There are things that I’m great at (cooking; writing and editing) and then there are things that I’m not so good at (handstands, push ups, and anything else that requires upper body strength). Time management happens to belong in the former category. People often ask me how I manage to handle a demanding day job in publishing, writing and editing Peaceful Dumpling, and maintain a healthy lifestyle, which includes cooking 7+ times a week, endless chores, spending time with my boyfriend and friends, and taking care of myself (to maintain a dignified appearance).
My secret? It’s that truly productive time management involves two things: 1) You work more efficiently so that you produce more output per time spent; 2) You work more hours, period. There is only so much you can pack into a focused 1-hour period: just as you can’t expect to get by on power naps and skimp on your nighttime sleep, you also need to work smarter and work harder. The key is to make working efficiently less of a daunting task, and more of an effortless flow–your default mode. Here are 10 ways to manage your time wisely.
1. Write everything down in a daily planner.
The best way to manage time efficiently is to prioritize. And the best way to prioritize is by due dates. If you have long-term projects, write down the deadlines. Also write down the daily tasks: once they’re on paper, you won’t feel so overwhelmed–and checking them off the list will give you added confidence boost.
2. Create a daily schedule.
For certain professions (like firefighters or teachers), it might be impossible to create a daily schedule that’s personalized for you. But if you have more freedom and flexibility (like freelancers), try creating a daily schedule that is task-oriented rather than deadline-driven. An entrepreneur, for instance, might devote 9-12 to sales pitches; 1-3 to social media; 3-5 to answering emails; then 5-6 for organizing the work load for the rest of the week. This task-oriented structure helps automate the work flow, even when there isn’t any fire to put out (pun intended).
3. Make work a pleasant experience.
Focusing attention on something is made much easier if it’s pleasant. So make your work area welcoming and inspiring to you. Clear your desktop of clutter, and add a few pretty personal items that put a smile on your face. Organize all your loose papers neatly. Get a nice desk lamp–this is a worthy investment on your mood (and your eyes)! Studies show that music actually helps you focus and even be more creative.
4. If you have a major project, work on that first thing in the morning for a few hours before opening your email.
Ever sit down with the intention of making headway on the big project, and then open your inbox and end up spending hours just writing emails? Give yourself some time to do substantial work before you open your email, and you won’t be out of steam later on.
5. Take a break every 90 minutes.
To maximize your performance, work in intense 90-minute sessions, with 10 minute breaks in between. A study by Florida State University researchers found that this was the preferred work length and interval for most productive and creative individuals.
6. Avoid distractions by building up your discipline.
Concentration, like time management, isn’t something you’re born with–it’s something you gain through practice. If you tend to procrastinate or have trouble focusing, build up your concentration by avoiding distractions and rewarding yourself when you successfully complete a task. Rewards can be luxurious (vegan chocolate!), healthy (yoga happy hour), or even as simple as sincerely complimenting yourself.
7. Give yourself a deadline.
If you have more flexibility in your job, you might struggle to get started on new projects or complete them on time. If so, give yourself deadlines: write these down on your daily planner, and if for some reason they don’t get accomplished, move them to the next day. Seeing something actually written down, and following you day-after-day, will make you want to strike it off.
8. Multi-task efficiently.
I would love to be able to do just one thing a day and do it magnificently. But realistically, I can’t do anything less than 12 things a day and do them reasonably well. This means writing while pasta is boiling; editing on my way home from work; emailing while eating breakfast.
9. Make the most out of your off-hours.
Go for true recreation, not mindless distraction. Instead of working with the TV playing in the background, focus and finish work first, then do something you truly enjoy. Use the down time to recharge physically, mentally, and emotionally. That means no fidgeting with work email, or worrying about things outside your control.
10. Practice mindfulness.
Mindfulness has been a buzzword for the past few years. An increasing number of celebrities and business leaders have stated that they actively practice mindfulness; high schools with meditation classes have reported reduced stressed levels and even increased graduation rate.
Increase your productivity by spending at least ten minutes each day in quiet meditation and conscious breathing. Try these breathing exercises.
What are your tips for effective time management? Discuss!
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