How I Practice Efficient Time Management (and keep myself organized)

When a new school year starts, I always like to take some time to brainstorm new ways to manage my time efficiently. I know from past experience that if I don’t have a schedule, everything will fall apart within a few weeks. I wanted to take the time to share my strategies in the hopes that they might be helpful to others!

1. Make a routine

Before you can begin thinking about what you have to do, you need to think about when you’re going to do it. Think about how much sleep you need to be productive. Try not to do work for at least an hour after getting up and an hour before going to bed. For breaks, try to block out at least an hour for lunch and dinner. (Make sure to try to take a break every hour as well! Step away from your computer screen to ease your eyes, or drink water. These don’t need to be scheduled but should happen when you feel a natural pause in your workflow.) 

For example, here’s how I planned out my daily routine:

Having a routine is important because once your body gets used to doing things at the same time every day, you will slowly become more and more productive as time goes on. When I started getting up early in preparation for getting a puppy, I was initially feeling super tired all day. However, as I persisted, I noticed myself becoming accustomed to the early wake-up time and suddenly found myself with a lot more hours in the day to be productive.

2. List your commitments

Now that you have a routine in mind, the next step is to list all the things that will take up your time that week. And I mean everything. Classes, jobs, internships, clubs, workout time, pet care, breaks, mealtimes, and so on and so forth. 

Once you have your main categories, break them down into individual tasks. Classes? I have three. What do I have to do for each class? Watch lectures, do readings, and complete assignments. Internship? I have a bi-weekly meeting, I have to do these three things, and I need to send an email to this person. Do that for each commitment. 

Once you have your itemized list, you can begin to think about how much time it will take you to do each task. Classes typically have a standardized amount of time per week you will need to complete the class materials, but depending on your needs, you may take more or less time. Work usually has a set schedule or time commitment, but be sure to think about commute time when applicable. Participation in student organizations will vary depending on your involvement, so try to see how much time you have to get involved. 

3. Find an organization method that suits you

Finding an organization method that works with your thinking process is crucial to staying on top of things. Make sure it’s something you enjoy looking at, keeping track of, and keeping organized. I typically keep 2 types of organization: one digital via Google Calendar and one physical with a planner. Why do I keep 2 different systems? There are pros and cons to each. 

Google Calendar is my primary method for keeping track of events, meetings, and planning classes. It allows me to view my schedule if I’m on the go, I can add events months in advance, and I can keep it open during meetings as a reference for future availability. Some other features that I enjoy are the ability to: color coordinate different types of events, add important information in the description function (like the address or zoom link for meetings), add tasks, and share calendars with people/add other people’s calendars to your schedule. Overall, I use Google Calendar for quick viewing and long-term planning. 

I use a physical planner for review at the start of the week. Every Sunday, I pull up the Google Calendar, then transition all the information for the upcoming week into my physical planner. While I don’t write my class times into the planner, I do copy over every meeting, event, and important assignment to complete that week. Taking 30 minutes to fill out all the information and decorate my planner makes planning my week more enjoyable, so it’s something I look forward to doing! Making organization fun is important, so you actually want to stay on top of doing it every week. This way, at the end of each week, I review the information in the planner and make sure I can check off every task. 

In addition to these two primary methods, I always have a plethora of sticky notes scattered around my setup at all times. On these, I write important meetings or tasks coming up, just as an extra reminder. I try my best to color coordinate these as well, so I know, for example, “Oh, I have a blue sticky note up, let me see what internship task I still need to complete for the week.”

There are tons of other organization tools out there that might be more to your liking, such as Notion or Asana. They have their own quirks and are worth checking out if Google Calendar or a physical planner aren’t your style. For a more in-depth look at some organization tools, check out my other blog post here!

4. Now, put it all together. 

It’s not as easy as that, but with all your planning, it’ll be easier! Take your routine from earlier. 

Start with the most time-sensitive tasks. Do you have work or class at a certain time? Do you have some extra meetings this week? Perhaps these set tasks overlap with your lunch or dinner. If so, shift things accordingly. It’s best to try to eat at the same time every day, but of course, things can change slightly to fit your schedule. 

