So you’re stressed. Your schedule is a mess, you’ve triple-booked for Thursday, and you have no idea where your time went. The last thing you want is another article telling you to get a calendar.
Thankfully, this article isn’t like the others.
You already know the usual time management tips: use a calendar, plan ahead, prioritize. So why are you still scrambling to catch up with your endless list of obligations?
As someone whose Google calendar looks like a Tetris game, I’ve discovered 3 strategies that have changed the way I think about time—and helped me shift from feeling weighed down to feeling on top.
But before we dive in and think about how to fill our time, don’t forget to leave room to breathe. With the term coming to a close, stress levels may rise—but reserving time for self-care, whether mentally, physically, emotionally, or spiritually, will always pay off.
Now, let’s begin.
1. Prioritize with the 80/20 Rule
The 80/20 rule is also known as the Pareto Principle. It suggests that 20% of your input and effort will account for 80% of your outcomes and results. In other words, on a to-do list of 10 items, 2 of those items will be worth the other 8 combined.
You’ve probably heard the advice, “Do the easy stuff first.” Unfortunately, if applied to time management, it reaps the worst results.
You might say to yourself, “I have a huge paper due on Friday, but I can’t work on that until I get my other stuff sorted out…so first, I’m going to do my mini-quizzes and clean my laundry. Oh, and I should probably get some sleep at some point.”
Many people, including past-me, have used this excuse to delay big tasks. As a result, the top 20% most important things get pushed to the end, often without enough time to reach their full potential.
So before beginning any of your tasks, ask yourself: “Is this work in the top 20% of my priorities, or the bottom 80%?” Do the important stuff first.
By scheduling the top 20% ahead of the bottom 80%, you’ll accomplish 80% worth of output in less than half the time.
Your action steps:
- Create a list of everything you have yet to do or schedule.
- Circle the top 1/5th of items that are the most significant for progress or outcomes.
- With a different colour, mark the other 1/5th of items that are the most urgent.
- Schedule these ‘top 20s’, based on importance and urgency, before the bottom 80% of items.
- Get crackin’!
2. Treat time management as energy management
Time is constant (without getting into Einstein’s theories, of course). For example, 10 minutes will always be 600 seconds, and the length of seconds doesn’t change.
But our energy is not constant, and one of my biggest epiphanies was realizing how this affected my productivity.
I used to start my days by tackling emails and “baby tasks”. The next items scheduled were complex essays and brain-wrenching accounting assignments.
However, after baby tasks were done, the afternoon would come. I’d be feeling sluggish from a big lunch, while my mind would be distracted by evening activities. If I was particularly busy, I might skimp on sleep, or choose fast food over a healthier but more time-consuming option.
Inefficient energy management caused me to waste lots of time.
I then discovered that my energy levels, and brain power, can tackle the hardest things first thing in the morning—so I slotted those tough assignments there. And when my mind was feeling jumpy in the afternoon, I could easily go through emails and smaller tasks.
The moral of the story is that, by scheduling our tasks to match our energy levels, we maximize the value of our precious time.
Your action steps:
- Reflect on your energy levels throughout a typical day. Identify when you feel the most focused, ambitious, creative, etc. Also consider factors such as caffeine, healthy meals, and amount of sleep that can help you boost your energy throughout the day.
- Reflect on your typical schedule and list the items that are moveable.
- Categorize these items into buckets such as “requires high focus” or “low brain-power needed”.
- Reorder these items by matching them to your energy levels.
- Skyrocket your productivity!
3. Be proactive, not reactive
The relationship between being busy and being productive is not linear. Just because your calendar is jam-packed from morning to midnight doesn’t mean you’re making good use of your time. Quality over quantity!
Often, high-quality time is spent being proactive instead of reactive.
An example of being reactive is having to pull an all-nighter before a big exam because you procrastinated on studying. On the other hand, being proactive is following a study schedule and getting enough sleep to ensure you’re recharged and ready for the test.
Being proactive means taking control and making things happen; in other words, acting for the future. Being reactive is the one-step-behind approach of responding to needs from the past.
Organize your time in a way that always puts you one-step-ahead of the curve. Not only will you feel great; you’ll also do great.
Your action steps:
- Evaluate how you’re spending your time. How much of it is proactive? What about reactive?
- Think of what you can do to make your reactive items proactive. This can be as simple as reviewing notes before class instead of after.
- Slot those action steps in your calendar. Often, this can mean building new habits.
- Learn to say no to things that aren't worth your precious time.
- Feel great!
Now, let’s go back to the beginning.
So you’re stressed. Your schedule is a mess, you’ve triple-booked for Thursday, and you have no idea where your time went.
Now is the time to shift your mindset about how you’re spending your time. Follow these action steps, make simple changes, tweak your schedule, build in breaks to recharge—and say goodbye to wondering where your time went.