Time management tips

Build a solid foundation

SET GOALS.

Setting goals provides direction - a stake in the ground to work towards. Vague goals like "get better at maths" are too broad to be useful. Instead, a good exercise is to use the SMART framework; Specific, Measureable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-bound. Goals should be set so that are a small stretch but not too difficult that they are impossible to achieve. And this is not a set-and-forget activity. Goal setting should occur periodically.

SPEND TIME PLANNING AND ORGANIZING.

As the saying goes, "Failing to plan is planning to fail". Although it can often feel like wasting valuable time, investments in plans at the beginning of a study schedule will repay themselves many times over. The specifics will change from person to person. Some people want to use a calendar, others will want to create to-do lists. Find what works for you but make sure you get a plan together.

INCORPORATE FLEXIBILITY

The Scottish have a saying that "The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry". Despite how well you might have planned out your efforts, life has a habit of messing things around. Things pop up and it is easy to be interrupted and distracted. Make sure that your plans account for this by building in buffer time and flexibility. Try scheduling larger blocks of time for your priority tasks when you will have fewer interruptions. In contrast, schedule routine tasks like doing flash card tests when you are likely to be interrupted.

Focus on what matters

PRIORITIZE.

The Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto coined to term 80-20 Rule when he noted that 80 percent of the value from a activity comes from 20 percent of the effort. Once you have identified the valuable activities you want to use your time to focus on that valuable 20%. The Urgent-Important matrix can be a helpful framework to understand what needs to be done. 

You want to focus on doing activities in box I and then II. 

ELIMINATE THE URGENT.

Urgent tasks distract from the the more important longer term tasks. Even if these tasks are also very important, working on them under extreme time pressure often produces bad outcomes. You should work towards removing urgent tasks from your to-do list.

LEARN TO SAY "NO."

A small word but one with a lot of power. Being clear on your goals and prioritizing tasks that are important should help say "no" to all the opportunities and requests that come along the way. Saying no to big and unimportant tasks is generally easy. The challenge comes from all the small things --> playing games with friends, watching just 1 more episode... But you time is finite. Spending in one area means you spending it in others.

Get the right mindset

CONQUER PROCRASTINATION.

Procrastination is the bane of anyone trying to get things done. There can be many reasons for procrastination but often it is to do with the fear of failure or not getting things right. Unfortunately delaying activities means that they move from non-urgent to urgent, which we saw before is a problem. Potential strategies to manage procrastination include

  • Meditating and being mindful of these thoughts and feelings
  • Combining tasks with rewards
  • Creating accountability by agreeing to external deadlines
  • Breaking down large tasks into smaller more manageable tasks

AVOID BEING A PERFECTIONIST.

Perfectionism is a form of procrastination. Holding high standards is great and works well when combined with stretch goals. However perfectionism takes high standards too far to a point where they become a negative. Often perfectionists have no problem getting on and doing the work. Rather the issue is that they struggle to complete the job, worried that what they have done isn't good enough. This means they spend too much time on tasks for small additional benefit (think back to the 80/20 principle).

TOOLS and TECHNIQUES

USE A TO-DO LIST.

Some people thrive using a daily 'To-Do' list which they construct either the at the end of the previous day or first thing in the morning. Such people may combine a To-Do list with a calendar or schedule. Others prefer a "running" To Do list which is continuously being updated. Or, you may prefer a combination of the two previous To-Do lists. Use whichever method works best for you. Don't be afraid to try a new system — you just might find one that works even better than your present one!

TRY THE POMODORO TECHNIQUE.

The Pomodoro technique involves using a timer to break down work into manageable 25-40 minute blocks called pomodoros. These pomodoros are often followed by a short 5 minute break. There are 2 key ideas behind the technique, 1) that activities are broken down into small time-boxed tasks, and 2) that you work until the task is finished.

Let's say that like me you work in 40 minute pomodoros. When I start my work I break down activities that will take roughly 40 minutes to complete. This might be one task like drafting a blog article or a few together such as completing various admin activities. Once you start the pomodoro you keep working until you complete the tasks on that list. If the 40 minutes timers goes off and you aren't finished then keep working until it is done. If you finish early then you start on something else from your To-Do list until the timer goes off.

APP, APP AND AWAY.

Today there are many software tools and apps that can help. Here is a list courtesy of Lifehack.org,

  • RememberTheMilk - To-do tracker
  • Dropbox - store and share all your files
  • Evernote - keep all your notes organised
  • FocusBooster - control procrastination
  • Toggl - track how you are spending your time
  • Mind42 - Mindmapping software
  • Focus@Will - Use music to improve focus

CONCLUSION

As you have read above there are many things you can do to better manage your time, whether you are working or a project or studying. But obviously putting these things into practice is easier read than done. 

At Sandbox Learning we help students improve study habits and math fluency. Each student gets a personalized learning plan that adapts based on the specific misunderstandings of each student. If you are in Sydney and want get better results for you or your children please contact us using the form below. We'd love to work together.


Jesse Whelan is the Founder and Director of Learning at Sandbox Learning Australia. He is passionate about helping children maximise learning by using effective long term strategies.

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Jesse Whelan