As twenty-somethings, our lives are filled with a hundred items on a thousand to-do lists. From paying bills, working at our jobs, taking care of our living spaces, taking care of ourselves, and trying to have a social life, our days fill up as fast as our work calendars.
Twenty-four hours doesn’t seem to be nearly enough time to accomplish everything we want to accomplish. It’s like the joke says: “Work, sleep, social life. Choose two.”
Contrary to popular belief, there is plenty of time to do everything on our to-do lists. The key to making it all happen is good time management skills.
Yes, it’s that simple.
Fortunately, I’m blessed with strong time management skills, which served me well throughout college and grad school. I had my to-do lists (in the form of sticky notes hung across my desk hutch) and knew how to work through them. Even in my busiest semester, I managed my class work, extra-curricular activities, and went to every home football game. If you manage your time well, you’ll get more done, and ideally be less stressed. No one needs more stress in their lives.
Here is my best advice for owning time management in your twenties.
Find a routine and stick to it.
Make a schedule for yourself, starting from the time you wake up to the time you go to bed. Write it down and stick it on your refrigerator, tape it to your mirror, somewhere you’re likely see it early in the day.
By creating a routine for yourself, you’re allotting time for all necessary tasks. Of course, things happen and you might have to shift a little bit. But your overarching routine should stay the same.
Psychology says that it takes 21 days to form a habit (or to break one). Try writing down a daily routine and sticking to it for 21 days. See where that takes you. Are you managing your time better?
To-do lists are your friend.
Really, they are. They’re daunting at first, naturally. But when you write out every single thing you have to do–at work, at home, for a particular project–and look at it all at once, of course it looks terrifying and insurmountable. Don’t do that to yourself.
Instead, next time you make a to-do list, include smaller, simpler tasks, or break up a big task into smaller steps. You’ll work through the smaller tasks quicker, and ultimately be able to check off larger tasks more efficiently.
Early in my graduate-school year, my to-do lists read “work on literature review,” “work on web design project,” and “work on usability project.” Work on what parts of those projects? Once I figured out how to break “work on x project” into smaller steps, I was so much more productive and felt more accomplished.
Know how to prioritize, and what to prioritize.
When there’s so much going on in a day, it’s difficult to think about to approach each task. Naturally, some items will hold more importance than others, whether it’s a deadline or a big project that requires more effort. What do you do when multiple tasks hold the same importance? Or what if two items are super important?
There’s no easy answer or formula to determining priority. It depends on the tasks and the person. What you prioritize today or even this week will likely differ the next day or week. Being able to recognize those differences and patterns will make prioritizing your time easier.
I will offer this: if there’s something you’re especially passionate about, strive to make time to work on that every day, or at least every week. Make that a priority. I struggle with this myself, but am working to improve.
Make every minute of your time worth it.
Wasting time helps nothing. Make sure that each minute you spend on a task is worth those minutes you spent on it. Forget “multitasking.” It doesn’t work, because when you split your focus, you aren’t giving your full attention to any one task. Devote your attention to one task at a time.
Forget perfection (easier said than done, I know). Focusing on making something “perfect” stifles productivity. Go into a task knowing that there will be changes made and it will develop.
Time management isn’t always easy, and it doesn’t always come naturally, either. Whether you’re a pro at slicing up your routine, or if you need a crash-course in time management, learning this skill and using it to the best of your abilities will make life so much easier.
What are your best tips for time management? How do you best manage your time?