Managing your time effectively is the key to productivity. Everyone from students to working professionals will benefit from honing their time management skills. Not all methods work for everyone, however.
The secret to efficient time management is learning what techniques work best for you. You might find that one process works for you all the time, or you may need to use several different methods.
This article will cover some of the most popular time management tips. Try out one or more and watch your productivity skyrocket.
Try the “Pomodoro Technique”
The Pomodoro technique works great if you tend to get distracted and procrastinate. The concept is simple:
- You set a time for 25 minutes and focus on one task for the entire 25 minutes. This time segment is called a Pomodoro.
- After 25 minutes, you take a five-minute break. Then do another Pomodoro.
- When you’ve completed four Pomodoros, you take a more extended break of 15 to 20 minutes.
During your breaks, it’s essential to get up and move around. Grab a snack, go for a short walk, or do a few stretches. Unless you’re using your Pomodoro to accomplish something physical, such as cleaning the house, don’t use your break to scroll through social media. The point is to do something completely different from what you’ve been focusing on for the past 25 minutes.
Implement the “Pickle Jar Theory”
The pickle jar theory is a fun visual metaphor for how you spend your time. It’s based on the idea of filling an empty pickle jar with large rocks, medium-sized pebbles, and sand. The large rocks represent important, high-priority tasks. The pebbles are things that need to be done but are a lower priority. Finally, the sand represents leisure activities.
If you were actually to fill a pickle jar with sand and then pebbles, the rocks wouldn’t fit. By putting in the rocks first, then the pebbles, the sand can fill in the smaller areas, and you can fit everything in.
This metaphor applies to time management. Schedule your most important tasks first. Then schedule the tasks that are a lower priority but still need to be completed. Once you schedule your “rocks” and “pebbles,” you’ll find you still have time to fit in your fun, leisure activities without compromising your goals.
Set Non-Negotiable Work/Study Times
It’s all too easy to think you’ll get around to working on a big project and then find yourself facing an impossible deadline the night before it’s due. Avoid this by setting non-negotiable work or study times. If you know you’re going to be studying every day from 3:00 to 5:00, it simplifies your planning and sets up a habit. Then, you won’t have to expend the mental energy to decide when you’re going to work every day.
In addition to setting non-negotiable work times, it’s a good idea to have a specific place to work. Setting up a work area, whether it’s in a library carrel or a desk in your room, will signal to your mind that it’s time to study. If you’re constantly changing your workspace, you’ll inevitably find that you don’t have something you need, or you’re distracted by a different environment.
Creating a routine makes it easy to accomplish smaller steps toward a big project or work with a tutor on a regular basis. If you’re working with outside professionals, such as tutors, ensure they have excellent time management skills to help keep you on track. While what you need to accomplish will be different each day, knowing you have time set aside to get it done takes the pressure off and lets you focus on your goals.
Plan Your Day in Advance
There are many different ways you can plan your day. Whichever method you use, however, it’s important to have a written plan. If you’re helping your student plan their day, you should both have access to the plan. When you start your day without a plan, you’re already behind. Set aside a specific time to plan your day, ideally the night before. Planning for tomorrow is a great way to end your non-negotiable work time.
You should integrate daily planning into your long-term planning. Sit down with a weekly or monthly calendar that includes upcoming events, obligations, and deadlines. Start by noting any events outside of your control, such as team practices or meetings. Then make a note of any deadlines. The benefit of doing this the night before is that you’ll be sure you have everything you need to be ready for tomorrow.
Assessing your progress toward your goals is a great way of prioritizing the day ahead. For example, if you or your child are experiencing academic difficulties related to math or physics, you may want to plan ahead by consulting with a tutor for those subjects. Planning ahead today to address known problem areas is a great way to keep your forward momentum.
Finally, schedule out what you want to accomplish during your dedicated work time. This might include studying for an upcoming test, making progress on a big project, or working with a tutor. Planning your day puts you in control and keeps you on track, eliminating the need for last-minute cram sessions. Instead, you’ll be able to relax and enjoy your free time knowing you’ve finished what you need to do for the day.
Limit Screen Time
Teenagers spend an average of seven hours per day on screens. Although it can be difficult to unplug when the world revolves around technology, it’s imperative for students who want to do well in their studies. Unfortunately, it’s easy to waste your work or study time texting friends or scrolling through Tiktok. In addition to interfering with productive work, excessive screen time is associated with obesity, sleep problems, anxiety, depression, lower test scores, and chronic neck and back problems.
The best way to ensure this doesn’t happen is to put your phone on airplane mode and block time-wasting sites on your computer when you’re studying. Here are some more ways you can limit your use of screens:
- Set up a family charging station and require all electronics to be put there overnight at least an hour before bedtime
- Designate some events, such as dinner, electronics-free
- Instead of reaching for your phone when you’re bored, do another activity such as playing a card game or going for a walk
- When you’re planning your day, plan screen-free ways to fill your leisure time
Take Frequent Breaks
Although you might think that bucking down and working nonstop is the best way to study or work, taking frequent breaks actually makes you more productive. Taking purposeful breaks helps your brain retain more information and boosts your energy, creativity, and ability to focus. Ideas for energizing breaks include:
- Take a walk or go outside
- Take a shower
- Listen to music
- Call a friend
- Tidy up your workspace
- Enjoy a light, healthy snack
However, it’s important to take the right kind of break. If your 10-minute break turns into a three-hour distraction, it defeats the purpose. Activities to avoid during your break include:
- Social media
- Long naps
- Eating a heavy meal
- Any engrossing activity that makes it hard to get back to work
Set SMART Goals for Yourself
Without concrete goals, you’ll struggle to develop meaningful time management skills because the point of managing your time effectively is being able to achieve your goals. Setting goals provides direction on where to focus your efforts, helps you meet deadlines, manage distractions, and avoid wasted time. When you’re setting goals, though, choosing ones that are too broad or far away isn’t helpful. Effective goals should follow the SMART guidelines:
Set goals that are specific in terms of what you want to accomplish and the steps you need to take. “Get into a good college” is too broad and usually too distant to be a tangible goal.
Having a way to measure whether you’ve accomplished your goal can help you stay on track. For example, instead of setting a goal to improve in an area, make sure there’s a metric attached to your goal.
Setting an unachievable goal is setting yourself up for failure. This doesn’t mean you can’t have big goals, but break them up into achievable steps. It’s better to set several smaller, incremental goals than one big (currently) unattainable goal.
Your goals should tie into your overall “why.” No matter how worthy a goal may be, if it isn’t relevant to your short or long-term plans, you’re not likely to stay motivated to achieve it.
You should have a deadline for when you want to achieve a goal. Some goals have a natural endpoint, but others could possibly drag on indefinitely. A good goal should have a completion date. At that point, you’ll know if you’ve successfully achieved it or not.
Evaluating your goals
After you set a goal, stay on track by measuring your progress daily. Don’t get discouraged if you fail to achieve some of your goals. Instead, sit down and analyze why. Was your goal too broad? Did you get distracted when you should have been studying? Figure out what went wrong and make a plan to overcome it next time.
Setting SMART goals can help you maintain your motivation when the going gets tough. The sense of accomplishment you’ll feel when you achieve them will also give your self-esteem a boost. The more you practice goal-setting and time management techniques, the better you’ll become at both.
There are so many distractions in today’s world that it’s difficult to stay on task. Trying different time management strategies until you find one or more that works for you can help you avoid these distractions and stay focused on your goals, whether you’re working on them alone or with a team. You’ll get more done in less time, leaving you free to enjoy your time off without shirking your responsibilities or feeling guilty.