Raise your hand if you struggle with managing your time. Yes, I can confirm that my hand is raised too. The weather is becoming warmer, the birds are playfully chirping outside your window, and that pile of to-do lists you’ve made and remade is sullenly staring you down. Time management can be challenging, but it doesn’t have to be impossible.
It starts with shifting your mindset from being crisis-oriented and propelled by urgency (reactive) to being self-managed, satisfied, and balanced (proactive). An adrenaline boost will only take you so far before you reach the doorsteps of burnout. The following are six strategies you can use to become proactive about your time and get ahead of the curve for staying on track.
1 – Set goals
It can be fun to get in a car and drive for the sake of driving, but more often than not, you’ll eventually pick a destination to steer your course. The same concept applies to your work. By defining your professional goals from the start, you give yourself a clear destination to navigate towards without losing time trying to figure it out as you go. Plus, having defined goals gives you the added benefit of fueling you with a sense of motivation and purpose.
Tip: Define your professional goals by these time intervals: 90 days, monthly, weekly, daily.
2 – Track your tasks
Here’s a strategy you can apply right at this moment. Open up a document (or pick up a pen if you like to write things down like me) and do a brain dump. Every idea, project, and to-do item that comes to mind goes on the list. Get it all out there, and then take a step back.
What patterns are you noticing? Are there tasks you can group together? Which items come out on top when you sort them from high priority to low? Remember, just because it feels urgent doesn’t automatically mean it needs your immediate attention.
Tip: Create a master list to track all of your ideas, projects, and to-do items, and prioritize the ones that will have the biggest impact on your long-term goals.
3 – Block your calendar
Set yourself up for a productive week using a time template to block out chunks of your day for specific tasks. Have you noticed you are more productive in the late afternoon? Then book 3:00 PM to 5:00 PM on a Monday solely for production. Make this the time where you can sink fully into your work and crank out those deliverables without the distraction of emails, calls, or a family member asking what’s for dinner. Tailor your day and week to what is optimum for you.
Tip: Use a time template to organize your week and chunk your time for specific tasks.
4 – Rest and take breaks
Where is your water bottle? Did you find it? Great. Take this as your reminder to take a sip and hydrate. No strategy in the world will work if you aren’t taking care of your body and its needs. Make it a requirement for yourself to get up and do a ten-minute stretch or walk outside periodically throughout your day. Have your water be easily accessible, so you are staying hydrated. There will be a noticeable difference in your ability to focus and stay on task when you consciously replenish your energy.
Tip: Use a Pomodoro timer app to work in timed bursts before taking a rest break.
5 – Categorize emails
The quickest way to get off track with managing your time is the quicksand that is your inbox. You don’t even notice how far you’ve sunk until you glance at the clock and have to do a double-take because somehow, it’s been two hours since you first logged on. One strategy you can use is to apply the 4D system: do, delegate, delay, or delete. Do a preliminary sweep of your emails to label them with these categories, and do any emails that take less than 2-5 minutes to complete before diving deep with responses. You can use different label colors to take it a step further in creating a system for yourself that’s easily recognizable.
Tip: Do a sweep of your inbox to label emails as do, delegate, delay, or delete before diving in deep.
6 – Self-talk
We covered the importance of taking care of your physical health, but it is even more critical to invest in taking care of your mind. How are you talking to yourself when preparing for the workday? Simple adjustments to the words you’re using to think about a task can make a monumental impact on your motivation and overall satisfaction with your work.
Tip: Observe your self-talk and adjust as necessary. Examples include:
Have to → I choose to
I must finish → When can I start
I must be perfect → I can be perfectly human
Every small change you make today will reward you with a huge payoff down the road. All you need is a pinch of consistency and a dash of patience.
Do any of these strategies resonate with you? What tricks do you use now for staying on track? We’d love to hear you!
Resources for those interested in learning more about Time Management:
Time Management Book Recommendations:
The Power of Habit – Charles Duhigg
Eat That Frog – Brian Tracy
Kaizen – Multiple books available
Atomic Habits – James Clear
Flow – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
Time Management Subreddits:
Written by Harleen Bola