7 Tips to Support Time Management
Time management is a factor that contributes to how we plan our time and understand the flow of our days. It is directly related to how reliable we are and has a huge impact on our relationships. If friends, children, and loved ones don’t trust that you will do what you say you will do, eventually, they will stop asking you. Experiencing feelings of isolation as your social connections and sense of worth and meaning decrease can have a negative impact on your mental health and baseline level of life satisfaction. Even though we all would probably rather have less responsibility, it’s important to our mental health to have a purpose and contribute. Constantly missing commitments and deadlines can also have impacts such as arguments, failing classes, and even getting reprimanded or fired at work.
If we don’t understand how long something will take, we don’t have a true concept of what we need to do, and the activity can feel more arduous than it actually is. Let’s use me writing this blog as an example; If I think that writing this blog is going to take me 3 hours, I’ll put off writing it for weeks, because I simply don’t have any 3-hour blocks of uninterrupted time where I can sit, think and write. I’ll reprioritize other things over writing because the job seems too big, and other things end up taking precedence. I’ve even considered hiring someone to do the writing for me! Having timed myself in how long it takes to write a blog, however, I now know that I only need to set aside about 30 – 40 minutes. The whole task now feels like something small that I can whip off several times per month.
There are times, though, when we underestimate how long something will take. Preparing dinner might take a full hour when you only expected it to take 30 minutes; writing an essay might take 5 hours when you were expecting it to take 3. Now you’re running late, feeling guilty, and people are annoyed at you… again.
Having an accurate understanding of how long things take you can have a significant impact on your ability to plan and get things done!
Some strategies to address time management include:
- Take two weeks to track your time. Keep a timer or time tracker app open on your phone and time the amount of time it takes to do different tasks. Keep a record of the times! This becomes your database that you use as a point of reference. How long does grocery shopping take on average? Now you know! Now, when you plan to complete the activity, you have a concrete understanding of what you need to do and where it will fit into your week. You can make appropriate decisions about childcare, etc.
- Think through and time all the steps of the tasks. Getting ready for work or school in the morning can seem like one big activity, but it’s actually made up of several smaller activities. Shower, get dressed, brush your teeth, have coffee or breakfast, etc. Each of those tasks can be broken down even further. How much time do the subtasks take you? Once you have a timeframe for each of these tasks, you can work your way backwards and properly plan how much time you need to get ready.
- Reprioritize. Now that you know how much time different things take, you can think about what you keep on the ‘to-do’ list, and what you take off. Unrealistic ‘to-do’ lists can be a huge source of stress. If you now understand how much time things take, you can look over your plan and decide what you can realistically do. Find the three most important tasks or parts of the tasks, and plan to do those.
- Write it down! Over time, this process becomes automatic, but at the beginning, writing it down will help to make the process stick.
- Reflect. What makes things take longer and what makes things faster? For example, if I write in the morning when I am alone and there are no distractions, I can write something in a quarter of the time it takes me to do it when it’s in the evening and my kids are around, or there is music or a show on in the background. If I stand or sit upright, I will write faster than if I’m lying down. What are your important tasks, and what factors make a difference for you? Think about things like time of day, who is with you, distractions, your mood, hunger, have you worked out, and what your sleep was like last night.
- Try to be objective. We all have beliefs about how long things take and under what circumstances we are the most efficient. Just because we believe that we work faster (or with higher quality) when there is music on in the background, doesn’t make it true. Measure it and see. Then decide if it’s worth the extra time.
- Say no. Now you know what you can and can’t fit into your day. When someone asks you to go to the skatepark tonight (3 hours), but you know that you have an essay to write (4 hours), you know that it’s going to be impossible to do both. What is most important? What is the long-range impact of doing one or the other? Then make your decision.
Time management is a foundational skill. Once you understand how long things take, you can start to tackle the issues of planning, procrastination, organization, stress management, assertiveness, and more.
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