Improve Your Time Management Skills

Good time management strategies and tips for those who find that time is never enough. Making lists of tasks and prioritizing them is important.

Time. There never seems to be enough of it, especially now. Everyone is moving at full speed and there's still not enough hours in the day to get everything done that we want to do.

This is especially true for those of us who are students or who work more than one part time job.

MAKE LISTS

List making is a good way to not only keep track of things you want to buy, but also of upcoming tasks that need to be done, deadlines, etc.

A list also has the advantage of allowing you to see all of your obligations on the page, which reduces the stress of being over-obligated. Somehow, when you can reduce the things that need to be done to a short piece of paper, it doesn't seem quite so intimidating.

I begin every day with a list of the things I need and want to accomplish that day. This helps me not only focus but remember things, like my 8:00 p.m. meeting tonight. I also have a white board which I use to keep track of tasks that last longer than one day. That way, I can see at a glance what assignments, meetings and classes are coming up.

Lists also offer opportunities to celebrate. It feels REAL good to cross off an item. And when my white board starts to look empty, it's a REAL nice feeling.

TO SCHEDULE OR NOT TO SCHEDULE?

This decision is up to you. Some people work very well when they give themselves, say, an hour to do their math homework, or 45 minutes to clean the kitchen. If this works for you, then by all means, schedule out the amount of time you think you will need to spend on each task.

But be realistic. Don't, for example, schedule five minutes for your chemistry subject reading. And be flexible; often, tasks take longer than we think they will going in.

A time based schedule has never worked very well for me. It's easier for me to arrange my tasks in the order of importance, which is my next tip:

PRIORITIZE

Once you've made your list, number the items in order of priority. Very often, we're too busy because we create obligations for ourselves. So take a long hard look at your list and think: Do you really need to go to the store today or can the bread stretch until tomorrow? Do you really need to do laundry or can everyone go one more day on the clothes in their closet? How important is it to have lunch with your mom or to call your cousin?

For example, my projects from bigger clients have higher priority over other tasks. Arranging my tasks in order of priority assures that I'll get the most important things accomplished. The rest can wait, if it needs to.

SET REASONABLE GOALS

I'm an eternal optimist. So, I tend to set unrealistic goals. Something like "write 5 chapters of my novel today." Fine, if I don't have anything else on my list. Often, I find myself scaling back my list of projects to be done, into manageable amounts.



For instance: instead of taking on the competitor on many fronts, plan to tackle him on just one front for a start. Instead of doing a 5 mile walk, do a 2 mile walk. Read 1 chapter of your assignment instead of three. When we set unreasonable goals, we tend to get frustrated when we can't complete them. Setting smaller goals allows you to actually accomplish them, which gives you a great feeling of satisfaction.

BREAK TASKS INTO SMALL CHUNKS

This is similar to the goals strategy. It's the way Cathy (of the cartoon strip) eats a pie; one small piece at a time. For me, taking on 10 projects is daunting. Taking on 2 or 3 is easier to do, even enjoyable.

Of course, the one caveat with this plan is that you need to plan ahead. No procrastination allowed here.

MULTI-TASK

Learn to do several things at one time. This applies to women. According to psychological studies, most men do much better by manging only one task at a time.

If you're going into the basement anyway, carry the laundry downstairs. If you're going to the bedroom, take those books back to your bookshelf. It's amazing how much time we can waste by doing things one at a time, when tasks can often be combined for efficiency.

REWARD YOURSELF

Finished half your list? Take a break, read a book just for fun, have a snack, go for a walk. Give yourself a ten minute break and stretch or play with the dog or the kids. The promise of a reward for finishing a task can be motivating. I often reward myself with breaks or watching movies after finishing a project. This makes me more motivated to get back to the rest of my list.

ELIMINATE DISTRACTIONS

Some days, it seems like the whole world is out to distract me from what I have to get done. The phone rings every 5 minutes, the dogs want out every ten, someone's at the door, and so on.

Try to minimize distractions. Let the answering machine take your calls. Let the dogs out and make them stay outside for a while, to keep them out of my hair. Sometimes, you have to say "later" to your friend or significant other when they want to do something. It's not a crime to put your own needs first, at least some of the time.

BUILD IN SOME FUN TIME

There's a lot of truth in that old saying about all work and no play. Schedule some relaxation time. Give yourself a day off or a half a day. Spend some time doing things you enjoy but don't have to do. Remember the idea of rewarding yourself? You can make a deal with yourself: if you work really hard on Monday, you can take Tuesday morning off and do something fun.

This is important. If we spend all our time doing work related tasks, we get even more stressed out. Plus, we become rather self absorbed and boring. Relaxation reduces stress and makes you a more likeable person.

Of course, there are other strategies you can use to manage your time, but these are the ones that work for me. Try some of them""maybe they'll work for you, too.

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