Do you ever get to the end of the day and think, 'what did I even accomplish today?' We've all been there. It can be hard not to lose focus, especially mid-semester when all sorts of assignments, exams, and activities are vying for your attention. Get back on track with these five tips.
Ask the question, “What will happen if I don’t do this?” This surprisingly simple tactic is a way to reframe your distractions and responsibilities as the choices they are. When you catch yourself going to check a text message or scroll through Instagram when you’re meant to be studying or writing a paper, ask yourself, “What will happen if I don’t check Instagram right now?” and compare that to what will happen if you don’t start your research paper. Nothing will happen if you choose not to open Instagram, but if you choose not to start that paper, you might not have enough time to complete it before it’s due, or rush your revision process and miss important errors that will affect your grade.
Why it works: Time management isn’t about getting better with your time, it’s about making better decisions. Asking the consequences of doing or not doing a task is ultimately about using mindfulness to choose the more productive action.
Give yourself a time limit. Timeboxing is a time management technique that comes to us from the creator of the Agile software development framework. It’s a simple technique: you allot a fixed, maximum unit of time for a project or task in advance, and then complete the activity within that time frame. Time blocking and timeboxing both involve allocating fixed time periods to activities - but while time blocking is strictly reserving time for an activity, timeboxing also includes limiting the time you spend on it.
Why it works: Parkinson's Law is the adage, "Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion." Have you ever found that if you allocate 3 weeks to a task, no matter whether you can realistically finish it faster, you don't finish earlier than the selected 3 weeks? We expand or contract our productivity based on our expectation of the time we have left to complete it. By giving yourself a time limit, you can avoid dragging out a task longer than necessary and use time more wisely as a result.
Try the Ivy Lee Method. We’ve covered this time management technique over on social media before; it removes the friction of starting by separating the decision-making process from the work process. The method is simple: At the end of each day, write down the six most important things you need to accomplish tomorrow. Do not write down more than six tasks. Prioritize those six items in order of their true importance. The next day, concentrate only on the first task, working until that task is finished before moving on to the second task. At the end of the day, move any unfinished items to a new list of six tasks for the following day.
Why it works: It forces you to prioritize. The Ivy Lee Method allows you to focus on one thing – the most important thing – with your full attention before moving on to the next. When you limit what you have to do to no more than 6 things (ideally even less), there’s a bigger chance you’ll actually complete those tasks.
Exercise healthy boundaries on your time. This is probably the simplest tip on this list, but the hardest to stick to for many of us. Think about it this way: if a stranger came up to you and asked for one thousand dollars, which you would never get back and never gain anything from, you would almost certainly say no. Your time is valuable—you have a limited amount and you cannot get it back once spent. One of the hardest things to do in life is to say “no” to invitations, to requests, to obligations, to the stuff that everyone else is doing when it’s not valuable to us. The ease with which time can be taken from us is exactly why we have to guard it so fiercely. Practice saying no to things that don’t serve you to avoid overextending yourself.
Why it works: Less time wasted is more time spent on getting ahead and doing what we love.
Just say no to multitasking. Research has shown time and time again that humans cannot actually multitask. When we repeatedly switch tasks, like checking email partway through completing assigned reading, it takes time for our minds to catch up and truly absorb what we’re doing. One study found that it takes as long as 23 minutes to refocus on a task after getting distracted. Remove distractions as much as possible and if you need a break, choose moving your body, like stretching or taking a short walk, over scrolling on your phone.
Why it works: Monotasking saves time in the long run because you’re cutting out the 20+ minutes of time spent refocusing between tasks. Much like the Ivy Lee Method, you’re choosing to prioritize one task and get it done before moving on to the next.
Everyone procrastinates sometimes but following these tips will help you regain focus and reclaim your productivity in no time. For more on time management, check out our other resources on the Class Tracker blog and follow us on Instagram.