One of the most important skills that I have learned, and am still learning, is time management. I believe that this is one of the skills that every person needs to be successful. While I can’t claim to be an expert in the subject I can offer a few tips that have worked well for me. To begin, I will cover on using a list manager and touch on a good technique for building great task lists. Then I’ll focus on deadlines; why they’re important and how you can make them better. Finally, we’ll look at an important piece of self-knowledge: discovering your most productive time and protecting it. Let’s get started!
1) Using a list manager
I have found that keeping a list of all my to-dos to be incredibly helpful. I don’t forget important dates and while I have things on my list, I’m never bored. The biggest problem I have ever had with keeping a task list has been in keeping it in the right place. This is where having a list manager like Wunderlist has helped me. I can create a task, give it a due date, set a reminder, set it to repeat, flag it as a priority, but the most important feature is that it is accessible anywhere I have an internet connection.
When I assemble my list, I try to follow the Covey method, which has you rate a task based on its urgency and importance. Ok, that sounds a bit more complicated than it actually is. Check out the picture below. It really helps to make sense of the whole process.
Now, let’s try to put this into the context of planning around our class work. Pretend today is Wednesday:
- Discussion posts are typically due today, so posting your discussion would be considered important and urgent.
- Completing the weekly assignment, typically due on Sunday, is important, but not urgent.
- Accepting a phone call, reading that email or tweet that just came in, or responding to an IM may seem urgent, but ultimately it’s not important and it is just an interruption.
- Watching the latest episode of The Daily Show is not important and definitely not urgent, so it can wait on other stuff to get done first.
Hopefully you can see how powerful this can be for organizing your day-to-day. Most list managers,Wunderlist included, don’t feature a grid like the image above, but the process is still the same. When you set a due date, you are establishing the urgency of the task. By marking them as a priority item, you are saying whether or not it is important. Same method, different approach.
2) Set deadlines
I’ve mentioned setting due dates several times already, but why is this important? For me, deadlines are goals to strive for. I know that if I don’t turn in my assignment by midnight on Sunday my grade will be affected, so I work hard to make sure that my assignments are turned in by the date set. This doesn’t leave much wiggle room however, so if your computer breaks or the internet decides to disappear on you, you’re in trouble.
A great solution to this problem is to set soft deadline. If your assignment is due on Sunday, make it due on Friday or Saturday instead. This gives you time to make some final tweaks, and helps you avoid issues with connectivity.
Another benefit to setting your own deadlines is that it helps prevent procrastination. In 1955, Cyril Parkinson coined the term “Parkinson’s law” which states: “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” Rephrased it means that if you have a week to do an assignment, it’s going to take you a week to do. If we set our own deadline and make the assignment due after three days, it’ll be done faster and leave us with more worry-free time to spend doing what we want.
3) Find your most productive time and guard it ruthlessly
Finding your most productive / creative time is an exercise in learning about yourself. This is probably the most difficult, but also the most rewarding thing you can do to increase your productivity. I’ve identified that most days between 2 PM and 4:30 PM is when I feel the most creative and the work I produce is of a higher quality. I schedule this time for any creative work and the key to this being effective time is eliminating distractions where you can.
When 2 o’clock chimes, I have an alert set to remind me that it’s time to start working on something creative. If what I’m currently working on can be finished in five minutes or less, I’ll get it done, but if it takes longer then it’s time to switch gears. Email and chat programs are the first things to get shut off. Next, I set my desk phone to Do Not Disturb, silence my cell phone and set it out of sight. Finally, since I share office space, I’ll put on a set of headphones and turn on some music that doesn’t have vocals as I find them distracting.
Since I started focusing on my productive time, I have found that I get an incredible amount of work done in a relatively short amount of time and I encourage you to try it for yourself. How do you find your most productive time? I’m sure there are many options out there, but I relied on keeping a time journal, noting trends, and lots of trial and error. I encourage you to do some research into the different methods of keeping a time journal and giving it a try for yourself.
I hope these tips have been helpful to you and that they help you improve your time management skills. If you have any questions, comments, or would like to suggest a future topic, please let me know below.