When it comes to time management, some people have it down while others shudder at the thought. For those of us who are task-oriented, or high in conscientiousness on the Five Factor Model of Personality, managing our time is easy because it tends to come naturally. For others who were not born with an innate talent of managing their own time, the good news is you can still have the capacity and resources to learn good time management skills to become more successful.
In my last post, Budgeting for Success, I used a phrase that applies not only to finances but also to time management: organize and prioritize.
Organizing your time involves listing out all the things you need or want to get done in a specific time frame. Some people can do this in their head. Others like myself do better to write things down in an actual list. If you are just getting started on developing your organizational skills, I recommend writing it down or typing up a list to start out with, and once you become proficient you can adjust your method to what works best for you.
Now that you have a list of things you need or want to accomplish, you must prioritize which tasks to work on first and which ones can or should wait until a later time. You will need to look at things like due dates, things that must be done within a specific time frame, and tasks that must be completed before other tasks can be started on. You should also factor in how long each task will take, if possible.
One of the best tools you can use for time management is a calendar or day-planner. Depending on where you go, you can buy them for fairly cheap or you can create your own paper copy to print out yourself. Below are examples I have created that you are welcome to use.
Most email services offer free online calendars that will provide you with reminder notifications by email or notification straight to your smart phone. This is a great resource, as it will keep up with your time for you and direct you on when to do what.
Another helpful tool is a routine. Developing a structured routine is helpful at making you more efficient at using the time you have set aside for a particular task. For example, when I first arrive to work in the mornings, the first thing I do is check my email and phone messages. Once that is done, I refer to my calendar to see what is due for today or the upcoming week and I create my to-do list. Then I get started on crossing things off my list! My afternoons are generally reserved for appointments I have to make outside the office.
It is easy to get caught up in the procrastination pitfall. Research indicates that about 20-30% of people are habitual procrastinators (Ashforth, 1996). Waiting until the last minute to get something done sometimes has its benefits. It gives you time to do other things first, and sometimes it even helps you have better focus or creativity when you do finally get to the task. People sometimes find temporary relief from stress and anxiety when procrastinating, which effectively reinforces the behavior of procrastination (Ashforth, 1996). However, in general and in the long-run, procrastinating puts unnecessary stress on yourself and can put you in a bind if unexpected tasks arise that you must tend to with higher priority. If you don’t finish something on time, you then risk the impression on others that you are not professional or reliable. Worse yet, you may risk the possibility of reprimand or some other form of punishment, whether it be from a figure of authority or from suffering some type of natural consequence.
So how can you overcome the procrastination? Research indicates several self-regulating approaches to stop putting off those unpleasant but necessary tasks to deal with later.
- Break down tasks: One approach is to break down the task into smaller components to work on little by little (O’Reilly, 2007).
- Track your progress: Tracking your progress can also be helpful, and seeing what you’ve done and what you still have left to go on pen and paper has been shown to be an effective motivation tool for many (O’Reilly, 2007).
- Reward yourself: When we only get a task done because the alternative of not getting it done would be more unpleasant than actually doing the task, rewarding yourself for getting it done can be highly effective (O’Reilly, 2007). This is because tying the reward to the completion of a specific task creates a positive reinforcement which not only serves as a motivation but also a conditioning to associate the task as a more positive experience to begin with (O’Reilly, 2007).
- Just do it: O’Reilly (2007) states that if you start working on a task with the intention of only working on it for a short time-frame, chances are you might just get yourself absorbed in doing the task and you get a lot more done than you had anticipated. Not to mention, the gratification of knowing a task is done and behind you tends to be a lot more gratifying than knowing the task is still ahead looming over you to do later.
Set Your Goals:
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Ashforth, B. E. (1996). Procrastination and task avoidance: Theory, research, and treatment. Review Canadienne des Sciences de l’Administration, 13(2), 182-183.
O’Reilly, S. (2007). How to … beat procrastination. Occupational Health, 59(12), 26.