Time management: it’s not just for students

We often encourage our students to focus on good time management, but finding ways to keep our lives in balance is a challenge that doesn’t stop after our undergrad years, or even after classes end.  Even the Chronicle’s Profhacker look back at summer showed gratitude for all the gadgets and tricks that help make life easier and more enjoyable. Don’t we always get excited about discovering those little time savers?

Whether it’s coaching students to meet deadlines or scheduling our own lives, here are a few basic principles to creating good time management:

1. Know Your Habits. It’s impossible to accurately estimate time without a realistic sense of the time you need to complete a task.

  • To get to know your habits better, take a week and track them. Divide your entire day into half-hour time units and write down everything that you do during the day. This means that if you lecture until 2:00pm, but you spend an extra 15 minutes answering questions from students, your lecture actually ends at 2:15pm.
  • Are you an early riser? Are you most focused in the evenings, or before lunch? Know your most productive times of day.

2. Conquer lateness.  Whether it’s in a professional or social setting, being punctual is always important.

  • Lateness usually arises from an expectation that everything in your day will go according to ideal conditions. The key is to be honest with yourself. If your TTC trip to campus should take 25 minutes but actually takes 35 because of streetcar delays, assume it will always take 35.
  • Remember that it takes anywhere from 3-6 weeks for a regular activity to become a habit. Take this time and challenge yourself to not be on time, but be early for your meetings and appointments. This will set ahead your natural scheduling more effectively than only setting your watch forward.

3. Create a task list. This could be on a simple scrap piece of paper, a note on your iPhone or (my personal favourite) a series of post-it notes on your desk. Update it with every task that must be done, no matter how small, and refer to it at day’s end to help you prepare for tomorrow.

4. Plan your time. Use your task list and your knowledge of your habits to assess your time demands and find the best time to do what you need to do.

  • Set priorities by using deadlines or creating your own. This means allocating time for urgent matters as well as less urgent ones. Long-term goals can be achieved with regular attention.
  • Manage your space as well as your time: plan to do your most important work in the place that is best for you, with few distractions.
  • Determine how you can fill small blocks of time as well as larger blocks. A half hour might not be enough to write something, but it can be enough to grade a few papers.

5. Find incentives to stay on track. BlogUT coaches students to challenge unproductive thinking by motivating change: wouldn’t it be better tomorrow if you did something today? Or, there’s Jerry Seinfeld’s advice to let the chain of a productive streak motivate you. For some of the rest of us, it’s as simple as a reward system: are you really looking forward to a sushi dinner? Not until you’ve written tomorrow’s lecture!

What helps you stay on track when you’re having trouble managing your time?

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