Time management isn’t one of my strong points. But I’m working on it because I want to feel more organized and reduce my day-to-day stress. I’ve discovered some simple strategies for improving time management that are working for me and I’d like to share them with you because I know they’ll work for you, too.
As a wife, mother, hospital nurse case manager, graduate nursing student, and now blogger, I really have my plate full. My life–just like anyone else’s–consists of deadlines, due dates, commitments, and obligations. It’s so easy to get sucked into doing one thing and then at the end of the day realize that there were so many other tasks that needed to be done, too.
Part of my time management struggle had to do with focusing so much on one task, that I forget there are others. And sometimes, those others are more important or even urgent. I also struggle with being distracted by my smart phone and by social media
The most stressful thing for me, though, was when I realized that I’d forgotten all about something that is very, very important. This happened to me several weeks ago when I was going through a class syllabus and realized I’d forgotten all about a paper I was supposed to write. I discovered this the day before the paper was due. At least I discovered it before and not after!
This was when I realized I really had a problem and decided to do something about it.
How I improved my time management skills
These are the steps I took to improve my time management skills. I work on them every day–it’s important to stay diligent at first until they become second nature.
1. First things first: analyze how you spend your time
Before you can plan how and when to work on tasks, you need to have an understanding of how you are spending your time now. One of the most important reasons for this is that it’s important to know when you are most productive so you can plan the pressing tasks during that time.
2. Keep a To Do list and use a planner
You need to keep a To-Do list. You’ll have all your tasks in one place and you can use it to assign priorities to your tasks. As you use it, you’ll start to realize that you feel way more organized, you’re not forgetting things that need to be done, and that your stress level has come down a notch or two. It’s important to keep your list current. Look at it often to make sure it’s up-to-date and carry it with you in case you need to add to it.
I highly recommend using a planner to keep your life in order. Whether you use an app on your phone or tablet, or go old school and keep a paper planner or journal, you’ll find that keeping all your life’s plans in one place will really help you to improve your organization and time management.
Cozi is a fantastic app for your phone. I got it several years ago to help keep our family’s activities organized and it has been very helpful for that. But it isn’t just a calendar. Cozi also has a lists function (groceries, to-do, add your own lists, etc.), as well as a recipes function. With Cozi Gold, you can keep track of your contacts and birthdays, as well. To be honest, I’d forgotten about the lists function. I’m using the To-Do list regularly now and am making the most of this great app. I sync my written To-Do list with my Cozi To-Do list daily.
3. Set goals
Goals can be personal or general, but one thing they should always be is S.M.A.R.T.
Here’s an example of one of my goals: Have a Virginia nursing license in place by May 31 for summer semester clinical in Virginia. This goal is specific (tells what I need, by when, and why), measurable (this goal is measured by the presence or absence of a Virginia nursing license on May 31), attainable (I know that I can get this license if I take the necessary steps to do so), relevant (I need the license to practice nursing during my clinical preceptorships in Virginia), and time-bound (I have indicated May 31 as my personal deadline to get the license).
3. Assign levels of importance to your tasks
Look over your To-Do list. Note deadlines and due dates. Note the level of importance as “important” or “urgent”. Now group your tasks as subheadings under the headings “URGENT” and “IMPORTANT” on a piece of paper, with tasks that need to be finished first at the top of each group. Obviously, urgent tasks with imminent deadlines need to be tackled first, but try to spend most of your time on important tasks so that they don’t become urgent.
4. Make a plan
Do you think in terms of 24 hours in the day? “I have so many things to do, but there are only 24 hours in the day–how am I supposed to get it all done??” My advice to you is to change your mindset to 168 hours in the week. You’ll be amazed at how your tasks feel so much more manageable when you think of it that way. As you begin to block out time to work on things, plan to work on each task a little bit every day with the goal of completing your tasks and projects over the course of a week.
The human attention span is something like 20-30 minutes. In my Instructional Methods class, we have learned to switch gears in our lesson plans every 20-30 minutes to keep the students engaged. It’s no different for you or me at home and at work. Break tasks into smaller chunks, give yourself a 10 minute break between “chunks”, and then switch to something else for a while. One thing you should definitely avoid doing, however, is multitasking. Work on one thing at a time. Multitasking may seem like a time-saver, but jumping back and forth will actually slow your progress down.
Remember when you analyzed how you spend your time and you figured out when you were most productive? Well, that’s the time when you’ll be planning to tackle your most challenging or biggest tasks and projects. Because you’re most productive during that time, you’ll get more done in less time.
5. Remember to make time for things you want to do
Or for time when you don’t want to do anything!
6. Manage distractions
Smart phones, social media, unexpected visitors… There are myriad distractions all day, but when you’re trying to get something done, distractions can really be a hindrance. Silence your phone, or better yet, leave it in another room so you’re not tempted to look at it (me!). Schedule time into your day for social media and stick to that schedule. Plan time for friends, neighbors, and family to come over so you know when to expect them and can plan your To-Do’s around social visits (but definitely plan those social visits–you need them!)
A few additional tips for improving your time management:
- Don’t be afraid to delegate tasks to others who are interested in helping and have the necessary skills to do the task.
- Build a reward system into your daily schedule. I reward myself for completing a task by giving myself 10 minutes to play Words With Friends or peruse Facebook on my phone.
- Let calls go to voicemail. Schedule time into your day for telephone calls and to take care of e-mail.
- For big projects, ask someone to check in with you. Making yourself accountable to someone else can help you get them done.
- Learn to say no.
- Use an alarm to help you stop a task, take a break, and move on to the next thing.
- Use unexpected time to take care of little things (while waiting in line at the grocery store, for instance).
You can do this!
Once you’ve begun keeping a To-Do list, are putting your goals in writing, are prioritizing your tasks and projects, and have written out a daily plan for working on those tasks and projects, you’ll soon find that things are getting done! You’ll feel less stressed and way more organized. I promise.