What is Time Management?

Time, unlike other resources such as money, is finite and cannot be gained; moreover, everyone has the same amount in a given day or week. Time is a funny thing- it inevitably passes whether we want it to or not, whether we are ready or not. While some people seem to have more time than others, they do not- they are simply using and managing their time in a more efficient and desirable way.

Time management is a commonly used term and essentially refers to a person’s ability to plan and execute short-and long-term tasks in order to efficiently utilize one’s time. Since success in all domains of life hinges on getting things done and getting where we need to go within given time frames, time management is clearly an important skill set for personal and professional success.

Consequences of Time Mismanagement

Some people intrinsically have a better handle on time and know how to prioritize, plan, and execute tasks to meet internal and external deadlines and demands while others struggle every day. Unfortunately, being chronically late and mismanaging one’s time invariably carries various negative consequences such as poor grades, job loss (or lack of promotion and success), and relationship failure. Since time management is essentially task-management, those who struggle with these skills also end up suffering by simply never getting to the things they want to get to, despite having the same amount of time as the rest of us. This is a sad state of affairs; we all work hard and deserve to maximize the fruits of our labors, yet time mismanagement frequently prevents people from being able to achieve their goals and fully enjoy their lives.

Managing one’s time is therefore essential for managing one’s life; I have yet to meet an adult who struggles with time management and timeliness but doesn’t struggle with other aspects of managing their lives (i.e. money, job/career, friends, family, and romantic relationships, maybe even health). Again, a successful life (in whatever way one defines success) requires an ability to realistically plan and execute tasks in an efficient and timely way.

While people who naturally struggle with time management may always have to actively work on these skills to achieve success, with purposeful practice via strategies and internal and external reinforcement, vast improvement can be made. Some of the best strategies are the simplest – as they say, you cannot reinvent the wheel! So find the ones that work for you and stick with them.

Strategies for Successful Time Management

1.Wear a timepiece (Obviously! Your phone does not count- it is not on your body and can’t always be easily glanced at)

2. Set alarms:

    • Use multiple alarms if needed for various short and long-term tasks, as well as checkpoints and reminders

3. Make a schedule and stick to it…but know when to be flexible

    • Create a calendar and block out the time you need to complete a given task. If you tend to run late or behind in finishing, know thyself and build in extra time!
    • Flexibility is a must as life throws curveballs constantly- if one task or scheduled chunk of time gets interrupted, make sure you realistically look at when you can finish that task and reschedule time right away

4. Stay focused on the task at hand until it’s completed

    • One problem I’ve observed with people who are chronically late and mismanage time is that they will “bounce” from task to task, never really finishing one but starting several
    • This creates chaos and disorganization because several balls are now in the air, causing focus and efficiency to become lost
    • Use checklists to physically mark off each task as it’s completed and don’t allow yourself to get sidetracked

5. Use task analysis

    • This consists of breaking down larger tasks into smaller, manageable steps that can be done individually
        • This allows us to complete a micro task and move on, rather than get mired down in the larger task which can cause us to lose focus and work inefficiently
        • Ex. Instead of “write research paper” as the task, break this large process/action into several smaller ones.
        • Again, this may seem obvious, but many people don’t break down these large projects into micro tasks, leaving them feeling overwhelmed with the large task and either send them into avoidance/procrastination

6. Keep a “Time Journal”

    • This is like a food journal and requires one to honestly track and record their usage of time to maintain accountability and notice patterns
    • (“Oh, I WAS 15 minutes late to that meeting…”)
    • Identifying our patterns allows us to find solutions and strategies to overcome
    • I.E. If you’re consistently 15 minutes late to meetings or events, start making your leave time 20 minutes earlier

7. Don’t over promise or overreach your ability to be timely

    • Overestimate how much time it will take you to get somewhere or complete a project and set low expectations for those you are meeting. Better to be early than late!

8. Consider those around you

    • This may sound like an odd strategy, but people who are chronically late often seem very focused on themselves and their own concept of time without really considering how social our world is and how hindered our ability to function becomes when we can’t seem to get things done and get where we need to be on time.
    • By thinking about how one’s lateness affects family, friends, coworkers, etc… we may feel an additional layer of motivation to implement the strategies that will help us become more timely, thereby making those around us feel more valued, respected, and satisfied.

9. Use friends, family, and professionals as accountability

    • Recognize enablers and ask them to instead keep you accountable
    • Set consequences for yourself
    • Heed natural, external consequences (“Oh, I missed hanging out with my family at the event because I was 45 minutes late, and that’s on me. Next time I need to be more timely and I’ll get what I want out of the situation- to spend time with the people I love”)
    • This sounds simple and obvious, but many of us don’t make the explicit connection between our actions and outcomes, and metacognitive messages like this can help us repattern our behavior and reinforce positive behaviors

10. If you realize that you are behind and will run late for a meeting or deadline, be proactive and let people know in advance

    • Lateness will still happen sometimes, even with the most effective strategies to mitigate time mismanagement.
    • Everyone knows they are running late or will be unable to meet a deadline before it actually happens, so let people know as soon as you see this happening. On a personal level, this allows people to modify their plans and expectations, alleviating potential upset. In regards to professional or academic situations, providing the advance notice can actually give you some breathing room to get done what you need to, such as receiving an extension on a paper or project due date.

No one is a perfect time manager, but if you find yourself chronically and consistently misappropriating your time and running late for life, there is hope! By implementing these simple strategies, and reaching out to a coach for help if needed, we can all achieve more productive and happy lives.