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Managing your time


MANY PEOPLE FIND themselves in a position where they feel there is simply not enough time to get things done.

If you are feeling this way, it is probably too late to do anything about it - it's often then a matter of cutting your losses and doing the best you can.

But, by taking this as a warning, you can look at changing the way you go about things - to manage your time more efficiently.

This web page looks at ways to help you do this.

Why people manage time poorly ... ...

Poor time management is often due to underlying attitudes or beliefs. The most common of these are:

  • "I like leaving things to the last minute because I work best under pressure."
  • "I only work best when I am inspired"
    Do you really? These are catch-cries of the procrastinator - someone who has trouble getting on with their work and only does it when their back is against the wall. Good work needs time - for preparation and research, and at completion to assess and improve it.
  • "There are no limits."
    This is a perfectionist talking, and is a common attitude which gets people behind in their work. For example, you can easily get so involved in a project to make it 'perfect' that little or no time is left for other important work.
    It also covers people who believe they can/should work around the clock to get things done. There are always limits to what you can do - you are not superhuman, and there are always only 24 hours in a day. Good work requires good 'down' time as well, when you can replenish your resources.
  • "I try to keep up with my work, but people keep expecting things from me - it's just one thing after another."
    Trying to be all things to all people often means you badly short-change yourself. Be clear what YOU want from a situation and go for it. Often it's simple a case of saying 'No'.
  • I'm not naturally organized - no-one in my family is, so how can I possibly be."
    Skills in time management are not hereditary, but we do pick up good and bad behaviour from those we live with. Habits can be changed.
  • "I would work to a plan, but I hate rigid timetables."
    Plan a more flexible timetable, one that works for you - one that allows for things taking longer than expected and for unexpected interruptions. Keep a realistic overview and keep in control of your situation.

Effective time management

To manage your time well often requires a change in the way you think about and approach things. This is never easy. The first and most important thing is to be clear about your NEED to change. You can read whole books on time management, but you won't change your behaviour if you don't really want to. And writing a pile of lists and timetables is no good if you don't implement them. So, STOP AND ASSESS your situation, be clear about what you want from it, then TAKE DEFINITE STEPS to achieve those goals.

The key to managing your time is planning. If you are a student, first plan your whole year, then your expectations for Term 1. Make sure you take all your needs into account - deadlines, social and work commitments, and breaks.

  • Break your commitments for the term into small achievable steps. It is vital these steps are realistic and achievable or you'll always be running to catch up.
  • Distil these steps into a daily (or weekly) list of tasks that you can tick off or cross out once completed. The smaller the steps, the better.
  • Prioritise these steps into high, medium and low. Concentrate on the high priorities; don't get bogged down in the low. Review your priorities regularly.
  • Some things may take longer than you foresee - have a contingency plan ready. Only adjust the flexible things in your life (when you have tea or exercise) not the fixed (a lecture, sports practice, work-time).

Helpful hints

  • Use pockets of time - 10 minutes is great to review some notes or brainstorm ideas.
  • Effective time is more important than quantity of time. Early morning is often a good time to work - you are refreshed and no-one is about to distract.
  • Write your goals on a card and keep them on a wall near your work space. In busy times it helps to be reminded!
  • When planning, be aware of your strengths and weaknesses. For example, if you're easily distracted, try and find ways around that.
  • If you're distracted by the phone, get an answer phone or ask someone to take a message. Or, go where there are no phones, such as the library.
  • If people distract you, define non-interruption times - close your door, put a sign on it and be firm about interruptions: say 'No' or 'Can we meet in an hour?'
  • Your workspace can work against productivity. Sit away from others and with your back to traffic or the view. Keep your workspace uncluttered and work-oriented.

How to find out more

Check out other links in this series:

  • Procrastination
  • Perfectionism
  • Stress Management

This self help information was reproduced by UTS Student Services Unit with permission of Victoria University of Wellington