Does the mere sight of your to-do list send you into panic mode? It seems like the 24 hours in a day isn’t nearly enough time to do all the things you have to do, let alone want to do.
Unfortunately, constantly racing against the clock, stressing over meeting deadlines, and feeling like you’re held hostage by your to-dos is no way to live. It can raise our stress levels and seriously affect our mental and physical health. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
What Is Time Management?
When we talk about time management, we’re not really talking about managing time—as much as we wish we could, we have no control over how much time we get and the speed at which it moves.
Managing time, then, is more about managing ourselves—our priorities, our energy levels, our attention, and our productivity. Effective time management means prioritizing what you have to do, organizing your life to make sure you get it done, and realizing your goals.
There’s so much to do, yet so little time. If we can’t make more time, then we simply must take some things off the plate. Having good time management skills means being able to identify what’s really important—versus what can wait until later, be delegated to someone else, or taken off your to-do list completely.
If you’re having trouble prioritizing your tasks, take a look at your values. Your values should be the guiding principles behind the goals you set and how you spend your time. If a task or activity doesn’t align with your values, take it off the list.
Time management and organizational skills go hand in hand. Once you’ve prioritized the important activities, there are systems you can implement to make sure you get them done. This includes things like keeping a to-do list, keeping track of deadlines, planning ahead, using a calendar, and setting reminders.
Outsourcing these administrative matters to your notebook or digital planner will not only help you avoid missed deadlines and stress, but will also leave you with more brainpower to tackle the tasks at hand.
Our lives are driven by goals. Whether it’s getting that professional certification, having a picnic with a friend, or buying a new kitchen appliance, everything starts with a goal. Whether or not you achieve your goals comes down to how you manage your schedule.
Using effective time management methods means breaking down each goal into manageable sub-goals and making time in your schedule to accomplish them.
Why Time Management Is Important
Hustle culture will have you believe that learning how to manage your time is all about being more productive, being able to work on multiple side hustles, and making more money.
While effective time management does help you get more done, its benefits extend much further than that. You can use time management to reduce stress, improve the quality of your work, achieve better work-life balance, and live a happier, more fulfilling life.
There’s a clear link between time management and stress levels. When you have too much on your plate, you worry about not being able to finish it all. If you’re prone to procrastination, you may leave things to the last minute and rush through them in a state of panic.
Poor time management not only increases stress levels, but it also leaves you with little to no time for stress-reducing activities like yoga, meditation, and getting good quality sleep, which only exacerbates the problem.
On the other hand, when you learn how to manage your schedule, you leave plenty of time to get everything done in a calm and focused state. Plus, you make time for relaxation, self care, and leisure activities, helping reduce stress levels even further.
Have you ever caught yourself saying “I work better under pressure”? This is a lie that we tell ourselves to excuse leaving things to the last minute.
When you have ample time to get your work done, your brain has the freedom to be its most focused and creative. Not to mention, you often finish with enough time to make edits and small improvements, making your final output that much better.
When you have limited time to get something done right before a deadline, it may feel like you’re working well, but it’s simply because your brain has no other choice. What you end up with, however, is a spike in stress hormones and a finished product that should probably be considered a draft, rather than the final version.
Our lives should never be all about work. We need time to relax, take care of ourselves, play, and spend time with friends and family. The problem is, many of us prioritize work over all these things and deem them less important.
Say you have a critical project deadline at midnight. What tends to happen is that you wake up in the morning feeling like you have an entire day to finish it. So what do you do? You take the entire day to finish it, of course, getting distracted and taking frequent breaks to procrastinate. At the end of the day, you feel drained because you feel like you worked the entire day and had zero time for leisure.
On the other hand, when you learn to manage your time, you’re able to get your work done and spend time recharging by yourself or with others. People who understand the importance of a healthy work-life balance schedule their self care and social activities first and don’t let themselves give up that time for anything. Work gets scheduled around these blocks of time, and since the remaining space is limited, there’s no time to get distracted or procrastinate.
The above three points all lead to a sense of happiness and fulfillment. Having control of your time means you have the freedom to set professional and personal goals, then go out and achieve them with focus, determination, and confidence.
Your life becomes exactly what you want it to be. You have time to maintain meaningful relationships, enjoy fulfilling hobbies, take care of your body, decorate your home, give back to your community, travel, and cross things off your bucket list.
Sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? It isn’t! Keep reading to learn proven ways to reach your time management goals and upgrade your life.
