As anyone else, I have my highs and lows in efficiency cycles. There are times when I can be very efficient with my time and keep focused for a long time, and there are also down times when I feel overwhelmed with things to do. When I just started university, I felt like I was drowning in things to do – getting 5 assignments at once, combined with other responsibilities seemed crazy.
However, I couldn’t give up – after all, others were able to manage so I had to find a way. Fast-forward 4 years – I was doing 2 internships at different companies, taking Masters-level course and also working on my master research paper (that’s worth 2 Master-level courses). I was able to do a good job with my time as I got As for both the course and the paper, as well as another contract from one place and a job interview from another.
Here are some tips I learned along the way that can help manage your time:
1. Develop a to-do list
You probably hear this one a lot. Some people say that they know what they need to do and they do not need to write it down. I respectfully disagree. There is nothing more overwhelming then trying to remember and work on many things at once. I also feel when I am in control of my life when I am able to put it in writing. To-do lists go a long way. I find them addictive because you can achieve anything by first 1) identifying and specifying what you want to achieve 2) being honest and reflecting where you are right now and how far away you are from your goal 3) considering this gap analysis to think how many steps you need to take to get there. These steps can be your to-do list. You can even have a list for each of these steps.
There are many things you can write a list for. You can write a list of things you need to buy to update your wardrobe. A list of things to pack for your vacation. A list for things you want to see, a list of skills you want to master, a list of things you need to do today to get closer to your goal tomorrow…
2. Assign time it takes to complete each item on your list
So you have your list in front of you. The second thing you need to do is to estimate how much time each task on your list may take. Note that it is different from the deadline for each task – that is because most tasks can be done faster that we think. For example, if I have a presentation that needs to be done in 2 days I may feel more stressed about the upcoming deadline. However, if I estimate that it will take 3 hours for me to work on this presentation, I can easily put these 3 hours in my schedule, for example by breaking it and allocating an hour here and an hour there, and maybe an hour in my schedule for tomorrow. This way I don’t feel stressed while I am actually getting things done faster.
3. Address the tasks under 5 minutes first.
If you have logistical tasks that take 5 minutes or less – e.g. to write one email, make one call or print something – do it first and cross it off your list. There is no need to feel overwhelmed because of these small things that can be easily addressed.
4. Address the tasks under 15 minutes second.
5. Prioritise the remaining tasks in terms of their importance.
Look at the remaining tasks and put stars (or any symbol you like) next to the tasks that are both urgent (e.g. something due today) and important (e.g. your director’s priority). Do them first.
6. Plan to Focus
What it means is preparing yourself to sit and get through this thing, once and for all. It requires surrounding yourself with things you may need in the next little while in order to avoid getting distracted. Ask yourself – what do you need to have next to you to stay focused? For example, I know that I get thirsty often so I always have a bottle of water next to me. I also know that my eyes hurt when I focus so I always keep eye drops and glasses close. This step requires you knowing yourself- maybe you need a box of peanuts to keep you going, or maybe it is a fan with a fresh air or motivational music on your iPod. Whatever it is – prepare yourself.
7. Remind yourself of the reason WHY
Every time you look at your to-do list and the task doesn’t make sense to you, consider why you are doing it. Are you taking an extra course to build a certain skill so that you can move up in a rank, or is it to prove something to your manager? When you remind yourself of a deeper reason WHY, some tasks become more meaningful while other tasks may not necessary need to be done at all if it is just prove something to someone. Keep your focus clear.