Somehow, even with the same 24 hours in every day, we never have enough time. We’re hitting our pillow knowing we won’t get enough sleep, sitting at work scrambling for deadlines and breaking our hearts feeling like we barely get to see the people we love. We’re never getting a break, but we’re not reaching our goals, either.
Time efficiency offers a way to take control of our daily routine and start to use our time to our advantage. When we’re efficient, we’re not wasting our precious hours; instead, we’re understanding how to make ourselves the most productive in the shortest amount of time.
Managing our time is the only way we can be time efficient. When we manage our time, we’re putting extra effort into getting the job done. We’re making sure that our professional lives thrive as well as our personal ones. If we don’t manage our time, we’re left feeling overwhelmed and unproductive. We’re constantly working but never getting anything done when or how it should be.
Efficient time management is just as or more important as effective time management. While the terms are often used interchangeably, they have different meanings. When we have effective time management, we adequately accomplish what needs to get done. We finish our tasks by the deadline; we submit projects when our bosses ask for them. Efficiency goes beyond getting the job done on time. If you can effectively manage your time, you get to use time to your benefit. You don’t waste your effort, but rather use it to do the best things in the best way possible.
In a culture buzzing with productivity and an obsession with “busyness,” we’re not as keen on managing our time as we are spending it. We take on too many responsibilities because we’re worried about what might happen if we say no to an opportunity. We want to succeed, so we decide to leap on every chance we get that might help us. Yet with so much to do — and what seems like so little time to do it — we easily fall behind on our work or, perhaps worse, don’t accomplish our goals as well as we could have. We work too hard and burn out easily, draining our focus because we don’t take effective breaks. We’re working on so many things during so many hours, but we’re not completing them efficiently because we’re not managing our time.
If you want to succeed, it’s important to set up goals to help you get there. While we dream big, we can’t leap to our final destination; we need to take baby steps to get our footing. While we should keep our big, ginormous goals in the forefront of our minds, we need to splinter these big dreams into reasonable and achievable goals to help us get there.
If you have a big project, idea or objective, it’s best to break down the big picture into smaller steps. These smaller steps can be challenging, but they shouldn’t be overwhelming. You should know what action you can take to start them, who you might ask for help, and about how long achieving the goal will take. Giving as much care and attention to these smaller goals as you would your large goal will make your final product that much better.
The best way to get the job done is to sit down (or stand up, or move around) and do it. To do so, you need to limit your distractions. Distractions limit productivity immensely, taking away precious time from your day and precious focus from your projects.
Our phones and social media are often the biggest distractions. We check our phones an upward of 80 times a day, and we spend hours on them after we’ve unlocked. Try using apps like Moment or the iPhone feature Screen Time to track your usage. The numbers are alarming and sure to scare you off your device. If you’re able to, put your device on Do Not Disturb, or limit yourself from your phone until designated phone usage time.
Setting goals for how long you’ll work is foolproof for most distractions. Figure out a solid stopping point in your work — finishing a part of the campaign, sending an email or editing a first draft — and don’t let anything distract you until you’ve reached the point. When you’re done, reward yourself with limited distraction time: games on your phone, a quick trip to the kitchen for a snack or a chat with a work friend.
Even if you know what goals you want to achieve, you can’t start to achieve them efficiently if you don’t plan first. While you want to throw your all into your dreams and ideas, it’s easy to find yourself overwhelmed and all over the place without a plan.
Deadlines are extremely important when it comes to getting the job done in time. Before planning any of your work, make sure you schedule and plan your deadlines. If there isn’t a deadline for the project, make one for yourself. If there is, make your own pseudo-deadline so you have ample time to review and polish your work.
Once you have your deadline(s), start to plan your work schedule based on the time needed to complete each step of the project. If you can plan what you need to do on a certain day, you can hold yourself accountable on the calendar. Make sure to allow yourself enough time to complete every portion of the project with a little leeway — you don’t want to leave yourself stranded if something takes a little bit longer than expected.
If you’re thinking big picture and dreaming bigger, it can be scary to imagine how you’ll get from point A to point B. Once you’ve set more reasonable and achievable goals, you’ll have a long list of numerous pressing tasks. The best way to hike through the jungle of responsibility is to prioritize.
Prioritizing happens when you consider both timing and importance. First, try to prioritize based on your deadlines and plans. What’s due first? Always prioritize work that needs to get done by a closer deadline. It’s better than pushing it off until the last minute and being focused on the tasks you’ve been doing instead.
The next part of prioritizing is relevance. What’s something you need to get done now so that you can do something that builds off it later? What’s most important to you? While smaller, more banal tasks might be easy to check off the list, when they’re not as important as other big tasks, they’re not an efficient use of your time.
Lists, like plans, make the world go round. Now that you have reasonable goals, plans and deadlines, and know your priorities, making tasks lists gives you the final push in the right direction. Start by making a master list: a longer list of everything you need to need to do. Don’t worry about explaining every single task — you can break them down in the to-do list.
A to-do list, contrary to a master list, doesn’t encompass everything you need to do. Instead, it’s an action-oriented, specific snippet of the bigger picture. These lists should come from sections of the master list, grouping tasks together that you might be able to get done in shorter periods of time. If it’s helpful, break down your small tasks ever smaller to help guide you through every step of the process.
When we’re time efficient, we become a more productive worker and earn back some time for our personal lives. We stop succumbing to the tick of the clock (or the turn of our digital watch) and instead control the time we’ve got for each tasks. We don’t live from deadline to deadline anymore; we succeed in our own schedule, with our own plans, on our own time.
Zoë Kaplan is an English major at Wesleyan University in the class of 2020. She writes about women, theater, sports, and everything in between. Read more of Zoë’s work at www.zoëkaplan.com.