Time management is a really important skill to have, at whatever stage of life we find ourselves. Whether we’re working towards our degree, are in the world of work, or run a business. Time management skills are vital, and here are some ideas of how you can improve them.
This is a guest post from Charlotte Guinan, Digital Intern at GradSmart. GradSmart is a platform for students and graduates to find out what they’re best suited to or passionate about in terms of work. Their new personality test is really worth trying out to see what type of person you are and find aligned work from that.
Tips for improving your time management
Whether it’s at university, or in the working world, time management is key. Good time management often makes the difference between a stressful, unfulfilling day and a stress-free, successful one. The problem is the term is so vague. It’s so often thrown around in CVs and job requirements, but figuring out exactly what ‘good time management’ is can be just as hard as doing it.
This skill has become even more important due to the pandemic. With everyone separated by computer screens, it’s much more difficult to get a sense of how busy someone really is. Your lectures, boss, club chairs or friends might be asking a lot more of you than you can deliver. This might end up in days becoming mad, stressful blurs, where it just doesn’t seem like there are enough hours in the day.
There’s no magic formula here. However, there are some structures you can put in place to improve your time management skills and make managing your time easier. They might help you in prioritising tasks, or simply let you see upcoming ‘problem days’ more quickly, so you can either shift some tasks around or at least mentally prepare for a stressful day. So, here are some tips on how to build a healthy time management routine (spoiler: it’s all about organisation!).
Make yourself a weekly timetable, and try and stick to it
Similar to a ‘daily planner’ in school, grabbing your own notebook or digital calendar and drawing up a timetable in advance is super efficient. Divide the days by hour into what tasks or activities you have on that day, being realistic and giving yourself enough time for each task. If you’re at uni, you might allot two hour slots for reading and revision on each module, maybe the same day as the seminar, and just study that subject on a Tuesday for example. If you prefer to spice things up, or you get bored easily, switch between modules everyday to keep your mind fresh. What you should end up with is starting the week with a clear idea of how each of your days is going to go.
The common mistake here is to get overconfident, not give yourself enough time for each task, and also forget that random things sometimes come out of nowhere. It’s a good idea to give yourself a least an hour of ‘overflow’ time everyday, where you can deal with the odds and ends that unexpectedly crop up. This means you can put them out of your mind and focus on what you need to do, confident that they will get sorted during your overflow time. Otherwise, you’ll never be able to maintain the focus you need to finish everything you’re working on!
Capture everything on your to-do lists
It’s very easy to be doing a task and then realise you haven’t done this…or that, which was super important and had to go across today! Making a daily to do list, along with checking and updating it regularly, is a good way to clearly see how much you have to do. Either every night or every morning make a list of everything you need to do in the following day. This can include the big tasks you’ve already outlined in your weekly plan, but also the little things which are important but easy to forget.
This sounds so simple, but why is it important? Things that need to get done, but are just floating around in your brain, tend to hurt your ability to focus and are also more easily forgotten. Getting into the habit of immediately writing down something which needs to get done gets it out of your head, but means it won’t be forgotten. This is also really helpful for time management – if you see your daily list is longer than your arm, it means something’s got to shift.
Reflect on what you’ve done
Successful people take time to reflect on what they’ve done. This makes them more motivated by giving them clarity moving forward. Reflecting on what you’ve achieved in the day not only allows you to physically tick off your tasks (how satisfying, right?) but also shows you what you didn’t get round to doing. Why didn’t you? Did you overrun? Was it achievable in the time frame you gave yourself? Consider the reasons when making lists the next day and you’ll end up being more realistic. Good time management doesn’t happen overnight, it comes through experience and understanding exactly how long things take. If you’re not honestly reviewing your work consistently, it will be much more difficult to build this experience.
Set timers on yourself
You have to be realistic in what your concentration levels are. We’ve all been reading a textbook and drifted off, next thing you know you’re half an hour deep into a TikTok session. Sometimes willpower can be enough to overcome procrastination. Sometimes it’s not.
There’s an old adage called Parkinson’s Law, which says that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”. Basically, whatever time you give yourself to do something, it’s probably going to take that amount of time. So it’s important to be efficient, and make sure you’re not unnecessarily making tasks longer than they need to be. Setting a timer for a set timeframe can help you stay focused. With time, you know what you’re doing and most importantly when you will stop. At the end, you should take a short break, or do a less demanding task. These regular breaks are the key for making your brain work more effectively and if you don’t want to feel like you’re procrastinating all the time, having the goal of 20-30 minutes of just doing that task can be excellent for managing your time.
Time management is self care
Being protective over your time is being protective of your mental health. Unfortunately, having poor time management makes it a lot easier for people to give you more work than you can handle, which is a recipe for disaster. By following these tips, you can make sure you’re doing yourself justice by minimising the daily stress you’ll feel working through your tasks. You’ll be more productive. More confident. But most of all, enter 2021 with a great framework to prioritise mental health over work!
Different jobs require a different level of time management, and some people are just more naturally organised than others. When entering a profession, it can be really useful to know what your own work type is, and what careers best suit that. Doing a personality test, such as the free test at GradSmart, can give great insight into what jobs match your specific working style.
Thank you to Charlotte for this wonderful guest blog. Time management is something we all need to adjust to as we study at university or enter the workplace, and these are some excellent tips for how to improve them.
If you’re looking for any further tips, make sure you check out my career advice for graduates here.