Whether you are working on a big design project with a tight timeline or simply cooking dinner, time management is of utmost importance. (Obviously, we won’t be discussing cooking time management, but always set a timer for the pasta.) Time management makes the difference between crumbling under the pressure of tackling an extremely stressful workload and being able to spread the workload out, which in turn makes it a much less stressful situation.
Think About Your Routines
Take a moment to reflect on what your time management currently looks like. Do you wake up at the last possible moment, sit up in bed, put the laptop on your lap, and get straight to work? Do you scroll on social media a bit too much? Do you make time to watch TV or do you watch TV while you try to get work done?
Check your screen time metrics on your phone, look at your text history, check in with your DVR or your gaming console. Make notes of how much time you spend doing what. Understand what your schedule is, and set some goals. What time of day are you most productive? Would you like to get out of bed before you start working? Would you like to stop dillydallying in general? Would you like to do a bit more dillydallying?
If you’re not a list maker, it’s time to become one. Write down all the things you need to accomplish for the day, from grocery shopping to calling your friend to finish that draft of your project to meet with your boss. Writing your tasks down takes them out of your head, where they can balloon up into stressful events that are bigger than they actually are and brings them into the real world, where they are simply things you need to accomplish.
From there, prioritize. What is the most pressing? What is important to your work? What is important to you and your personal goals? Get acquainted with the Eisenhower matrix, a little formula that helps you figure out how to prioritize your time. The Eisenhower matrix asks you to consider the difference between what’s important and what is urgent because those two things are very different. While urgent tasks are pressing and time-sensitive matters, important tasks speak to deeper needs that are more about what you value and what you actually want to accomplish. It’s important not to get these two mixed up.
The Eisenhower Matrix lets you divide your tasks up into four quadrants: 1) important and urgent 2) important but not urgent, 3) urgent but not important, and 4) not important and not urgent. From there you can really figure out in what order you want to accomplish the tasks at hand and budget your time accordingly.
And when you accomplish each task, there is no sweeter satisfaction than crossing said task off your list. (My guilty pleasure is writing down things I’ve already accomplished just to cross them off, which I’m sure Eisenhower wouldn’t love, but you know, don’t get too crazy with it.)
It’s time to translate your goals into action. This is probably very unsurprising, but your calendar is your greatest tool when it comes to time management. Try planning out your entire day. Color coding your calendar can also help you organize priority or what sector or project each task/meeting/work time belongs to—which is especially handy if you are freelancing and juggling multiple projects.
Obviously, you want to plot out meetings and work-related things like project milestones. Breaking down a long-term project into feasible, bite-sized milestones is crucial for accomplishing big items. So take a minute to figure out what good check-in points would be for the project—and stick to them.
Also schedule out time to work on projects and honor that time, making yourself unavailable to other projects/meetings (unless those meetings are very important, obviously). If you use an office-wide calendar system, creating personal meetings just to work can help you prioritize that work and help others schedule around your time (which can, in and of itself, cut down on unnecessary meetings).
It’s also important to actively put your free time in your calendar, rather than letting your free time simply be the cracks between your other events. It may seem counterintuitive to make an event or a reminder to relax, but it’s about creating a more tangible way to divide your time and help you stay present
On that note, resist the urge to multitask. Plenty of research has found that trying to multitask doesn’t allow you to do multiple things efficiently—it actually only makes you do each activity worse and takes more time. When you block your time out, try your best to focus on the project at hand. If you’re easily distracted by the internet, consider using a browser extension to cut down on distractions.
Time management is all about creating new routines and sticking to them, which can be pretty hard and very annoying at first. But it’s also your best bet against, well, yourself. The thing about time is, it’s always running out. That in and of itself can be stressful, but with the right approach to breaking your projects and responsibilities down, you can make the most of it, while still having time for yourself. The other thing about time is that life happens—no matter how much you prepare and plan ahead, sometimes things just get in the way. Time management is about finding the balance between organizing yourself and being able to go with the flow of life.
About the author.
Sam Mani writes about work, creativity, wellness, and equity — when she’s not cooking, binging television, or annoying her cat.