Time Management

“Time is what we want most and what we use worst.”
—William Penn

(This workshop recap is from a recent teen workshop by Robin Turnipseed, a former high school teacher who is now a mother of two, a writer, and the owner of Placementofprettythings.com. She shared several useful tips and tricks on managing time—and self—and how this can lead to a more successful life.)

Time management is a coveted skill that many long for and few possess. A key part of managing your time efficiently is realizing that you have “frogs” in your daily life. A frog is the biggest, most important task on your list of things to do, and it will have the most positive impact on your life at that moment. Some frogs can be fun, but more often than not, they are ugly roadblocks in your path. To conquer all of the frogs life sends your way, eat the “ugliest” frog first. Doing the hardest task immediately—such as working out first thing in the morning, making a hard phone call at the beginning of a workday, or writing a term paper several weeks prior to its due date—can propel you to reach your goals faster.

Tips for Time Management:

1. Plan every day in advance.

The night before every day, prepare for the next day. Your “tomorrow self” will thank you for it! This can be accomplished by taking simple steps, such as setting out your clothes, packing your backpack or purse, and setting out breakfast. You can also make a schedule to include your “big rocks,” or top priorities, so that you know what you need to make time for tomorrow.

2. Think on paper (or use the Notes app or Reminder app).

Relying on memory alone might be a useful skill in grades 5 and 6, but when you start reaching high school and college, remembering every assignment and practice becomes increasingly hard. That’s why writing (or typing) things out really helps. Schedule all of the “big, immovable rocks,” such as a soccer practice or piano lesson, first and use highlighting so that they stand out. Next, schedule ugly frogs. Then add other “pebbles,” or less important to-do items. At the end of the day, cross off completed tasks, and move incomplete ones to the next day’s schedule.

3. Set a deadline on the major items on the list.

During the school year, teachers assign a due date to homework and projects and tests, so those become your top priorities. Tasks such as cleaning your room require you to make your own “deadline,” or you won’t be driven to do them at all. Also, creating a reward system gives you something to look forward to after one or many tasks. For instance, you could tell yourself that you will go for an hourlong bike ride if you really focus on your homework for two hours.

4. List each step needed to achieve the goal of eating the ugliest frog.

Lists help you to lay out clearly what you need to do to reach each goal. For example, if your ugly frog is summer reading, you can break it down by saying: “Okay, I have two books to read, each with 12 chapters. I also have two months of summer. Therefore, I could read a book a month!”

5. Organize the list into a bite-sized plan for each day.

Once a master list is created on how to eat the frog, lay out the details very clearly through a daily “meal plan.” Going with the summer reading example, you could further divide the task of reading a book per month into reading three chapters a week—say on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. You could even read half of an especially long chapter in one day and still be okay, because there are four extra days in the week to read the other half.

6. Start now!

Once you have your list written out, do something. Immediately. Breaking the cycle of procrastination by seizing the moment is one of the best ways to be time-efficient. Another way to use time wisely is to find the time of day when you’re most productive, whether it is in the morning, the evening, or anywhere in between. It is also good to have someone hold you accountable to completing tasks—especially those ugly frogs! If you ask a parent or a friend to text you once a day to remind you to do a task, it will be almost impossible to forget to do it. Once the task is complete, you can text back to report that you are done.

7. Resist the temptation to clear up the small stuff first.

It is super easy to fall into the trap of “piddling,” or wasting time doing small tasks instead of bigger ones. However, it is much more efficient to tackle the big rocks first and move on to the pebbles later.

8. Learn to say “no” to things that are not a priority.

Although phones and video games are fun, when you are trying to focus on an important task, all they do is waste time and steal precious brainpower. You need to be real with yourself and where your time is going in order to manage your time wisely. Setting boundaries for yourself, such as setting app limits on your phone or taking games out of your room while studying, can be very beneficial.

When writing, I block out the world by taking my phone and other distractions out of the office and then shut the door tight. I hang a sign on my door that declares “On an hour,” which basically means that I’m going to write for one hour straight with no distractions. I even disconnect my computer from the internet and use books for my dictionary and thesaurus, simply to avoid any possible rabbit holes I might encounter on the computer.

Along with setting boundaries with yourself, it is also good to set boundaries with others. For instance, if you are trying to eat an ugly frog and a friend invites you over for a party, stay committed to eating your frog instead of giving up. This promotes concentration and will help you to accomplish tasks faster.

9. Make time management a habit now!

If you take these wise words to heart today and use them to your full advantage, you will be a very sought-after employee in the workplace. Promotions will pour in, and you will find yourself receiving buckets of praise on your work ethic. Also, if you are one of the few people in the world who knows how to manage your time wisely, you’ll have the potential to be very successful in whatever career you choose.

You have probably struggled with time management skills at least once in your life, and the distractions in the world aren’t making it any easier to focus. However, by putting these tips into practice, you will be able to rise above the challenges to become a master time manager.

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