“Time management” used to be a far-off concept for me—and I thought I was managing my time just fine. But then, during one semester in college, my packed schedule left me feeling overwhelmed, frazzled, and constantly panicked. I was taking extra classes so I could graduate early, working three part-time jobs, helping lead a women’s group, trying to balance my other extracurricular activities, and attempting to find time to exercise, sleep, and eat in between.
I hadn’t even noticed that the stress had taken such a toll on my physical appearance.
Because I had so much going on, I had a hard time shaking myself out of my frazzled state. A few weeks after I returned home for the summer and started to recover from the semester’s stress, my dad commented on how I looked and sounded much healthier than when I had first arrived at home. I hadn’t even noticed that the stress had taken such a toll on my physical appearance.
After that semester, I started to make conscious choices to manage my time well. What I learned has followed me into my adult life and helps me to be more effective at my job, more present to the tasks in front of me, and less stressed. Here are five tips I learned that can help us all find balance in the day.
1. PRACTICE THE TWO-MINUTE RULE
The two-minute rule is the single piece of advice that has changed the way I approach those little tasks that build up and cause stress. The rule is this: if you can finish a task in two minutes, just do it now.
So if there are a few dishes in the sink, take two minutes to wash them before you sit down for dinner. If you need to ask a coworker a quick question, take two minutes after your next meeting to ask. Take two minutes to clear the clutter from your desk. It seems simple, but practicing this rule helps to alleviate stress. It keeps you from feeling overwhelmed simply because there are lots of small tasks hanging over your head.
2. LEARN TO SAY NO
Don't overcommit because you feel like you can’t say no. Sometimes we feel obligated to attend an event or take on a new project just so we don’t disappoint others. But it’s more important that you’re able to devote the necessary time and attention to everything you’re committed to.
Make a list of everything you're currently involved in—book clubs, sports leagues, men’s or women’s groups, exercise classes. Then, take a good look at the list. What on that list makes you happy? What makes you stressed? If any of your activities are more stressful than enjoyable, see which ones you can realistically eliminate from your regular schedule. Do this exercise every six months, and decide to eliminate at least one thing from your list. It’s okay to say no sometimes—and doing so will make you a more effective person.
3. CUT DOWN THE NOTIFICATIONS
While you’re working on a task, if possible, put your cell phone in "do not disturb" mode or on silent and ignore it. When your phone is constantly buzzing with notifications from calendars, reminders, and apps, it’s easy to let it become a distraction. Usually, these notifications aren’t urgent, and they end up preventing us from being attentive to the task at hand.
Do what you can to eliminate distractions in your workspace.
If you’re trying to focus on one project at work, open a new window in your browser so extra tabs—like your email inbox—don’t distract you. Turn off or mute your email notifications so you don’t feel the need to respond to each email as it arrives in your inbox. Do what you can to eliminate distractions in your workspace.
4. TAKE BREAKS
Although it might seem counterintuitive, studies have shown that we’re more productive when we take breaks from our work. Taking time for ourselves prevents us from getting burnt out.
When you’re at work, take short, scheduled breaks when you can. Take a full hour for lunch. Get up and move with stretching or walking breaks. Go for a ten-minute power walk. Walking outside has been proven to decrease stress and energize us.
Schedule leisure time into your nights and weekends at least once a week. Set aside a few hours for family time, enjoying the outdoors, or sharing a meal with a friend. It will make all the difference in your week.
5. PRIORITIZE, PRIORITIZE, PRIORITIZE
Prioritize your tasks and say no to unnecessary invitations.
Prioritization is the key to time management. Each night, make a to-do list for the next day. Ask yourself, “If I only got three things done tomorrow, what would I want those three things to be?” Decide what you can realistically accomplish by the end of the next day. Then revise your list accordingly. When you prioritize your tasks, you can wake up the next morning confident and prepared to take on the day, instead of feeling fragmented and overwhelmed.
When you’re overwhelmed, time management can seem impossible. But when you start to practice these simple tips to manage your time, you’ll find freedom in your day and stop feeling constantly frazzled. Prioritize your tasks and say no to unnecessary invitations. Soon, you’ll become a happier, more productive person, both at home and at work.