Time management is one of those so-useful-it-hurts skills that only weird people seem to have. But even if you weren’t visited by a magical fairy on your first birthday and blessed with the ability to use your time well (and, let’s face it, not many of us were), you can still learn the six basic rules of time management, so that instead of wasting your entire day on things that don’t matter, you’ll be the architect of your life. Because this is what great time management skills can do for you: help you take control of your life’s direction.
And even if you’re a consistent overachiever, it’s always good to get a refresh of the basics. So sit back, grab a decaf and let’s go.
Basic rule 1: Keep a calendar
This may seem like advice straight from the University of Duh, but it’s something that not everyone does. But it’s one of the easiest and most useful of time management basics, especially now that most of us have access to an online calendar through our smartphone.
Calendars are a visual plan of our future. They help us organize our minds and give us a physical way to look over what we have to do.
If you actively keep a calendar, you’ll:
- Know where you’re supposed to be and when.
- Get reminders of deadlines e.g. essay deadlines, tax due dates and other stuff that it’s really bad to forget about.
- Never forget someone’s birthday again. You’ll be a much better friend.
- Get an accurate picture of what your day, week, month or year looks like. When we don’t have an overview of how busy we are, it’s easy to underestimate the time needed for each appointment or task, and we often overrun. With an up-to-date calendar, you’ll also spot the gaps where you can book in some downtime.
Basic rule 2: Keep a to-do list
Get your tasks out of your head and down on paper/virtual paper. This way, you can free up some brainspace for tackling the tasks, rather than relying on your memory. Your to-do list is how you start being systematic about productivity. And once you complete your to-do list, it’s time to:
Basic rule 3: Prioritize:
Prioritizing is ordering your tasks so that the most important ones are the ones that you do first. What’s important is different for everyone. And what’s urgent might not be important. It’s for you to decide, and it depends on your goals. Be intentional. What are you aiming for? If your life goal is to write a bestseller, then our guess is that writing 500 words today is a more important task than dusting under the bed.
Even if some tasks seems more exciting (or less effort), it’s vital that you get the important but boring ones done first. And that means time well spent.
Basic rule 4: Don’t multitask. Because you can’t.
Multitasking is for people who are happy doing a lot of things not very well, and who wants to waste time doing that? Research suggests when you’re trying to do two things at once, these tasks are fighting for brainpower. Your brain toggles between tasks and doesn’t have time to develop proper thinking power for either. So, basically, you’ll be rubbish at both. You may think that you can write your best essay ever with one eye on the TV, but you can’t. Single tasking is a better use of time, as you’ll perform every task better.
Basic rule 5: Take a break
Managing your time also means managing your energy. Just because you are trying to be productive does not mean you should let yourself get burned out. After periods of focus, give yourself regular breaks. Science says that taking time out helps you be more productive.
Basic rule 6: Be consistent:
Consistency is the most difficult of the time management basics but it’s what will help you embed good time management habits. Keeping your calendar and to-do lists up to date, prioritizing, single tasking, and taking breaks won’t come naturally until you practise them every day, but once they become routine, they’ll become easier and as natural as that first cup of coffee. And the best part is that you’ll end up in a virtuous circle – the better you get at time management, the more of your life goals you achieve, and the more you’ll want to manage your time even better.
So, these are our top six time management basics. Have we missed anything? Let us know!