Top tips for developing your time management skills


Feel like you’re always busy but never check anything off your list? Are you productive with your time? During my student journey and my transition to professional life, I learned that I needed a personalized time management plan to achieve my goals. Here are some quick tips and practices that I’ve found helpful when navigating through my tasks.

Get organized

If your mind wanders and you’re easily distracted, this can help you organize those thoughts. If your desktop and laptop are cluttered with sticky notes, lists, and notes in the margins, group the items into a single list. If you prefer to write, pick an area where you can write your to-do list, keep the list running, and check things off as you complete them. This will help you keep your thoughts organized and save you from wasting valuable time searching for your lists.

Consider a digital list: Start a digital document or to-do list on your device that you can access from anywhere. A digital list can help you keep your thoughts portable and in one place, and you can check off or delete things as they’re completed and add tasks on the fly. Use your list to plan your day and maximize your 24 hours. Consider the following suggestions.

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Exercise A: Understanding how you currently spend your time can help you be more productive. Review your daily tasks – preparing for your day, caring for children, commuting, going to school, eating, sleeping – every task of your day. Create a list of these tasks. Review your list, determine how much time you spend on these tasks, and add the time next to the task. Then add the time. How many hours are consumed by your daily tasks? Knowing that there are 24 hours in each day, how much time does that leave you to focus on your goals, like career development or preparing for exams? Is there anything you haven’t listed that consumes your time, like screen time? Consider which items should be prioritized and which should be deprioritized or delegated.

Exercise B: What do you want to accomplish each day? Do you feel like you never achieve what you hope for? As many people in the professional development field often say, “hope is not a strategy.” I’m more productive when I plan every minute of my day. This may sound extreme, but give it a try. Indicate the time every 15 minutes. Now plan your day in these time slots: wake up, workout, shower, commute or work, and the tasks you complete.

This exercise can help you identify areas of your day that aren’t being used to achieve your goals, or time that you’re not productive and may be wasting. Be sure to include scheduled breaks and a few minutes to spend on things you enjoy. If you’re distracted by your phone and social media apps, schedule some time to scroll through the apps you want. It’s the same idea for checking emails.

Do you forget to do things? Set timers and alarms. When you need to move on to a new task, have a homework assignment, or need to remember an appointment, use reminders and alarms. These can be extremely helpful in lightening your mental load.

Set priorities

You may think that I am planning my day, but something is wrong to derail it. How can you predict a sick child or a flat tire? Learning to assess urgent tasks and manage them is key to pivoting and getting back on track.

You may be familiar with the term “putting out fires,” which refers to unscheduled or urgent tasks. First, assess the “fire”. Is it really a fire that requires immediate action? Can emails or questions wait for a response? Be honest with yourself, and if anything can wait, respond during the time you have scheduled for responding to emails and texts. If the task is urgent and requires immediate action, take action, then go back to your plan for the day and make adjustments.

We are so used to responding immediately or think an immediate response is expected. But not everything needs to take us away from our tasks, and it’s up to us to figure out what should be.

Define aims

Determining what needs immediate attention is not always easy. To avoid having to make the decision at all, schedule time to work without distraction. Disable notifications on devices and email accounts to create targeted work time to achieve goals.

If your goal is to get an “A” on a test or complete tasks by a deadline, what intentional steps will you take to get there? Setting a goal of uninterrupted work time to achieve that goal is more likely to get you there than just hoping you’ll succeed.

Establish routines for studying or completing work and set boundaries to help you stick to them. Focusing on goals helps with this. For example, let’s say your goal is to earn a dental hygiene degree with a 3.5 or higher. To do this, you must complete classes on time, prepare for exams, and meet clinical requirements. Does spending more hours at your current employer, going out to lunch with friends, spending time scrolling through your phone, or watching the latest show get you closer to that goal? More money and downtime are important, but focus on the goal is essential.

Don’t forget delegation. Whether in your personal or professional life, reach out to others when you need help. This can be difficult to do, but if you’re having trouble, it’s important to reach out.

Perform a self-audit

Of course, all of these suggestions have their exceptions. A time management plan is not a one-size-fits-all scenario. When you come up with a plan that works for you, take the time to evaluate that plan. After you’ve implemented it for a while – give it at least a week or so – audit how well the plan is working for you.

Could you improve a workflow or your ability to avoid distractions by silencing notifications? Small changes can make a big difference. Reflect on current plans and successes and give yourself what you need, but don’t be afraid to schedule time to rest and do things you enjoy. You have this!


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