If you want to make good use of your time, you’ve got to know what’s most important and then give it all you’ve got. —Lee Iacocca
If you are having trouble getting things done, the last thing you need is to spend a week studying a book on how to manage your time. However, if you relish such exercises, the best book I have found is Improve Your Time Management by Polly Bird. The book lays out a solid plan, beginning with defining personal priorities and continuing through with time management, prioritization, procrastination, and information overload.
Here, I will use my gleanings from several time management books as a springboard for a set of hints that I have found useful in my own work over the years.
- Determine to complete all tasks you are assigned on time
- Compile a daily list of tasks to be achieved
- Prioritize to focus on what is important
- Set deadlines you can achieve
- Focus on one task at a time
- Allocate time slots for phone calls and e-mail
- Break-up large tasks into manageable chunks
- Take a short break every forty minutes or so
- Get things done in spare moments (during lunch or while waiting in line)
- Eat breakfast, avoid soda, get some exercise every day
- Set clear objectives for meetings and stay focused
Think about time wasters. Interruptions can be a problem, especially for those of us (including students) who work at home. It is often hard for our family members to realize when we are focusing on a task that will be disturbed by an interruption. Every time we are interrupted it takes several minutes or more to refocus and get back on task. You may also want to do “mindless” tasks during the times when you know family will be interrupting you.
“Social chatting” that you initiate yourself can be controlled. When you set aside a time to work, spend your time working, not chatting or surfing or texting. If you think of something you need to do that is not in your current task list, write yourself a note and get back to work. Come back to it later, during the time you have set aside for such chores.
Sometimes you will find yourself unable to get started. Maybe you have a challenging math assignment that you dread. Get going by doing a few things that require less focus. Read over the assigned chapter or section of the book. Make a list of what you need to get done. Finish off some unpleasant task that is a little better than your math assignment. Soon, your brain will be “warmed-up” and you can tackle work that requires more focus.
The desire for perfection and excellence can keep you from getting work done. I am constantly frustrated by how poorly I write, especially in the first few drafts. However, I know from experience that I will get nothing written if I don’t start putting words on the page. I need to push myself to write, knowing that I can improve it later, if I have time to do so. If not, at least I have it done. The same applies to all assignments, except math problems. Never guess at the answer to a problem that has a definite right answer. For all other work, get it done, then make it better.
Special Hints for Working When Exhausted
Sometimes you just have to get the job done, even when you are too tired to do it. Try these hints in order, but never drive when you are tired.
- Focus on the most important tasks that absolutely must get done
- Minimize all distractions and resist the temptation to do something else
- Go easy on coffee and sugar; avoid soda; drink plenty of water
- Avoid heavy meals; eat fruit and nuts (apples, raisins, sunflower seeds)
- Splash your face with cold water
- Massage your scalp and hands
- Get up and stretch; touch your toes; reach to the sky
- Suck on (do not chew) a piece of ice
- Take a short walk outside in the sun
- Do not get too comfortable; work standing up for awhile
- Watch a short and funny video
- Take a power nap of twenty minutes (no more!)