Are you always staring out the window for countless minutes, even though you have work to do? Do you research useless information or play games on the Internet when you know you have more important, pressing tasks? It might be time to admit that you have a tendency to procrastinate. The key to managing your time more effectively is to minimize distractions, focus on the most important tasks you need to complete, and to find a reliable way of gauging your productivity.
1Stay off the Internet. With the Internet rarely more than a click or tap away, it’s no wonder that we constantly battle the urge to check our various bookmarked sites. When you know you need to stop wasting time and work on something, avoiding the Internet is an easy way to avoid procrastinating.
- If your willpower alone can’t keep you off the Internet—or worse if the work you need to get done involves using the Internet anyway—you can install site-blocking tools for various browsers. Simply turn on the application when you need to keep focused and let the program be your willpower for you.
2Keep your email inbox closed. A survey of Microsoft employees showed that they spend an average of ten minutes responding to an email, and then a subsequent fifteen minutes refocusing on the tasks at hand. If you really need to focus on a specific task, set an auto reply on your email and refrain from checking it until you’ve finished the work.
- The same basic principle works for your cell phone’s text messages, instant messages, push notifications, mobile alerts, etc. These distractions help us procrastinate because they often feel more productive than other time wasters, but they rarely are. Turn off your phone completely when you can if the separation anxiety from the connection won’t serve as its own distraction.
3Do all of your work on one device. Switching between a laptop to work on a spreadsheet, your phone to check an email, and a tablet to pull up a presentation is a recipe for disaster. Each time you move between devices, you likely succumb to a distraction or two, and then have to refocus yourself. As often as possible, try to collect everything you’ll need on one device during a prep period before you get started, so you can work from one device as you go.
4Write out a schedule. Most people hate the idea of keeping a complete calendar, but not all scheduling has to be this complete. When you set out to complete a specific task, take five minutes to make a list, outline, or applicable timetable for the task. By giving yourself a manageable timeframe, you’re also more likely to hold yourself to the work at hand.
- Using “time boxing,” or fixed time segments for specific tasks also breaks them down into more manageable pieces, making the wide open workday feel easier to engage with. This practice can work with everything from homework assignments to office jobs to home repairs.
- Try to group together tasks when you can. If, for example, you need to get groceries and get gas, try to do both on the same trip. This saves you from having to make two separate trips for things that can easily be done at the same time.
5Go slower. Sounds utterly counterproductive to time management, but trying to work too quickly or multitask on anything more than menial tasks can end up wasting time. Studies have shown that only 2% of people can multitask in truly effective, time saving ways. Going slower allows you to not only better focus, but also to reduce stress.
- Going slower also gives you the opportunity to ensure that you complete each task fully and clearly, making it less likely that you have to go back and clarify or fix mistakes, which can end up taking more time.
6Stick to the task at hand. It’s no secret that many college students have sparkling apartments in the week before finals. We often procrastinate by taking on other important (albeit non-time sensitive) tasks instead of the most important task we need to complete. Spending time on less important activities is still a step backward and a time waster when you have other deadlines or due dates looming. Recognize when the task you’re working on isn’t the one that should be at the top of your list.
- Try assigning priorities to your tasks. Start with a few small tasks to help you build up momentum, and then focus on the most immediate or pressing tasks in your life.
7Give yourself a stop time. Working without a stop time in mind is a sure way to burn yourself out and get frustrated. Whether your stop time is the end of the workday, when you have a dinner scheduled, or something entirely different, having a finish time in mind will help stop you from overworking yourself, which will only lead to a decline in the quality of the work regardless.
- Even if you’re in crunch mode with a term paper due the next day, schedule breaks that give you enough time to collect before getting back to it. Breaks allow your brain to rest, and ultimately make you happier, more focused, and more productive
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