How to Manage Time Effectively
Here are 10 ways to improve time management in your life and reduce stress:
1. Remember Your Why
Is there something you want to be doing but can’t seem to find time for? Maybe it’s working on a creative project, exercising, or simply spending more time with family and friends.
Remember that when you waste time putting off doing something you have to do, you’re also neglecting the things you want to do. Use this as motivation to become better at time management so you can ultimately do both.
2. Take Care of Resistance
Sometimes, we procrastinate on important tasks because we face resistance. Resistance comes in many forms—fear of failure, fear of success, feeling inadequate for the task at hand, or not having a clear plan are just a few examples.
If you find yourself procrastinating, try to get to the root of the problem. Sometimes all it takes is a mindset shift, a bit of planning, or a quick pep talk in the mirror to get yourself going.
3. Get to Know Yourself
Part of effective time management is the ability to manage your energy. Our energy and willpower fluctuate throughout the day, and we all experience peaks and valleys at different times. Some of us are better at tackling hard tasks first thing in the morning, while others love to ease into their day before focusing on challenging to-dos.
Pay attention to your own energy levels. Once you can identify clear patterns, you can use them to your advantage and structure your day accordingly.
4. Break Down Your Goals
In order to manage your time well, you have to have a clear understanding of how long things take. Say, for example, that you have to create a project plan. Instead of giving yourself two hours to complete the entire task, break it down into manageable chunks, such as doing research, writing a draft, and making edits. Research will probably take at least an hour, as will writing the draft, and edits will probably take 30 minutes. So your best bet is to give yourself at least 2.5 hours.
This is even more important for big goals. In fact, breaking them down into sub-goals will not only help you better estimate the time needed to accomplish them, but you’ll find yourself much more focused as you get down to work.
5. Plan Ahead and Prioritize
Planning is an essential tool for effective time management. Start by making a list of all the things you have to and want to do. Then prioritize them in order of importance or deadlines (remember to avoid letting leisure activities simply slide to the bottom of the list).
Next, plan out your day in a way that includes the top items on your list. If you have trouble fitting them in, you prioritized too many to-dos. See if you can move them to the next day, delegate them to someone else, or take them off the list entirely. Remember that your time is precious, so only spend it doing things that truly align with your goals and values.
6. Stay Organized
There are countless tools available to help us stay organized with the way we manage our time. Not everything will work for you, so spend some time trying out different systems until you find one you like.
Whether you prefer digital tools or a notebook and pen, you’ll probably need some sort of note-taking system, a calendar, a planner, or a project management tool. These will help you keep track of your plans and important deadlines and stay on track.
7. Try Calendar Blocking
You may already be keeping a to-do list, but the trouble with to-do lists is that their items don’t translate into real-life blocks of time. It’s easy to add something to a to-do list, but much harder to actually find the time to get it checked off.
Calendar blocking solves this problem by moving your to-do list into your calendar. Since each item on your list requires actual time, you would schedule it in the calendar, just as you would a meeting. For example, “Create project plan” becomes an event in your calendar that you commit to doing between 10 am and 1 pm next Tuesday.
Having a visual representation of your to-dos and treating them like events you can’t miss will help you stay accountable and actually get them done.
8. Try Time Theming
Do you wear more hats than you can handle? It’s hard to imagine how all your different tasks are supposed to fit together into one day.
Time theming breaks down the days of the week into their own themes. For example, Mondays are for planning, Tuesdays are for administrative work, Wednesdays are for meetings, and so on. Doing this allows you to better plan and prioritize all your tasks without feeling overwhelmed.
It can also do wonders for your ability to focus. Imagine being able to spend all of Monday focusing on your goals, without having to respond to emails or attend meetings.
9. Create Routines
Our brains are creatures of habit. When you create routines around when, where, and how you work, you make it much easier for yourself to focus and be productive. This can look like doing hard tasks between 9 am and 11 am, responding to emails between 11 am and 12 pm, lunch at 12 pm, easy tasks between 1 pm and 3 pm, and so on. (Again, remember to keep your own energy peaks and valleys in mind).
You can also turn your productive time into a bit of a ritual—create a cozy workspace, put on some music, light a candle, and sip on a delicious hot beverage.
10. Remove Distractions and Time Wasters
Effective time management is all about paying attention to the right things, so one of the worst things you can do is let yourself get distracted by meaningless tasks and time-wasting activities.
Do what you have to do to eliminate distractions—put your phone on silent, use a browser extension to block websites that enable procrastination, and close your door.
Be a Master of Your Time
Use these tips to take control of how you spend your time and watch it transform all areas of your life, from your stress levels and mental health to your overall happiness.