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A friend recently told me I used my time more effectively than anyone else she knew. I don’t know if I personally always feel this way, but I will say that I thrive on being busy. In graduate school, despite having a heavy work load and a required 16-hour internship that was a 30-60-minute commute each way (depending on traffic), I also babysat two mornings a week, was a Big Sister, and volunteered regularly with two organizations for young professionals.
Was I stressed at times? Yes. Was I particularly healthy that year? Not exactly (I definitely gained more weight that one year than I did my freshman year of college). However, I managed to get through all my schooling without ever pulling a single all-nighter, and I had time for friends and a new relationship.
I don’t say this to brag, but as a way to demonstrate that it is possible to have a lot going on in your life, and be productive, AND still be able to do things you enjoy. After spending some time contemplating how I am able to be productive without sacrificing (much) sleep and finding time to do things that I enjoy, I have come up with a list of 8 tips to help you manage your time and get the most out of your day.
How To Manage Your Time Effectively
1. Keep busy
It sounds counterintuitive, but I have found that nothing kills my productivity like having too much free time. When I have tons of time to get something done, but nothing to do in the meantime, I end up putzing around and wasting time. When you are busy, you know you have limited time to get things done and it keeps you focused, so you can keep those other little distractions (like checking your Pinterest feed) at bay.
It is a fine balance, however, between being a healthy busy and the stressed-out, in-over-your-head kind of busy. It is all about finding the sweet spot where you have just enough to do to keep you focused, but you aren’t so overwhelmed that you want to rip your hair out. That spot is different for everyone and it is all about knowing yourself.
2. Do work when you function the best
I am a morning person almost to a fault. I wake up naturally now between 5:00 and 6:00 am raring to go. Most days I start working as soon as I am out of bed. I do give my brain some time to full wake up (I found taking a shower helps) and then I’m ready tackle my day. However, in the late afternoon my brain starts to slow down, and by 8:00pm I’m about done for the evening. Occasionally, if I’m really pressed for time, and I need to get something done, I will work in the evening, but I typically don’t do my best work then.
There are people who are night owls and get the most done after everyone else has gone to bed. Use your peak performance time to your advantage. Do things that require more brain power at the times of the day you are most alert, and if you need to do work at other times, try to work on things that don’t require quite the same amount of your attention. The most important thing is to know when to stop. There is no point in trying to keep chugging if your brain is in overload.
3. Plan ahead
Think about when you have big deadlines coming up and plan both your work and personal schedule accordingly. If you know you have a big project coming up, find times when you can focus your attention on it and fit your other work around it.
For example, if I know I have a big jewelry show coming up on Wednesday, I know I want my blog posts for that day and the day after written and scheduled before the show, so I don’t have to worry about them on those days. I also purposely keep my schedule for Tuesday night open in anticipation that I may have some last-minute work to get done for the show, although at this point most of the work is already complete. That isn’t to say I have never procrastinated – I can’t tell you how many shows I have been scrambling at the last-minute to get together everything that I need. But I find it incredibly stressful and end up taking that out on other people.
4. Break things down into smaller, achievable chunks and give yourself deadlines
Whenever I have something big that I am working on, I like to make a checklist of all the little things I need to do to help me accomplish that project.
For example, right before a big show I will write down how many more pieces of jewelry I need to make, what I need to pack for the show. I even write down that I need to iron my tablecloths the night before. In fact, every day I make a checklist of things I need to get complete, which include both tasks for long-term projects and my every day tasks that still need to get done, like checking my e-mail, writing blog posts, and scheduling social media. For every thing I do, I try to give myself a deadline.
5. Work as if your deadlines are earlier than they actually are
If anything, I like to pretend that my deadline is the day before something actually needs to be done. This was often my strategy throughout school with writing big papers, and it hasn’t failed me yet. It gives you wiggle room in case something comes up or takes longer than you had anticipated.
6. Get away from distractions
Even though I am a messy person, I find I do my best (non-jewelry) work in a clear, distraction-free area. When I’m home, I will often bring my computer out to my dining room table and work there. When I can, I will go to a cafe so I don’t have dishes or laundry around to distract me. I also try to keep things like Facebook closed, as I know the constant alerts will distract me. Along that note, I recommend (when you can) either turning down the volume on your phone or turning off notifications. Nothing kills productivity like hearing the little ding alerting you that someone tweeted at you.
7. Give yourself breaks and make time for things that are important to you
Our brains and bodies need breaks. If I’m in the zone, I will keep working, but I also give myself breaks to get up and move, eat something, read blog posts for a few minutes — anything that will help my mind refresh. It is also so important to find time to relax and do things that you enjoy. I make sure to find time to see my friends regularly, I read books that are completely unrelated to my business, and I go on dates with Sam. We all need to refuel, and we do that by taking care of ourselves and doing things that make us happy.
8. Get enough sleep
There have been nights I have had so much to do, but I knew that I really needed to do was sleep. Rather than plugging through, I have stopped working for the night and set my alarm for a little earlier.
Conversely, there are some mornings I will wake up with a lot I intend to get done, but my body is telling me that it really craves sleep, and I will sacrifice that extra hour of work to give my body what it needs. It is so important to get enough sleep. I think many of us convince ourselves we need to keep working even when we are exhausted, but I find that a good night’s rest makes me so much more productive than trying to power through when I am exhausted.
While I do consider myself a very productive person, like everyone else I waste time and procrastinate. There are nights I do end up sacrificing some sleep to get things done, and there are weeks where I don’t make self-care as much as a priority as I should. Like everyone else, there are times I feel completely stressed and overwhelmed and like I have too much on my plate. The most important thing I find is to take a step back, give myself some time to regroup, and get myself back on track following these eight tips.
How do you manage your time? What makes you more productive?
Author Bio: Bev Feldman
Bev Feldman is a mom, jewelry designer, blogger, freelance writer, and author of The Busy Mom’s Guide to Creativity. Bev has an affinity for kids’ crafts, pinning all the things, inspiring creativity in others, and shopping on Etsy. She lives in the Boston area with her daughter, husband, and cat, Leo. You can connect with Bev on Twitter, Facebook, Pinteres
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