Time management can be tough. What is urgent in your life and what is important to your life are often very different things.
This is especially true with your health, where the important issues almost never seem urgent even though your life ultimately hangs in the balance.
• No, going to the gym today isn't urgent, but it is important for your long–term health.
• No, reading two pages from book doesn’t mean you will score well, but reading it every day will surely.
• No, eating real, unprocessed foods isn't required for you to stay alive right now, but will reduce your risk of disease.
Is there anything we can do? If we all have 24 hours in a day, how do we actually use them more effectively?
And most importantly, how can we manage our time to live healthier and happier, do the things that we know are important, and still handle the responsibilities that are urgent?
In my experience there are three time management tips that actually work in real life and will help you improve your health and productivity.
1. Eliminate half–work at all costs.
In our age of constant distraction, it's stupidly easy to split our attention between what we should be doing and what society bombards us with. Usually we're balancing the needs of messages, emails, and to–do lists at the same time that we are trying to get something accomplished. It's rare that we are fully engaged in the task at hand.
I call this division of your time and energy “half–work.”
Here are some examples of half–work…
• You start writing a report, but stop randomly to check your phone for no reason or to open up Facebook or Twitter.
• You try out a new workout routine. Two days later, you read about another “new” fitness program and try a little bit of that. You make little progress in either program and so you start searching for something better.
• Your mind wanders to your email inbox while you're on the phone with someone.
Regardless of where and how you fall into the trap of half–work, the result is always the same: you're never fully engaged in the task at hand, you rarely commit to a task for extended periods of time, and it takes you twice as long to accomplish half as much.
Half–work is reason why you're able to get more done on your last day before vacation (when you really focus) than you do in the 2 weeks previous (when you're constantly distracted).
Like most people, I deal with this problem all of the time and the best way I've found to overcome it is to block out significant time to focus on one project and eliminate everything else.
I pick one subject and make it my only focus for the entire day. (i.e.”Today is just for Physics. Anything else is extra.”)
I'll leave my phone in another room and shut down my email, Facebook, and Twitter.
This complete elimination of distractions is the only way I know to get into deep, focused work and avoid fragmented sessions where you're merely doing half–work.
How much more could you achieve if you did the work you needed to do, the way you needed to do it, and eliminated the half–work, half–wandering that we fill most of our days with?
2. Do the most important thing first.
Disorder and chaos tend to increase as your day goes on. At the same time, the decisions and choices that you make throughout the day tend to drain your willpower. You're less likely to make a good decision at the end of the day than you are at the beginning.
I've found that this same trend holds true during solving numerical questions. As the difficulty increases, I have less and less willpower to finish exercises and complete the topic and try out other new questions.
For all of those reasons, I do my best to make sure that if there is something important that I need to do, then I do it first.
If I have an important article to write, I grab a glass of water and start typing as soon as I wake up. If there is a tough exercise that I need to do, then I do it at the beginning of each revision.
If you do the most important thing first, then you’ll never have a day when you didn’t get something important done. By following this simple strategy, you will usually end up having a productive day, even if everything doesn't go to plan. If you actually do the most important thing first each day, it is the only productivity tip you'll ever need.
3. Reduce the scope, but stick to the schedule.
There is an importance of holding yourself to a schedule and not a deadline. There might be occasions when deadlines make sense, but I'm convinced that when it comes to doing important work over the long–term, following a schedule is much more effective.
When it comes to the day–to–day grind, however, following a schedule is easier said than done. Ask anyone who plans to completely revise a chapter every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and they can tell you how hard it is to actually stick to their schedule every time without fail.
To counteract the unplanned distractions that occur and overcome the tendency to be pulled off track, I've made a small shift in how I approach my schedule. My goal is to put the schedule first and not the scope, which is the opposite of how we usually approach our goals.
On a daily basis, the impact of doing five chapters isn't that significant, especially when you had planned to read 2 chapters. But the cumulative impact of always staying on schedule is huge. No matter what the circumstance and no matter how small the topic is, you know you're going to finish today's task. That's how little goals become lifetime habits.
Finish something today, even if the scope is smaller than you anticipated.
Time Management Tips That Actually Work
There are thousands of time management apps and productivity gadgets. You'll find more calendars, reminders, and task lists than you know what to do with. But in my experience, the most effective and practical time management approaches are simple.
When it comes to living a healthy and productive life, I do my best to focus on three things…
1. Eliminate half–work and focus deeply.
2. Do the most important thing first.
3. Stick to your schedule and build the habit, no matter how small the accomplishment.
How have you managed your time better and accomplished more at work, at home, or in the school?