that you can divide your time up properly."
12Establish A Daily "Top Three"
According to Rosenthal, it's important to "create your daily top three. You likely have a running list of everything that you need to get done in the near future, so first things first is get all of those to-dos down on paper (or electronic list or whatever system works best for you). Now, scan through the list and pull out the top three things that need to get done above everything else. This will help you prioritize everything that needs to get done and give yourself a realistic goal for the day. Regardless of what comes up or any free time that you have, these three things need to get handled by the end of the day."
Your top three will leave you feeling like no day is wasted. As long as your top three tasks have been checked off, it's a good day.
13Experiment; Keep It Light
"Don't make it too hard. Many make this much harder on themselves than it needs to be. Approach it from the aspect of play or experimentation. If one thing doesn't work, try something else. Keep trying until you land on something that works. Furthermore, realize that each day may be different and have different needs. Some days, the Pomodoro Technique will be perfect. Some days, you may have multiple meetings scheduled back to back and just fly through the day hoping for the best. Each day, our body and focus is different. Be aware of that and do what fits in best with your needs of the day," Massie says.
Don't put too much pressure on yourself to do it all. You're only one person, and there's only so much time in the day. Do what you can, with what you have. There are no rules to time management and productivity, as long as what needs to be done is done at the end of a day.
Time management techniques are a set-in-stone method of easing your worries and stresses by way of accountability. Hold yourself accountable and view each day as a challenge you're ready and willing to take on.