The Top 5 Secrets to Successful Time Management
It’s one of these things that you’re either simply good at, or that you can’t seem to wrap your head around: time management. But why is time management – something that is crucial in nearly everything you do – such an Everest to so many?
Personally, I think that one big problem is that we often have misconceptions about how a person who is good at time management should behave: always stick to a rigid plan, never procrastinate, always know what’s what.
Let me, as a person that has – some way or the other – mastered the art of time management, tell you that that doesn’t nearly come close to the truth half of the time. But what does? I’ve asked myself the very same question and narrowed it down to the top 5 things that time management wizards do.
So, let’s not lose any more time (pun intended) and dive right into it:
1. Stay flexible
If you want to be good at time management, you have to be flexible. I know that this might seem counterintuitive at first, but a plan is never ruined for a time manager.
I still remember one of the questions during my interview for AIESEC: Did you ever make a plan that didn’t work out? How did you react? I honestly didn’t know how to answer. If I realise that my plan doesn’t work out, I change it until it does. It’s that simple. In fact, when I make a plan, it rarely works out. But that’s also not the point of a plan.
Plans don’t have to be perfect. The point of a plan is not to make a rigid schedule and then get a breakdown when it doesn’t work out. It’s to make an overview of what needs to happen and when. And when you realise that you’ve planned too much time for this one thing or too little for the other, you change your plan. It’s that simple. Everything goes according to plan as long as you keep an overview.
2. Plan ahead
This automatically brings me to my second point: you can only be flexible when you have the time and space to do so. And, trust me, if something doesn’t work out in your agenda, it won’t work out in real life. Meaning: when you can’t get all activities, projects and deadlines planned in the time you have, don’t say “Ah, I’ll find a way. I’ll figure it out on the go.” Because, more likely than not, you won’t. What you’ll find instead is stress, over-nighters and sloppy results.
Always remember: if it doesn’t work out in your head, it, more likely than not, won’t work out.
The solution? Start sooner. Yes, it’s that simple.
At the beginning of each new university period, I make an overview of all upcoming weeks: all deadlines, all assignments and all weekends that I can’t study because of something else. I do this next to my usual agenda by the way: my agenda is an overview of the week and a breakdown of the tasks and readings for each day. The big overview is reserved for all big deadlines and priorities.
And then I start counting back. When should I start writing my papers to have enough time to review them before the deadline? When should I start studying for the exam? Because of this overview that I made at the beginning of my last uni period, I figured out that I had to write my first paper already over the second weekend and my second paper over the third. Normally, I’d never write papers that soon, but I needed the time after for exams. Had I not made the plan in week 1, I would have never written my papers that early on and I would have had to do everything at the same time in the last weeks, only partly happy with the results.
I already touched upon this point before: prioritise. As indicated in secret 2, I always make one overview of the big deadlines. The really, really important ones. Those are the ones you should focus on first. Everything else is secondary, that’s just the way it is.
And I don’t mean to say that that is only uni or work stuff. I count my grandma’s birthday as one big thing and block that day in advance to be with her. Maybe you have other non-uni/work priorities that deserve to be on the big overview. But be strict with yourself what counts and what doesn’t: a movie night with your closest friends might count as one. Going out for a beer every second night might not. It’s up to you, but be aware of what your priorities are and plan accordingly.
As we say in the Netherlands: Tijd is Prioriteit – Time is Priority. Be aware of this.
4. Me-time counts!
No, successful time management is not about working from 8 am until 11 pm and getting everything done like that. That’s no fun, trust me. We all need time to ourselves – time to get all our ducks in a row again and to think about something other than uni/work.
Don’t be afraid to take time for this. Plan at least one hour once a day to do something you love. This is what will keep you going. Plan at least one hour every week to quickly tidy up your space – clean desk = clear mind.
Keep secret 3 in mind while doing this though. Ask yourself: what gives me energy? How do I relax? If that’s Netflixing, go ahead. Is it taking your time to prepare a delicious meal? Then take that hour! Reading? Going for a run? In the end, it doesn’t matter what you do, as long as it makes you happy and gives you energy, or helps you to relax.
But why should you plan this time? Because otherwise, you’ll forget? Possible, but unlikely. I know from myself that even when work starts to pile up, I’ll take half an hour to do something else and empty my mind. But when you plan this time, you take your mind off it. Then you don’t study/work thinking “I should go out for a run again.”, but instead you focus on your work, knowing that later that day you will go out for a run. It’s like writing a thought down that you can’t get out of your head – once it’s written and planned, you can focus on other things again.
5. Delegate and ask for help
I was unsure whether I should include this one in the list. After all, when your time management is on point, you won’t need to delegate your work to others, right?
No. Your time management can be perfect. You can plan everything way ahead, have your priorities on point and have a plan that’s flexible enough that it can take a couple of punches. And then your tutor, lecturer, boss or maybe even friend comes along and all of a sudden there is this other super important thing you have to do. You try to adapt your agenda but you’re running out of time: you can’t do everything before all deadlines anymore.
Solution? Delegate. Ask yourself: do I have to do all these things? Can someone help me out? Can one of the deadlines be pushed?
Look, we’re all human – we all know what it’s like to have too much on our plates. But don’t let that discourage you. It can still be done if you reprioritise and delegate.
Maybe that’s the most important secret of all: No matter how impossible something seems, it can always be done. I love to think of this as a puzzle: they sometimes seem impossible to solve but you keep going. Why? Because you know that there is a way. You know that there is a solution.
It’s up to you to find it.