Time Management: A Must-Have Life Skill
Detailed techniques and suggestions to start mastering time management
by Patricia Marie Cordero Irizarry for Women in Ag Science
Whether you are a student, a busy parent, an entrepreneur, an artist, a boss, or an employee, time management is a crucial skill to have in every single aspect of our lives. It is the ability to effectively organize and plan the time between a set of activities, which includes the time it takes to finish each one and the time between them, according to the Cambridge Dictionary. Time management is making the best use of time considering that time is always limited (Juneja 2021).
No matter how hectic our schedules may seem, if we organize and prioritize our tasks, they can flow seamlessly. Just as any other skill, time management requires practice, and many, many trials and errors until you get it just right. The method of organization and planning will vary amongst individuals due to the diversity of lifestyles. Therefore, it can be hard to find a technique that is suitable for your specific routine. Because of this, I am sharing today six recommendations to keep in mind whenever you attempt to organize your agenda. It is not as scary as you may think!
1. Set realistic goals
First, I recommend establishing realistic goals for a specific period of time; say daily, weekly, or monthly objectives. I prefer to establish weekly goals because it gives me a sense of accomplishment at the end of the week, and feeling accomplished is a very important factor of time management. It gives you the reassurance that your approaches to achieving your goals are working.
It is crucial to think about the time each task requires to be completed successfully. Think about how much time you want to dedicate to each task in order to achieve your goal. For example, if your goal is to write your thesis, then you cannot expect to start and finish it within one week. You are definitely going to need more time. Therefore, setting the goal of finishing it in one week is not a realistic goal whereas writing the first 20 pages of your literature review is a good start. Also, consider what your attention span is. If you can write 20 pages in one sitting, then this can be a daily goal for you, perhaps even an evening one. However, if you lose focus in 40 minutes, then try to write 5 pages within an hour, and do this consistently for the next four days. By the weekend, you will have your 20 pages. Setting realistic goals will help you stay in tune with yourself because it will help you set priorities, which leads to recommendation #2.
2. Prioritize your tasks
Second, I recommend prioritizing the tasks according to the goals you have set. Some tasks may be more demanding than others, so it is important to evaluate them individually in terms of the time it takes to do them, the amount of work each one requires, the resources that you may need, the best hour of the day to do them, and the deadlines each one may have.
Continuing with our thesis example, you probably have a lot to juggle with like writing, cleaning the apartment, buying groceries, answering emails, writing reports, maintaining a social life, attending meetings and the list can go on! Where should he/she/them begin?!
One way to categorize tasks is by determining the urgency of your tasks. For example, if your refrigerator is empty, going to the grocery store should be prioritized because you cannot write a thesis while starving. However, if you have classes and/or meetings scheduled, these should go first. Perhaps a short break (to exercise, eat, unwind, pay bills) in between. Then, get some grading done and finally, finish the day with 2-3 hours on the thesis. Cleaning and socializing can be left for the weekend to serve as a break from the academic workload. Another categorization method is to estimate the amount of time a task will take and to work on the longest tasks first and then on the shorter and lighter tasks. This way, you’ll be decreasing the workload throughout the day. In my experience, by the end of the day, I feel most tired and prefer to do lighter tasks before going to bed than heavier ones.
There are several other methods, such as the 4Ds, Eisenhower Power Matrix, Moscow Method, which you can learn about here. Overall, determining which tasks need to be done first and which can wait for later on is vital for organizational success.
3. Designate a time for each task
This one goes in hand with #2 but it is a tricky one because it does not work for everyone. However, establishing the periods of time in which you will be working is extremely beneficial. Nonetheless, being flexible with time is equally important.
In our thesis example, you should designate 2-4 hours per day just to work on your chapters. Because a graduate student also has a lot on his/her/their shoulders, it is crucial to set time apart for writing because it takes a lot of time and energy. I suggest setting a period of time and day to work on it and be consistent with it as if it were a class. The same can apply to other tasks, such as meetings with employees, content editing, exercising, even cooking.
