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5 Ways To Manage Your Time Better    

5 Ways To Manage Your Time Better

Art by FISK

By Dr. Alice Rizzi, PsyD, a MyWellbeing Therapist

In what may be the first trend report of 2021, new year’s resolutions are out, and 365-day mindful intentions are in. That approach may not sound as sexy, but it’s definitely the way to get what you want over the long-term and not just through mid-January. With a little bit of planning at the beginning of the year (and some checks and balances along the way), you can set yourself up for success so you’ll meet all your goals and deadlines while feeling invigorated along the way. 

“Time management” is so much more than just figuring out what to do when. Like managing anything, it involves an ongoing process of checking in with yourself and paying attention to your thoughts, feelings, and actions. It also requires flexibility as plans inevitably have to change and new information (re: stress) comes to light. 

Effective time management is a balance between doing what needs to get done, in a timely fashion, and doing so in a way that doesn’t leave you completely burnt out. Bonus points if you actually feel energized and accomplished as you go. 

To be successful in managing your time, you have to learn to be patient. Patient enough not to jump 10 steps ahead, patient enough to resist tackling the most exciting project first, and patient enough to follow through to the end (even if it’s sometimes boring or challenging). 

These 5 tips can help you manage your time like a pro. The skills all work together, so be sure to read through all of them (there’s that patience thing again), and don’t be afraid to go back and review them throughout the year. Think of it as pressing the “refresh” button as needed. 

1. The Brain Dump 

The brain dump involves writing down all your tangled thoughts on paper (or Google Doc). Create a timeline for a specific project and note the tasks that need to be done. All of them. Don’t be afraid to list things that might seem “silly” or “obvious” to you. The more you brain dump at the beginning, the less energy you’ll spend later. You can have a daily, weekly, monthly, and/or yearly brain dump. The frequency will influence how many items will be on the list. 

For example, if your goal is to learn to meal-plan, start by doing it for one day. Start the planning process at least one day in advance, so you have enough time to prepare and get what you need. Build in extra time in case something doesn’t work out and you need to start over. 

Then, brain dump everything that needs to be purchased, prepared, and accounted for on that day. It can be helpful to think of this like a recipe, with an ingredient list and various steps to get done.

This process will be different for each person. Remember how I mentioned paying attention to your thoughts, feelings, and actions and needing to adjust? Some people prefer to have every little detail outlined, while others can get overwhelmed by “too much stuff.” It’s important to understand where you fall on this spectrum. If you don’t know, it’s better to start out more detailed and dial it back if you find yourself getting overwhelmed or distracted. People often stop working on their goals when they get too overwhelmed or they don’t see progress quickly enough. It’s okay to slow down, pause, and start again. Barring extreme circumstances, you can always start again. 

In the brain dump phase, some people like listing out how long different tasks will take them, some find that stressful. Play around with it and see what works for you. Over time, a lot of these tips may become habitual. You might go from writing everything down to doing some things in your head and some on paper. Some people like the idea of automating everything as they go. Others prefer the act of writing every detail out and seeing it in front of them, checking things off along the way. There’s no “right way” to do this. Ultimately, this is all for you. If it doesn’t work for you, stop doing it. 

2. Clean Up Your List

After you finish making the giant-everything-brain-dump list, segment it into smaller, more manageable chunks. People have an easier time remembering tasks that are “chunked” together. You’ll also feel less overwhelmed by smaller chunks, and your brain can stay calm knowing you still have your everything list in case you need to refer back to it.

Remember that you don’t have to be work-productive 100% of the time. Fun or relaxing activities need to be accounted into your schedule and you’ll be more likely to do them if they’re on your list. This way you’ll always have time for self-care, and prioritizing your self-care signals to your brain that you are just as important as any other item on the list. Your needs and wants matter, so give yourself time to take care of them. 

There’s a lot of creative ways to segment your list. Breaking it up into rainy day/sunny day activities or high energy/low energy activities are just a few ideas.

Starting with a few low-energy tasks can sometimes energize you. So what starts off as a solitary low-key day can often turn into a very productive day where you feel quite accomplished. Notice how different tasks make you feel and adjust accordingly. 

Beware of procrastination. Why do something later when you can do it right now? We often put off things that don’t take much time simply because they’re boring. If you take care of it right now, it’ll be off your list, and your brain will stop nagging you about that thing that won’t take much time that needs to get done but that you really don’t want to do. 

3. Understand Your Goals And Values

For time management to feel successful and fulfilling, it’s important to connect to why you’re doing a specific task. Why is exercising more, for example, important to you? What is the value behind it? 

Asking yourself these questions can help orient you towards the tasks that will genuinely fulfill you long-term instead of those that you think “should” make you feel a certain way or that you think you “need” to be doing. Once you understand the value, you can really concentrate on how to spend your time, which can feel very motivating. 

Knowing the values behind your goals can also help improve your patience, self-respect, and ability to tolerate stressors that come up along the way. You may not always want to do something even though you know it’s important to you. Can you commit to doing it anyway?

4. Set SMART Goals

This one is an oldie but a goodie. Once you know the value behind what you’re trying to achieve, you can set Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-based (SMART) goals. You will be far more successful in accomplishing your tasks and planning for them effectively if you can identify this information. 

For example, a not-so-SMART goal would be “I will make more money,” while a SMART goal would be, “I will talk to my boss about getting a raise on Tuesday at 10am after the morning meeting.” 

If the plan is SMART and you’re still not following through, go back to your values. Why was it important to you to begin with? What was getting in the way of following through? Is it still just as important, or are you prioritizing something else? Can it be broken down into even smaller components? How would you like to proceed? Why? What might get in the way? What can help support you? 

Notice that a lot of these questions repeat. This can help to reorient you towards what matters most to you, which can make how you spend your time be more fulfilling. Ultimately, finding meaning in what you do will lead you to actually getting it done and enjoying, or at least appreciating, the process.

5. Be Intentional 

You will have much more success with time management if you are intentional about what you’re doing. Know what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, and when you’ll do it. Then along the way you can evaluate it to see what’s working and make adjustments. 

Remember that with any of these strategies and with any of your tasks or goals, you can usually begin again. If not today, tomorrow, February, August, or next year. Checking in with yourself, being intentional, coming up with a plan, knowing your values, and treating time management as an ongoing process will set you up for life-long success, achievements, and satisfaction. Bonus if you make time for joy. 

For more helpful tips on different topics, check out my blog.

Keep the conversation going by commenting on this story below. You can also connect with us about whatever’s on your mind by texting The Local Optimist Hotline at 310.299.9414.