Beneficial time management is something most of us struggle with. In a world that certainly has no shortage of distractions, it becomes all too easy to waste away hours or even days on activities that are neither useful nor really all that enjoyable.
If you would like to start getting more value out of the hours you’ve been given, check out these seven mental techniques for improving your time management.
1. Visualize your daily goals.
When you wake up each morning, decide then and there what you want to do with that day. What tasks do you want to accomplish? What activities do you want to enjoy? (It’s important to note that daily goals don’t necessarily have to be work related. Perhaps your goal for the day is to spend time with your family or enjoy a day on the golf course.) Then take a few minutes to visualize these tasks as already completed. How would you feel if they were already done? This sense of fulfillment will renew your drive to complete your tasks that day and not put them off any longer.
We as humans have this unfortunate tendency to spend more mental energy worrying about the tasks we have to do than we spend actually doing them. When you put off tasks, they’re always going to be in the back of your mind. It’s difficult to enjoy leisure time when you’re always either consciously or subconsciously thinking about the work you are putting off. To avoid wasting mental energy worrying about these unfinished to-do’s, always complete tasks as they come up.
3. Set deadlines.
Few things are more motivating than a deadline. Some tasks given to you will inherently come with a deadline, but for tasks that don’t, you stand to benefit a lot by setting one of your own. Deadlines have a way of breaking procrastination and can motivate you even when you have no desire to complete the task. It’s important, though, when you set deadlines for yourself that you actually stick to them. If you start ignoring the deadlines you set, then soon they will have little value to your time management efforts.
4. Make a to-do list.
One of the best time-management tools you can use is a to-do list. Something about writing out the tasks you have to complete on a piece of paper makes them feel more doable. It provides you with a visible, tangible way to see how much you have still to do and keep track of the things that you’ve already done. As an added bonus, marking an item off your to-do list is a feel-good reward in and of itself.
There are a lot of people who feel as if they are really good at multitasking, but very few of us actually are. Studies have shown that we are almost always less productive when we are trying to accomplish multiple tasks at once. By learning how to prioritize, you’ll be able to get much more done than if you were multitasking. In fact, not only are we less productive when we multitask, it can also increase your chances of getting burned out, as it is both more difficult and more stressful than focusing your efforts on a single task. Instead of trying to get everything done at once, start checking things off your to-do list one task at a time, focusing all of your attention on that single task until it is complete.
6. Reward yourself.
When you complete a task, reward yourself! That doesn’t mean you have to throw a huge celebration every time you check something off your to-do list. For many people, the reward for finishing a task is something as simple as going outside for a breath of fresh air or getting a can of soda from the refrigerator. Just make sure that whatever rewards you give yourself are healthy and don’t take up too much of your time. For example, eating a box of donuts every time you finish a task probably isn’t a good idea, and neither is taking the next two hours off. When done right, though, small rewards can have a big effect.
If you’re like most of us, no matter how much you do, there will always still be tasks that you could be working on. Sometimes this feeling of never really being caught up can be overwhelming, and you may find yourself trying to compensate by working even longer and harder. There almost always comes a point, though, when you will burn out. From that point forward, no matter how hard you try, the work you do is not going to be the same quality as it was before, and the time it takes you to do it is going to be increased. What’s worse, burning yourself out certainly isn’t healthy.
It’s important to know when to take a step back and relax—for example, working breaks into your daily goals and rewarding yourself with short periods of relaxation. However you make the time for it, just know that taking that time for yourself is every bit as important for good time management as taking the time to complete your tasks.
By following these mental techniques to improve your time management, you’ll be able to get more done faster and easier than you ever thought possible.
Related: 5 Tips for Using Your Time Wisely