17 Practical Time Management Tips for a Stress-Free Life was written by Amanda Kay and originally appeared on Wealth of Geeks. Amanda Kay, the founder of My Life, I Guess, provides valuable career advice and support for anyone striving to make a living and make a life. Amanda's expertise and relatable approach have been featured in trusted publications such as MSN, Credit.com, Yahoo! Finance, the Ladders and Fairygodboss. It has been republished with permission. Please note that contributing opinions are those of the author. They are not always in strict alignment with my own opinions. –Joe.
Have you ever woken up in the morning, and instead of feeling overwhelmed by everything you have to do that day, you feel calm, refreshed, and ready to face the world? No? Neither have I.
It doesn't have to be a far-fetched scenario, though. Use these easy time management tips to help you feel less overwhelmed and more in control of your day.
1. Track Your Time
You can only manage your time if you know how you're spending your time. To begin, take a look at the tasks and activities you do daily. Use a notebook or time-tracking app and record everything you do for a few days, no matter how small the task seems.
Once you've grasped how you spend your time, you can start making smart choices to regain control. You can decide which tasks are most important, pass on the unnecessary stuff, and make an efficient schedule with what matters to you.
2. Look for Patterns
With this newfound data, look for patterns and trends in how you spend your time. You may discover certain activities are eating up way more of your day than they should, or certain tasks keep slipping through the cracks.
Identifying these patterns will show you where you are effectively using your time and where you may be wasting it. From there, you can adjust and fine-tune your approach to do more of what works.
3. Identify Your Time Wasters
Pay attention to how specific activities make you feel. Do some tasks drain your energy or leave you feeling unmotivated? Do they fail to bring you fulfillment or progress? If so, it's time to cut these time-wasters out, or at the very least, cut them back.
It might be difficult at first, but you'll feel much better once you eliminate those time-wasting activities and make space for things you enjoy.
If something is impossible to avoid completely, gradually reduce how much time you spend on it. For example, if you spend significant time in pointless meetings that interfere with your productivity, you could request shorter or more focused meetings or decline unnecessary ones.
4. Make Your To-Do List
Make a list of all of your commitments, obligations, and errands. Include work tasks, household chores, and family commitments.
How often you do this list-making depends on how busy you are. If you've got a jam-packed schedule, you should do it daily. If things are more laid-back, weekly or monthly should do the trick.
Consider making separate lists for professional and personal projects.
The goal is to get everything out of your head and onto paper (or screen) so you can see it all in one place. It's like a visual reminder of what you've got going on. Plus, it'll help you stay on top of your game and avoid forgetting important tasks.
5. Prioritize Tasks
Instead of randomly choosing what to do next from your long list, prioritize the most important tasks so they are noticed and remembered.
Take your to-do list, and assign each task a high, medium, or low priority level based on time sensitivity and importance so that you know what needs to be done right away. Don't let those non-urgent items distract you; they can wait until later.
6. Break Down Large Tasks
Facing a big project can immediately feel overwhelming. Breaking it into smaller, more manageable tasks transforms a seemingly impossible challenge into a series of achievable steps. You can focus on one step at a time rather than face everything at once.
This approach also helps you determine the logical order to complete your tasks.
For example, if you are a freelance writer or a student with an assignment due in one week, break it down into smaller tasks like researching your topic, writing an outline, creating drafts, and finally completing your final draft.
By tackling these smaller tasks individually, you experience a sense of accomplishment and motivation as you steadily move closer to completing the entire project. It will allow you to see your progress faster, which may help reduce feeling overwhelmed.
7. Consider How Much Time You Have
On that note, think about how much time you have, and consider how much time each item on your list takes. Avoid putting additional pressure on yourself by trying to do something you do not have the time for. You're just asking for added stress if you try.
For instance, if the kids get home from school in 10 minutes, don't bother trying to clean the entire bathroom. Tackle a quick household chore instead, like emptying the dishwasher or folding a load of laundry.
Or, if you have 10 minutes before your next meeting, don't start returning people's calls now. Instead, jot down any last-minute ideas or questions you want to discuss, take a quick walk to clear your mind, or grab a coffee.
8. Plan Ahead and Create a Schedule
Having a plan in place makes it easier to avoid procrastination and distractions. Struggling with either of these can make your workload seem bigger than it actually is. With a clear schedule, you'll know exactly what to do and when to finish it.
Only some things on your to-do list will get done today, and that's okay. Rome wasn't built in a day, either. So plan out when each task will get done to ensure you meet deadlines.
By planning, you can avoid the last-minute rush and the stress that comes with it. The key is to strike a balance between ambition and feasibility. If you only have 10 minutes, don’t try to rush through something that needs more time.
9. Set Deadlines for Yourself
Deadlines, as dreaded as they are, can also be quite motivating. If you have a bad habit of procrastinating, setting deadlines is crucial. You can give yourself a buffer in case you are running behind.
Setting deadlines helps you stay on track and ensure tasks are completed on time. Use the time management tips above to logically break down your to-do list items and schedule your deadlines.
10. Block Your Time
Instead of jumping back and forth between different tasks, divide your day into blocks of time dedicated to specific activities.
