Instant ways to manage your time

Managing your time

Does time seem to slip through your fingers? Do days, weeks and months disappear without you accomplishing much of anything, even though you were constantly busy? How you manage your time can have either a positive or negative effect on your stress levels and overall wellbeing.

Time can  be your enemy or friend – it all depends on how you use it. If you are the kind of person who  tries to cram too much into a short space of time and is always in a hurry, or one who feels life is a never ending fight against the clock, you will know just how stressful it can be if you do not manage your time efficiently.

It is an obvious point, but time spent is gone forever. Unfortunately, the benefits of time travel are not available to us yet, so we cannot go back and finish the things we did not get done yesterday. Whether we like it or not, we are stuck with twenty-four hours a day. So rather than waste time, learn to make better use of it.

The following techniques will help you to use your time more effectively and avoid the worry of not having enough time to do what you want.

Set goals

One of the most important ways to manage your time successfully is to set goals – daily, weekly, monthly, annually and long-term. Without a clear picture of where you want to go, it is next to impossible to plan your life. Achieving your goals, however, will only ever be successful if you are realistic about your aims and your timescale – set them too high and it can add extra pressure to your life.

Setting yourself unrealistic goals is like turning on an auto-pilot button marked ‘failure’. For example, deciding to learn a new language when you work or have a family to take care of is a big commitment. Opting for a part-time course which can be handled in short sessions will take longer to complete than a crash course, but there is less chance of you becoming overwhelmed  by the workload and running the risk of never finishing it.

Get yourself a piece of paper and a pen, and write down your key goals for the next year. They can be big or small and your list should include all those things that you have been meaning to do but have not had time for.

Now read over your list. The tasks probably look impossible. But they are not, provided you are realistic about your ambitions. Working from your list, decide what you can feasibly achieve this month. Then make a second list of practical small steps that will help you to get closer to your goals. If you want to learn golf, this month’s task could be to find three golf clubs in your area. It may not seem a lot, but it is that all important step in the right direction.

Above all, the stages on your list must be achievable, which means that they must fit in with other parts of your life. If they do not, you run the danger of trying to do too much and, hey presto, you become stressed out.

If you find it difficult to get your goals into perspective, break down each one into small, manageable chunks and then take each chunk one step at a time. Here are three steps you can use to help you achieve what you want within a realistic time scale.

Step one: create a ‘to do’ list
Once you have identified your goals, the next step is to order them using ‘A’, ‘B’ and ‘C’ lists.

– The ‘A’ list is for activities which must get done – for example, buying a present for your son’s birthday tomorrow.

– The ‘B’ list is for those activities you would like to do, and need to be done, but it will not be the end of the world if they are left until tomorrow, such as phoning a friend.

– The ‘C’ list is for those activities you would like to get done once you have completed your ‘A’ and ‘B’ lists, such as going shopping for clothes.

Step two:  make a schedule
When you have ordered your goals, schedule them into your day. In this way they will not be shunted to the back of your brain where they could be forgotten.

Step three: create a ‘not to do’ list
This may sound odd, but it is just as important as lists of things to do. Think about it – how much time do you waste on things that you would rather not do? Well, now is your chance to cut them out of your life.

Making a list of things that you do not want to do will help you to focus on and eliminate some of the things in your life that rob you of precious time. You could also draw up a list of all the time-wasting activities that you want to change, such as watching most uninteresting television programmes or chatting to somebody at work who is always negative.

As far as possible, cut out the unproductive elements of your life and start reducing those timewasters to one or two a day until you have learnt to use your time more productively.

Dos and don’ts of time management

Listed below are a series of hints and tips that will enable you to manage your time more efficiently. Some may appear obvious but it is amazing how often they are ignored, usually by those who say that they have no time for anything.

Avoid procrastination
‘Don’t put off until tomorrow what can be done today’ is an old saying but it has more than a gram of common sense about it. Avoid postponing unpleasant activities – put them at the top of your list and get them out of the way. An additional bonus of good time management is that the more you respect your time, the more others will respect it too.

Know your time zones
Are you alert in the morning but fit to drop by four in the afternoon, or are you sluggish until noon and bright by the evening? We all have our own personal beat. Get to know when you operate at your best and use that time to complete important tasks.

Avoid interruptions
‘How?’ I hear you scream. It is simple – do not answer the telephone if you do not want to be disturbed and do not accept callers between certain times. If that is impossible, ask your secretary, a colleague or family member to take messages. Better still, in vest in an answering machine and call back later. Let friends or colleagues know when you are not available  – this will stop them dropping by for a chat and a cup of coffee.

Learn to say ‘No’
Use assertiveness techniques to avoid unrealistic demands (see Assert Yourself).

Do one thing at a time
Trying to do too many things at once is very stressful and can lead to mistakes and accidents. Discipline yourself to concentrate on the task in hand.

Take a break
Use a relaxation technique in between each task to re-energize yourself (see Relaxation Techniques).

You do not have to be a super-being to stay in control. Learn how to delegate any jobs that can be handled by others – that way you stay in control of your work and not vice versa.

Spend less time in stressful situations
If you know that certain situations are stressful, then schedule less time in these settings. If visiting your in-laws always ends in arguments, arrange to spend a couple of hours with them rather than a whole day.    Also, avoid being a martyr – as far as possible steer clear of people who are always angry, miserable, or just plain annoying.

Invest some time
Put aside some time to plan and get organised. Once this is done, you will find that you can do everything you want to do, and more, with less stress.

In the next article we’ll learn about relaxation.

Relaxation techniques >>

Text Copyright © Alix Needham
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