Gone are the days of college procrastination, fellow twenty-somethings. You know what I’m talking about – those late nights of paper writing a mere 12 hours before that 20-pager was due. Prioritizing one’s time is a unique skill set all on its own.
I’ll be honest. I wish I had learned this skill better in college, because when I started my first job, it was like I had ice-cold water dumped over my head. But instead of a bucket-full, it was more like a pool-full.
I was unprepared for the number of tasks daily. And I’m not just talking about work: it also became a challenge to do all of those things that make being an adult and still find time to take a deep breath. Paying the bills. Grocery shopping. Finding time to exercise. Cleaning the apartment. Prepping for that meeting. The list goes on and on.
Now almost 5 years into my career and learning the art of adulting, as Kelly Williams Brown dubs it, here are some things I’ve discovered about how to prioritize your time:
1. You can’t do it all.
Seriously. Unless you are Superman, I doubt you will get it all done. The first step to prioritizing your time is prioritizing your tasks. Determine what absolutely has to get done.
I’d say finishing a major work presentation trumps cleaning your bathroom with a toothbrush. Make a list of the most important tasks, so you know what you need to do first.
2. Determine a timeline for getting things done.
How much time do you have to accomplish a given set of tasks? Two hours? Two days? Two weeks? You need to envision your goal and its desired results. In the educational field, we call this Backward Design. What is the desired end to your tasks and when do they need to be finished by?
3. Allot a certain amount of time for each task.
Your folks are coming for the weekend, but you have a massive work pile and your apartment is a disaster. It’s 9:00AM, and they’ll be here at noon. Gulp. But wait! Don’t panic. Here’s a sample mock schedule of incorporating both work and cleaning.
9:00AM – tidy living room and vacuum.
9:20AM – prepare guest space. Put out new linens and dust dressers.
9:45AM – plan lunch meal, or lunch plans with folks.
10:00AM – assemble materials needed to complete work presentation.
10:10AM – continue work on presentation.
Do you see what I’m doing here? Sometimes time prioritization is really only creating a routine (ssh, you didn’t hear that grand secret from me). Making a schedule and sticking to it makes the tasks seem more manageable and keeps you on track.
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4. Schedule times for quick breaks.
Remember what I said: you aren’t Superman. You need a break once in a while. Don’t plan an insane time schedule with no brain breaks. Take a 15 minute breather and go for a walk between cleaning tasks.
At work? Give yourself five minutes to sip some coffee and take a quick lap around the office before returning to your next item. Psychology studies show we are more accomplished when we give ourselves mind breaks.
5. Evaluate the process and adjust accordingly.
Obviously things come up. It’s not a perfect world. Maybe the fire alarm for your building goes off while you’re cleaning, and you have to stand outside for 20 minutes only to learn someone burnt toast. Or maybe your grandmother calls to chat for 30 minutes (because it’s your grandmother – you can’t hang up on her!) and that work presentation sits untouched. It’s okay.
You simply adjust your schedule. Perhaps some things need less time, or something can be moved and completed tomorrow. Either way, don’t stress. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about time prioritization, it’s that everything eventually gets done the way it should. Have a little faith it will all work out in the end.
And you college-going twenty-somethings out there: don’t wait. Start prioritizing your time now. Many seem to consider it an overrated skill, but I object: it’s never too early to learn how to plan your time wisely. It makes your life less stressful and more manageable when you know you have tasks to complete and a secure timeframe for completing them.
Tackle your tasks with confidence, my fellow twenty-somethings. You may not be Superman, but you’re still pretty awesome.