For instance, you could have a 2-hour block in the morning for tackling important work projects, an hour for dealing with emails, and another hour for going to the gym after work. The idea is to focus on one task during each block without getting distracted.
However, you can account for those distractions, too. Chances are good that you spend part of your day scrolling through your phone, looking at social media, or playing games. It is absolutely fine (and healthy!) to indulge in “unproductive time wasters” like these as long as you are mindful of how much time you spend on them.
Try setting specific time blocks for these activities, such as during your lunch break or 30 minutes after dinner. This will help keep you from getting distracted throughout the day and give you better control over how you use your time.
11. Set Boundaries
Establishing boundaries around when work begins and ends each day can also be beneficial for helping maintain focus, especially if you work remotely. For most of us, it's all about creating a clear distinction between our work and personal lives.
By having a designated starting point, you can mentally transition into work mode and set your focus on professional tasks. Similarly, having a clear endpoint allows you to mentally detach from work and shift your attention to personal matters or other aspects of your life.
So if you work from 9 am to 5 pm, avoid the temptation to check work emails or continue working outside these hours. By establishing these boundaries, you create a structure that helps you stay focused during work hours and prevents work from encroaching on your personal time.
12. Eliminate Distractions
From the buzzing notifications that beg for your attention to the allure of the ever-scrolling news feed, identifying and eliminating distractions is essential for managing our time. You can concentrate and effectively manage your workload with each unwanted interruption eliminated.
One strategy to reduce distractions is to turn off notifications on your devices so you're not bombarded with alerts while trying to focus. As mentioned, setting aside specific times throughout the day when you check your phone is best.
Another useful technique is to turn off device notifications during dedicated work sessions. By silencing those dings and buzzes, you create a distraction-free zone that allows you to concentrate fully on the task at hand.
If certain apps become too tempting and continually steal your attention, don't hesitate to delete them from your device—even if it's only temporarily. Sometimes, a little digital detox is just what we need to regain focus and reclaim our time.
Distractions aren't exclusively digital, though. It's also helpful to create an environment that promotes productivity, free from clutter or unnecessary items that might cause procrastination or distraction.
If your coworkers are the problem, establish clear boundaries by communicating your priorities and deadlines. Use headphones and visual cues or find alternative workspaces to minimize interruptions if needed. If you work from home, set up a separate space, ideally with a door you can close.
13. Automate Things
While the digital world can make us slackers, we can also use it to harness our efficiency and effectiveness.
Think about it. How many times have you found yourself doing the same tedious tasks repeatedly? Whether sorting through emails, generating reports, or paying your bills, these activities eat up precious hours you could spend on more important or enjoyable endeavors.
By automating repetitive tasks, you not only save time but also reduce the risk of making a mistake or forgetting. It frees up mental space, allowing you to reclaim valuable time and focus on what truly matters.
14. Use Time Management Tools
Similarly, time management tools can be game-changers when living a stress-free life. One popular strategy is to use productivity apps. These apps often come with features that allow you to set limits on screen time, track and analyze your usage, and even block distracting websites or apps during specific periods.
15. Delegate Tasks Whenever Possible
When done properly, delegation allows you to offload tasks you may not have time or energy for. Instead, you can focus on the more important or enjoyable things.
Consider who is a suitable person to take over the task. You don't want to pass along responsibilities to someone who doesn't have the right skills or time. You'll only have to redo everything anyway, thus completely defeating the purpose of delegating.
For example, an office manager might delegate administrative tasks like managing emails, organizing meetings, and ordering office supplies to an administrative assistant.
Provide clear instructions and guidelines so the person knows what to do and when they should have it completed. Check in with them regularly throughout the process, especially at first, and offer support to ensure the task is completed correctly and on time.
Delegating tasks may require some upfront effort, but the benefits are absolutely worth it in the long run. Once you've found the right person, you'll find more time and energy to focus on the things that truly matter to you.
Not to mention, by delegating tasks, you're fostering your growth and development. You can sharpen your leadership and management skills and gain a fresh perspective by allowing others to bring their unique strengths and ideas to the table.
16. Take Breaks
Taking a break is one of the most essential time management tips for reducing stress. It can help to step back from your work, take some deep breaths, and get perspective on the situation. They don't have to be lengthy–even five minutes away can do wonders for your mental health.
During these breaks, avoid tasks or activities that are mentally taxing, like checking emails or scrolling through social media. Instead, walk with your favorite coworker or grab a healthy snack. This will allow you to clear your head and return feeling refreshed and ready to get back into the job.
If you are too overwhelmed, remember: taking a break is always an option.
Don't forget about any paid time off you have. While it would be ideal to use this time off to relax and do nothing, it might be worth taking a day or two off work to catch up on life.
17. Have a Positive Attitude
Living stress-free is challenging, even if you are a time management pro. Keeping a positive outlook makes staying motivated when stressed and overwhelmed easier.
Focusing on what you have achieved is much more beneficial than focusing on what is yet to be done. As long as you're taking action and staying focused on the goal, it's worth celebrating these successes, no matter how small or insignificant.
Reduce Your Stress With Time Management
Ultimately, you control your time and can make each day count with thoughtful planning. Don't be discouraged if you can't conquer everything at once; keep moving forward, one task at a time. You've got this!