This may feel as if you are falling into a routine, which works for some, but not for others. Some people need spontaneity to function, but how often will you feel spontaneous enough to sit down and write a thesis? Not so often is my guess, and this is why I recommend designating specific times for specific tasks. However, flexibility is always welcome.
4. Stick with your plan
Consistency is fundamental for effective time management because it helps create a sense of reliability in yourself, and not depend on others for you to work. When you set a time to work on a task, do your absolute best to comply with it. Be very serious about your plan and stick to it no matter what. This will encourage you to be responsible for yourself, and you will demonstrate to others how committed you are to your goals.
It will be easier to be consistent some days than in others simply because you will not feel the same way every day. There are times when we are sad, frustrated, and tired and we feel like we cannot function. This is where discipline comes in, where we grow as individuals and learn to face our insecurities by sticking with the plan no matter the adversities. It requires great strength to be consistent, but the more you practice it, the stronger you will get and the easier it will be. Trust the process.
5. Keep yourself focused
One of the most difficult aspects of time management is maintaining a consistent focus. Our attention span can vary depending on our mood, the workload we have, how much sleep we got, what food we ate and many other factors. Many people feel discouraged when they lose focus and get angry with themselves. Instead, try to interpret that as a sign from your body and mind; they are telling you something important! Focus is like a muscle, it needs to be trained, which also means it needs to rest so, go easy on yourself.
In my case, listening to music helps me focus but my mood varies, so I don’t play the same playlist every time I work. Some people take short breaks during their tasks such as working for 25 minutes and resting for 5. This helps alleviate the weight of the task and gives you something to look forward to; closing your eyes for 5 minutes can really make a difference! Others need to disconnect to focus, so putting your phone in Airplane Mode or handing it to someone else can help.
Your working area can also affect your focus. Clean, organized, and decluttered areas are highly encouraged. Also, try to eliminate distractions around you. Communicate with those around you that you plan to work for a specific amount of time so they don’t interrupt you. These can be your allies and hold yourself accountable, so allow them to help you too. Remember that your focus is like a spotlight, whatever you focus on is what you will see clearly, so try to avoid multitasking.
6. Be reasonable
Some days are harder than others and thus, more rest is needed in some than in others. Therefore, it is important to be reasonable with yourself and recognize when you need to stop, take a break, and rest. You may need to switch your methods and try new things, and this is all part of the process. Time management is a very personal skill and it must be tailored to your specific needs. You may compare notes with someone else, but what works for them may not work for you. Breaktime is very different for everybody too. Exercising between tasks works for me, but others may need a nap, a coffee, a conversation, an episode, or a mini dance session.
Rest is as important as consistency, so you need to include days off in your agenda. Just as you designate time for your tasks, designate time for yourself, to do things that you enjoy as well as time for your loved ones. Leave some free time during the day too. Do not overload your schedule to work every hour of every day because self-care is an everyday matter too.
Ironically, acing time management takes time, so be patient with yourselves.
It is a skill that will transform your life and your productivity. No matter your age, your career path, or your lifestyle, having effective time management will make you a more punctual, disciplined, and reliable individual. It can also help reduce your stress and anxiety because you know that you will be able to complete the tasks you are determined to do. Most importantly, you will understand the value of your time and effort, and thus, you will never take them for granted.
The best thing of all is that you are not alone on this! If you are feeling overwhelmed or are unsure on how to prioritize tasks, you can always ask for help or time management advice from those around you. Don’t feel pressured to have to figure it out on your own. Time management is all about doing the right thing at the right time, even seeking help. As the saying goes, time is of the essence, and once used, it will never come back, so use it wisely!
If you enjoyed this article and want to learn more about time management, I highly recommend the article written by WAGS team member, Juliana González-Tobón, titled Do You Want to Master Your Time? 5 Tips to Start!