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5 Best Tips for Time Management

Student Life

Time management is the constant race we run daily, whether it's from school or extracurriculars, or work. The trickiest part is finding the balance between our duties and passions. However, one big mistake many people make takes place in the famed work-life balance or lack thereof. We work so we can go on vacation, and on vacation, we dread the thought of going back to work. As a result, we don't value the time we have when we have it. To make it worse, we live in a society that favors incessant productivity and sleep deprivation, leading to another problem: play deprivation. Unstructured playtime is a thing of the past. Instead, we vacillate between work and leisure, feeling guilty for any leisure we seize. All this to say, we need a new approach to time management. Here's five tips on how to use your time more meaningfully.

1. Don't Multitask

We all think we can multitask, divide our attention span, etc. You know the gist. I hate to break it to you, but multitasking isn't a thing and it hurts more than it helps. Research has uncovered the painful truth of our working lives: multitasking is switch-tasking. Our brains literally are incapable of doing two tasks at once. What we think is doing two things simultaneously is actually switching between activities in the blink of an eye. We use valuable and brain power and energy when transitioning between tasks, meaning we take even longer and make even more mistakes.

Formally, there are three parts to multitasking: the act of doing two tasks, context switching, and attention residue. In normal human words, attention residue is the panicky cycle of thought we get of all the work we haven't done when we're in the middle of another task. Despite popular belief, it's best to go the old-fashioned way- doing one thing at a time for a fixed amount of time. To avoid falling into the habit of multitasking, make a revolutionary plan: one where you check off one to-do and then move on to the next. I believe they used to call it an agenda. It doesn't need to cover every single hour of the day, minute by minute. Just keep a list of realistic goals to accomplish each day, and do your best to do as many of them as possible one at a time.

2. Take Breaks

Seriously do it. You know the saying: Don't work hard, work smart. It's true. There's no harm in admitting that you're tired and just need to spend some time curled up with a book or binging your favorite TV show. Often, we mistakenly have a zero-sum attitude toward work. If we're not going above and beyond, we're not doing enough. This is why we have a new word for doing your job: 'quiet quitting'.

Just make sure you're focused when you're working. Counter to assumptions, taking breaks makes not only more healthy but more productive and more creative. When your mind starts to wander, don't force yourself to focus. Go for a walk, listen to music, play a game. Unwind for a short period of time, and then come back ready to learn. Just maybe you'll get an epiphany on how to do that confounding math problem or overcome your writer's block.

3. Learn To Say No

Setting boundaries matters. Know what you can and can't commit to. It's not a weakness to admit you don't have the bandwidth to do something. Of course, we need to be careful with our reasons for saying no. Are you saying no because you're scared to try something new? Then, try doing it at least a little bit. I'm not saying you need to have an all-consuming passion for it, but it's important to spend some time on things that aren't in your natural skillset.

If you do decide to set boundaries, remember that focusing on your priorities is not letting anyone down. In fact, you'll feel better about how you spend your time with the courage to refuse any unnecessary infringements on your schedule. Consider what you're not willing to compromise and plan that into your day, while saying no to things beyond the 24 hours of the day for our own sake.

4. Be Organized

This includes everything from your room to systems that increase efficiency. Simply, a clean space equals a clean mind. For everyone who's protesting, you don't have to make these systems or root out every little dustmote instantaneously. Just clean bit by bit, and the effects will be clear. The important thing is that you think about it one day at a time. Start by doing your best to complete daily plans and eventually, like a lot of things, it becomes a habit. A disclaimer: use the method of organization that works best for you. If everything is where you can find it, it's fine. Experiment with different schedules, systems, and task groups, and settle on which helps you focus on the most. Organization is a process, but eventually, you'll have the discipline to hold fast to your schedule. Keep a positive perspective on your schedule. It's not just a list of things that dictate your day. Build in time for joy. Not worrying about what you're going to do next is a form of joy too.

5. Don't Procrastinate

You may ask: What right do I, your typical procrastinating teenager, have to tell you to not procrastinate? In fact, this article was almost a victim of procrastination. But we all start somewhere and we all procrastinate on something. Been holding off on that boring project for weeks? Here's some advice: Reduce the number of decisions your making throughout the day. The more you wonder what to do, the less you're likely to do that thing. From experience, I'd advise that if you really don't want to do something, do it right now. The more you delay, the more likely I am to bet that it's not going to get done, pushed back to perpetual tomorrows.

Make a list of priorities: important life goals and important projects. Getting your homework done matters, but so does spending time with your family and taking an afternoon walk. Consider what personal and work/school goals you're not willing to compromise on and write it down. Writing it down reduces the risk of delaying it to the last minute. Raymond Chandler, a famous novelist, avoided procrastination by telling himself that he would write or do nothing at all. Frankly, doing nothing can only last so long, so that's a possible motivator to get something done.

Remember, though, doable goals are important. You can't write a novel in a day. Tell yourself you'll write a chapter or 10 pages. Just make it attainable. Setting unreachable goals for the short term makes motivation a lot harder to reach. These are complicated tips, but here's a simple one: change your environment. If you're sitting inside, go sit outside. Listen to music or go to a place that's completely quiet. Whatever your normal study habits are, change them up. You never know where the inspiration could come from. Try these, and you'll conquer procrastination one step at a time.

When it feels like there aren't enough hours in the day, remember that you can do this! It's as simple as doing one thing at a time, taking breaks, saying no to activities that are too much for your plate, being organized with your schedule and your workspace, and avoiding procrastination. School, homework, extracurriculars- with the right mindset and plan, you'll find a way to achieve your goals and manage your time in the way that works best for you. The reward will be the satisfaction of being in control of the clock instead of letting the clock control you!

Ananya Vinay
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Ananya Vinay is a rising high school senior from Fresno, California. She is a budding scientist and writer, as well as the author of a poetry collection, Dewdrops on the Mind, with work forthcoming or published in the Ice Lolly Review, Apprentice Writer, Teen Ink, and New Scene Magazine. When she’s not writing, you can find her with her nose in a book, inventing stories, or sometimes arguing with her younger brother.