Now think about the important things that need to get done. I have asynchronous classes, so I think about when the materials are uploaded each week and plan accordingly. If a class is uploaded at 10:00 am, I’ll start working on it that day. If a class is uploaded at 5:00 pm, I’ll start it the next morning. My strategy with class work is to try to get as much of it done in one day as possible, as the lectures help with the readings, which help with the assignments. 

Lastly, think about things that weren’t your top priority, but you want to get done. Where do these tasks fit into your schedule? Maybe you have an extra 30 minutes here or there to do a fun project or get ahead on an essay that’s due in a few weeks. Maybe you wanted to attend a workshop or a club meeting and find you have some extra time in your schedule. Try to include these fun activities into your working schedule to break up the monotony of your work day!

Staying Motivated

Now that you’ve completed all those steps, you’ll have your week planned out. Of course, it’s up to you to stick to it, but that’s what’s great about planning a routine. Once you get into it, you’ll know what to do and when to do it. However, no matter how planned you are, sometimes the motivation to get stuff done isn’t quite there. As I mentioned earlier, ensuring you are taking breaks at natural pause points in your workflow (approximately every hour) is important to maintain motivation. If you’re just working nonstop, eventually, you’ll burn yourself out for the day, and not want to keep going. 

How do I try to remain motivated? I create things to look forward to during my breaks. Mostly snacks, but sometimes I’ll watch a video I wanted to watch during a break or take some time to play with my puppy (most of my breaks end up being puppy-focused). Also, having a network of people to chat with can be a great help, as sharing your accomplishments and hearing about others’ achievements is a great way to encourage yourself and others too! 

Another form of creating a reward for getting work done would be to say, “after each task I complete, I get to do x.” This would be an extra push of motivation beyond waiting for breaks to reward yourself for completing tasks if waiting till breaks isn’t helping on a particular day. This might look like writing all your daily tasks on individual sticky notes, then crumpling them up and tossing them once you finish that particular task. For me, having a physical representation of getting a task off my plate is really helpful!

In addition to these methods, staying on top of your other breaks and making sure you start and stop work at the right time is crucial. If you continually work into your break or past the time you said you’d end for the day, you will start to slip out of your routine. Sticking to your schedule as best you can is important, even if it means ending a little before you said you would, because starting another task would push you over your time for the day. For some people, perhaps setting a timer would help to act as a visual representation of how much time you have left till your next break.

Keeping Focused

Keeping focused is similar to staying motivated, though focus is more about not getting distracted. Once you lose motivation, it’s harder to stay focused. Once you lose focus, it’s easier to lose motivation. How do you stay focused? Once again, this is related to your schedule. Making sure that at the beginning of each week, you create your “plan of attack” for the week is the first step to keeping your focus. Without your schedule, you won’t know where to start, how long you have to complete a task, or when to take a break. 

Sometimes keeping focused needs more effort than just creating the schedule. Something I mentioned earlier was my plethora of sticky notes scattered around. This is related to how I keep focused. Having all my tasks constantly visible to me as I am working allows me to see not only what I’m working on, but also what’s coming next. It prevents me from getting distracted at the end of each task, as I know exactly what I need to keep working on until my next break comes up. 

Another important thing to remaining focused is having a workspace that makes you happy. This might mean having a few decorations, having no decorations, having a wall of sticky notes, or having everything written on a notepad. This workspace will look different for everyone, but the most important thing to remember is that an organized workplace is most conducive to work. Organizing things in a way that works for you will make it easier for you to focus. If you’re always seeing several dirty cups out of the corner of your eye, you’ll keep thinking about how you have to do dishes later. I do a thorough cleaning and organization of my desk at the beginning of every week, and every morning, making sure any mess from the previous day is cleaned up. Included in the workspace is the environment you create while you work. Sometimes listening to music or having some other form of background noise can help you stay focused. 

Now, it’s your turn!

You’ve made it to the end of my blog post; I appreciate you taking the time to read through everything I had to say. I hope you found some of my advice helpful. What are the key takeaways from this post? Make a routine, list your commitments, and find an organization method that suits you. After all that, you should be on your way to staying motivated and keeping your focus during the work week! For making it this far, here’s a photo of my puppy, Lucy, who helps me stay motivated and keeps me company while I work from home. Thank you for being here and supporting my blog!

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