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I have a confession to make: I’m a procrastinator. Yep, I said it. I procrastinate big time. This is something my mom always holds over me and brings up in every conversation we have, but she’s a procrastinator too! It has to be genetic.
Studies have shown that up to 95% of college students procrastinate. Almost everyone I have ever known is guilty of it! Procrastination is more common in creative, generally unorganized people. I’m one of those people. But even for people like us, there are some easy ways to increase productivity and improve those pesky time management skills. I learned a lot of these skills when I was an undergrad from one of my dearest professors, Linda Strommen. She was really big on working smarter and not harder. She really, may I say, held some of her most unorganized students’ hands while teaching them the importance of planning. Here are the top tips that I learned from her and also ones that I have implemented into my daily life on my own.
1. Eliminate Distractions
This is one step that has to be done before anything else. Distractions, especially with today’s technology, can be lurking around every corner. Picture this: you’re writing a very important paper and, suddenly, you get a Facebook notification that you just have to check. Almost instantly, it’s three hours later and you’re scrolling on Instagram, not having touched your keyboard since you checked that Facebook notification. We’ve all been there!
One of the most helpful things is to turn off notifications for apps you know will distract you. I know this can be a stressful thing to do; it’s the FOMO! But really, turning off Facebook, Instagram, and other notifications is so beneficial. Especially check those apps that are just on your phone for special purposes, like Uber, restaurant and shopping apps that tempt you with distraction and special deals that will make you want to spend more money than you have to.
Another incredibly helpful thing is to unsubscribe from email lists that you no longer want to be on. I was subscribed to a ridiculous amount of lists for places that I either no longer shopped or that I had never even heard of that somehow got my email address. Some of these companies (looking at you, Old Navy) send a nonsensical amount of emails to their subscribers. I spent so much time per day just scrolling through my promotions file on Gmail just deleting deleting deleting. Unsubscribing from email lists is such a great way to save valuable time.
If you have an Apple Watch, I would consider turning off notifications on it as well. The vibrations can be really distracting! If you are still distracted by your phone, turn it off. Or put it in a place where you can’t see it until you finish whatever you have to work on. A lot of people view a smartphone as a security blanket, and putting it away can cause a lot of anxiety. Trust me, I know from experience! But it truly will help up your productivity levels.
2. Prioritize Your Work
To truly make the most of your time, you need to separate the important from the unimportant. It is impossible for us to direct a full amount of energy and focus to every task we encounter. How important is grocery shopping at this very instant? How about that project that is due in two days? To learn how to prioritize your work, see the next few tips.
I hate to say it, but planning is essential. Get a paper planner. Writing things on paper helps to integrate the thoughts into your mind. My absolute favorite planner is The Happiness Planner. The Happiness Planner is beautiful, stylish, and functional. It comes in a variety of different colors with either rose gold or silver hardware. This planner is packed in a gorgeous box and includes a color-coordinating pen, clips, and reflection and planning printables. The beginning of the Happiness Planner starts with a questionnaire about your personal happiness called the Happiness Roadmap. It asks where you are now, what makes you happy and unhappy, what you are grateful for, your strengths, weaknesses, goals, and so much more. Every month starts and ends with a reflection, where you can set personal and professional goals, write about how you did or didn’t achieve them, and think on how you can improve for the next month. The daily pages of the Happiness Planner include areas to write your main focus of the day, intentions, exercises, meals, schedule, and to-dos.
This is a planner that not only helps me with organization and planning. It helps me be mindful, think positively, and stay grateful. It is a product that is worth the money that I infinitely recommend.
How to Plan
For me, planning starts on Sunday evening. I use my Happiness Planner to identify the main things that I need to accomplish during the coming week. I start by penciling in anything that has already been set for a certain time, like meetings and classes. Then I fill in the rest.
I plan my days by the hour. I know, I know. This is such a scary thought. A lot of people, myself included, love spontaneity and feel stifled without it. It’s important to remember that you can easily add some spontaneity while sticking to the basic structure of your schedule! In the moment, if you find your schedule allows for downtime, please take some downtime!
I schedule what time I will wake up and leave the house as well as how long I will work on my blog for, how long I will practice for (side note, planning my practice is a whole other story!), when I will eat, when I will take breaks, etc. While this can seem totally suffocating and overwhelming at first, I have found that doing this on a regular basis actually prevents me from becoming overwhelmed. Prioritization and consistency is key.
I also take time before I go to bed at night to reflect and edit my plans for the next day. This puts me in a great mindset!
4. Make a Timeline
If you are working on a large project for work or school or heading towards a big personal goal of any kind, I recommend making a timeline. I usually make a timeline for my semesters at school. For example, I am a music major. In music school, each semester usually ends with a type of exam or recital that shows the culmination of what you have learned. These usually require learning lots of music, collaborating with other musicians, and practicing. So, when you have a period of time that will end after you have completed an important presentation or project, making a timeline can help. Lay out your timeline with the beginning of every week until the deadline of your project. Then create categories like “homework due this week” or “events this week” or “what I’m working towards” and fill it in from there. Reference this timeline several times during the week to stay aligned with your goals.
5. Get a Good Night’s Sleep!
Ah yes. The last and probably most important tip that I have. You’ve heard it thousands of times. Get. A. Good. Night’s. Sleep. This is one of the most important, if not the most important, thing I learned in college. I learned that I absolutely cannot function without sleep. I am literally useless, emotional, angry, and feel like a zombie with under 6 hours of sleep. This may be different for you; many different people require many different hours of sleep. But I cannot empathize enough how important it is to get however much sleep is enough for you. Sleep is so important for brain function, which includes cognition, productivity, and the ability to concentrate. Sleep deprivation really damages all of those things and, to me, makes me feel like I’m the bad kind of drunk. None of us want to feel like that! So please, please get some sleep! You will feel so much healthier, inspired, and more productive because of it!
And there you have it, my guide to improving your time management skills. I hope you enjoyed and find some of these tips to be beneficial! Comment down below if you tried any of these things and tell me what you thought!