Learn how to improve your focus and time management to create an environment that is not only productive but also mentally healthy.
If you’re struggling to improve your time management skills, you’re not alone. Time management seems like one of those skills we should possess naturally, but most of us don’t. The end result? You end up feeling unfocused and unaccomplished by the end of your day. Over time, this can impact your mental health.
Poor time management could also affect your physical health: If you feel so overwhelmed, you don’t get regular exercise or you’re always downing fast food in a hurry.
You can make an effort to improve your time management skills and your focusing skills – after all, the two are often intertwined. It helps knowing these are areas where just about everyone faces some challenges, says Lia Garvin, author of “Unstuck” and founder of The Workplace Reframe organizational consulting and coaching firm in the San Francisco area. “We’re all being pulled in so many directions,” she says.
10 Tips for Better Time Management
Here are 10 time management tips that also help you to reduce distractions and improve your focus:
- Write down what you need to get done.
- Turn off distractions.
- Set and follow your calendar.
- Write a to-do list for tomorrow.
- Use the Pomodoro technique.
- Take brain breaks.
- Schedule your work around when you’re most productive.
- Make time for physical activity.
- Be patient.
- Measure your progress.
Write Down What You Need to Get Done
The cornerstone of better time management is having a to-do list. Think of when you try to keep a list in your head of what you need to do for the day. You may be in a meeting for work or making a meal, yet that mental list is getting longer and taking up mental energy, Garvin says. Without writing it down, you also may tend to forget some things you need to finish.
A centralized to-do list gives you a place to write down your tasks. You also can use note-taking apps on your phone or sticky notes if you need to jot down a to-do item on the go. Writing down your tasks helps improve your focus so you’re not carrying them around in your brain.
If you make a plan for your future goals – something else you can do with to-do lists – you’re more likely to reach your goals and be less distracted by what you need to get done, according to a 2011 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
Turn Off Distractions
How many times does your phone buzz hourly? When you’re getting those notifications from apps, text messages and email are you like Pavlov’s dog, scurrying to see what they say? You’re not alone in doing so, but it’s also not the best use of your time. Many apps, especially social media platforms, are designed to draw us in and keep us using them longer, says organizational psychologist Rik Nemanick of Nemanick Leadership Consulting in St. Louis.
When you need to focus, turn off those notifications except perhaps one that may be truly important – say, receiving text messages about or from your children. Smartphones are now offering more ways to choose how often you want to receive notifications, making it a little easier to focus, Nemanick says.
Set and Follow Your Calendar
You may already use a calendar to note deadlines or meetings. However, one calendar component that will help make you a ninja at time management is to plan time for other deliverables you need to complete. This may include projects or reports, for instance. Consider what smaller steps are needed to get these done, estimate how much time each step take you to complete and add that time to your calendar. Look for blocks of time for each task related to what you must complete, advises Amie Devero, founder and CEO of Beyond Better Strategy and Coaching in Tampa.
“Initially, just doing this makes a huge difference to the uncertainty of what you should do next. It also signals your brain to settle in for a specific task until the time block is complete,” she explains. Surrendering to your calendar and doing what’s scheduled provides more structure to get things done.
This may be challenging if you work in a setting where coworkers can loop you into meetings that you didn’t plan to attend, Devero says. Still, try your best and talk to your manager about your concerns if needed.
Write a To-Do List for Tomorrow
One strategy often advised by time management experts is to make a to-do list of what you need to do the next day. Choose one to three things that take top priority, and write them down. Try not to schedule too much. It’s common when you’re new to this. You’ll write enough tasks to fill a couple of days, Garvin says. Plan some extra time to make room for that unanticipated phone call or other disruptions.
Doing your next-day plan today keeps you focused and relieves some of the anxiety over what you’ll be doing – barring unforeseen interruptions, of course.
Use the Pomodoro Technique
The Pomodoro technique has been around since the late 1980s, offering a way to stay focused in short but productive chunks of time, says productivity specialist Melissa Gratias of Savannah, Georgia. This technique involves setting a timer (you can use the timer app on your phone) and working for 25 minutes. When you complete that chunk of time, you can take a five-minute break.
In the Pomodoro technique, you can follow this routine four times – so for two hours total – and then take a 15- to 30-minute break. During your 25 minute periods of work time, stay focused and avoid distractions. If you get an unavoidable distraction, take a five-minute break and start over. In the next tip, Gratias shares some ideal ways to use your five-minute break.
You may not be able to follow four sessions using the Pomodoro technique if your work involves frequent meetings, but even 30 minutes of using the Pomodoro technique can help your time management and concentration, Gratias adds.
Take Brain Breaks
Sometimes, taking a break is the best thing you can do to help your focusing skills and time management. Without a break, you may be getting work done but you feel tired or overwhelmed. If you’re using the Pomodoro technique, you’re giving your brain the best type of break – one that gives your brain’s pre-frontal cortex a break, Gratias says. This is the part of your brain that’s involved with problem solving and decision making.
Some options for your brain break:
- Stretching or yoga.
- Looking at an object at least 20 feet away and really noticing it. You may decide to look at a tree. Spend time noticing the branches, leaves and seeing it in detail. Doing this gives both your eyes and brain a break from screens.
A brain break shouldn’t involve checking social media, which would continue use of your prefrontal cortex, but there can still be a place for social media checks, Gratias says. The point is to be intentional and think of it as a reward versus something you do every time you take a work pause. If you get done with a certain task you wanted to finish, you can plan for a few minutes of social media use or playing your favorite phone-based game.
Schedule Your Work Around When You’re Most Productive
Consider what time(s) of the day you feel most productive. If you’re not sure, pay attention to how much you typically get done and when on most days. Are you more productive earlier in the morning? Or maybe at night after your children go to sleep? Identify those strongest time points and if you have the flexibility to work around those productive time points, do so, Garvin advises. During times when you’re not as alert – maybe for the hour or so after lunch – you can schedule work that takes less brain power.
Make Time for Physical Activity
If you’re feeling overwhelmed with things to do, self-care, especially in the form of physical activity, is usually the first thing that gets dropped off the to-do list, Garvin says. Not so fast. Regular exercise helps give you more energy, helps with stress management and provides other health benefits, such as boosting your overall physical fitness and building muscle.
As you design your schedule, include time for exercise, Devero suggests. This could be as simple as a 30-minute walk during lunch or scheduling an at-home workout to start or end your day.
“If you don’t have a history of actively managing your time, it’s easy to fall off the wagon and go back to managing your time haphazardly and randomly,” Nemanick says. Forgive yourself and try again, just as you might when trying a new exercise or diet routine. Ask for help and support from loved ones to keep motivated and hold yourself accountable.
Commit to trying time management techniques for three weeks, which should give you enough time to make them habits. Don’t aim for perfection from the start, and any progress is still progress. Following better time management and focusing practices even 80% of the time can make a huge difference, Nemanick adds.
Measure Your Progress
With any goal, measuring your progress can be motivating as it helps you to see how far you’ve come and where you want to proceed next. That also applies to improving your time management skills.
There are a few ways to tell if your time management skills are improving:
- You’re able to relax more.
- At the end of each day, you feel as if you’re getting more done. You may not get everything from your to-do list completed, but you’ve finished what’s most important.
- You’re keeping up with deadlines better.
- You have a strong sense of accomplishment.
Source: Health U.S News