Time is the most valuable resource, which explains why it causes us so much stress. Many of us try to pack in so much to the time that we have but become frustrated by our often-thwarted attempts.
It’s not realistic to expect to work a full-time job, be a perfect parent, exercise, eat nutritiously, take care of aging parents, take courses to improve our education, manage a household, and do the myriad other things we add to our to-do list. Yet, we often tend to think it is. What is realistic is prioritizing and adjusting those priorities to suit our lives now. That takes good time management and flexibility in our thinking.
This article provides seven tips to better manage your time so that you don’t reach burnout. It explains how to organize your important tasks, suggests tools that will help you gain control, and outlines the benefits you will gain from more systematic time management.
Related: “Work-Life Integration: Gaining Control of Your Life”
Effective time management is considered a tool to make us more productive and efficient. This is a noble goal, but it can lead to burnout. The implication is that we are not doing enough when, in reality, we are trying to do too much.
But time management can also be a tool that helps us to take care of ourselves by doing more of what counts now. Knowing what we should be prioritizing today and letting some things go makes us less likely to overload ourselves and reach burnout. Think of it as a type of defense mechanism.
We can’t do everything all the time. We have to prioritize. You might have a looming exam that you are studying for, so ask your employer to assign you low-load work tasks until you’ve taken the exam. You might have planned to take a trip to Europe, but you just lost your job. Job seeking should take priority. You might be recovering from an illness or ACL surgery. Put that marathon training on hold.
The secret to setting priorities is organization. For time management, set short-term and long-term priorities. Decide what you need to achieve each day and what you need to achieve over a longer time frame. Recognize that you only have a certain amount of time each day, and you need to include work goals, personal goals, and any other responsibilities to children or extended family in that space.
Organize your mind and your life using tools like calendars, planners, to-do, lists, digital apps, and software. Make a to-do list considering your priorities and add deadlines for each item on your list. Use a calendar or planner and write down the tasks and deadlines. This will allow you to see whether you have enough time to achieve each item and whether your plan is achievable.
Add in time for the unexpected. For example, you might plan to go to the gym on Tuesdays after work for an hour before going to the grocery store. If you have to work late or you are invited to go to dinner with a friend, you’ll have to reschedule your time to go to the grocery store.
This type of scheduling and rescheduling will become second nature once you develop the habit, and it has so many benefits.
It’s harder to procrastinate when your schedule is planned. If you put off a certain task because you don’t feel like tackling it, that will throw off the rest of your schedule including the things you really do want to do. Thus, planning can be a great tool to ensure you get those less appetizing chores done. Recognize when you are procrastinating and use your planning as a powerful motivator.
Routines build efficiencies. For example, if you always get up at 7 am and exercise, you might lay out your exercise clothes the night before to save time in the morning. If you check emails every day between 10 and 11 am, you can train yourself to not be distracted by them at other times. Routines can both keep us on track and complement our energy highs and lows.
Related: “How to Reduce Stress at Work”
Planning your time will set you up for success. Here’s why.
Because you have all your tasks and appointments written down, you don’t have to carry them in your head and worry that you have forgotten something. Your mind is clear to focus on the task at hand.
Careful planning will take the chaos out of your life. You can calmly go from one task to another with less time spent panicking because you should be doing something else. You are controlling your life rather than letting it control you.
You will miss fewer appointments, forget less, and make fewer mistakes because you are well-organized and less stressed.
By setting short-term and long-term goals, you will gain confidence and be more likely to persevere as you reach each benchmark. With great organization, you might even be able to schedule more time to exercise or otherwise work on yourself, which will further boost your self-esteem.
There are plenty of tools that you can use to manage your time. They range from digital apps to applying new thought processes to help you think more calmly and clearly.
Your phone is a powerful tool for time management, but it can also be a distraction if you constantly check social media. When you need to focus, turn your phone notifications off so that you are not distracted by emails, texts, and phone calls.
Use the digital calendar on your phone and sync it to your work computer so that you always have access. Use your phone to note down things that you need to take care of and add to your to-do list. Set appointment alerts and reminders.
Using project management software at work, such as Asana or Trello, can make your workday run smoother. These tools allow teams to manage work in real-time. Because everyone knows their deliverables and deadlines and can plan accordingly, these tools can help free up time for other things.
Digital apps can be extremely helpful tools. Great examples are food delivery apps, mobile banking apps, dog-walking apps, fitness apps that act as personal trainers, and apps to help you track what you eat and plan nutritious meals.
Noone can be on the go 24 hours a day. Plan time in your schedule to relax and clear your mind. Find time to unwind, whether it be meditation, working out, or a walk in the park. Use this time to think about whether you are working on the right priorities or whether you need to make changes.
For more on life management, read “8 Tips to Improve Your Time Management Skills”
A common thought is that we should be doing more with the time that we have. But to experience less stress and avoid burnout, doing less might be a better idea as long as we prioritize our activities depending on our current situation.
Constantly trying to add more to an already busy workday creates last-minute chaos and confusion. Appointments are missed, mistakes are made, and our health suffers. Poor time management increases stress levels, and the first thing to be neglected are activities that help us reduce our stress like yoga, meditation, and getting enough sleep.
Better time and stress management by prioritizing our daily activities is a great habit to learn. It gives you a sense of control. Better work-life balance might even give you more time for self-care and leisure activities, helping reduce stress levels even further. Ultimately, a healthy body and confident mind is the best way to be more productive and efficient.