There are enough articles on developing time management skills out there in the world that I think we all kind of know the gist. As someone who’s accidentally found herself in a field that tends to be either BUSY ON FIRE or suspiciously quiet, plus volunteer work, plus evening language classes, plus side gigs and personal pursuits, plus, well, the internet and all its distracting glory still exists, I have read and tried and promptly forgotten or discarded about 99% of them.
It’s not the knowing that’s hard; it’s when you’re drowning, remembering to put those time management skills to use. But emergency situations call for emergency measures: when I’m struggling just to keep afloat, these are the essential, non-negotiable time management skills I deploy.
Say no to that person who comes over to your desk and is like “Hey can I ask you real quick-”
Say no to a meeting that doesn’t need to happen (at all, right now).
Say no to answering that email that just came in (but I know you already looked – it’s ok, when something could catch on fire AT ANY MOMENT you feel like you have to).
Say no to things that aren’t important, urgent, or both. Some stuff you can’t say no to, but the unimportant, non-urgent things can definitely slide right now.
Ask for help
This can mean delegating. This can mean talking to your coworker to take some of your immediate workload, or something that will start to fall behind if you don’t get on it right now (and you can’t, because you’re doing 10 other things right now). This can mean talking to your boss and saying “I have too much and am worried about X, Y, and Z not being done well as a result, what can we do?”
Sometimes asking for help doesn’t accomplish anything. Sometimes you have shitty coworkers or shitty bosses. Sometimes your amazing coworkers and amazing bosses are just as busy as you are and have no bandwidth to lend. Sometimes the things you need help on aren’t easily given to other people. But just sending out the “help” signal can be valuable for setting expectations and covering your own butt, and the worst case scenario is you’ll be right where you were before you asked for help, so why not.
Decompress, but don’t dick around
We are not robots. Even having all these time management skills in our brains, it’s not like, run program, beep boop, operating at 100% efficiency all day. Take strategic breaks to decompress, but be vigilant about a) what the break is and b) how long it lasts. When I am really trying to power through something but my mental capacity is fading fast, or I find myself less and less able to deploy even the emergency time management skills, I find the following rules most effective for an efficient mental reset:
- 10-15 minutes max
- Eat something. Did you have lunch? How about a snack? No crap. Efficient brain food only. (Coffee counts in moderation.)
- Go outside. Ideally, walk around the block. It’s nice to remember there’s a world outside your office.
- Leave social media alone. That way lies madness, breaks that go over 15 minutes, and distracting thoughts.
- But do look at a picture of your dog / pet / someone else’s pet / something else you find cute and relaxing.
- Go back to your desk on time and refreshed.
Remember it will be fine
It was fine last time. It’ll be fine this time, too. Hell, this time tomorrow you’ll have forgotten all about today’s little emergencies (because tomorrow will have inconsequential emergencies of its own).
For time management skills that involve battling your own brain’s procrastination tendencies, have you tried the Pomodoro technique? I also assembled some productivity tips for getting your head in the right space to handle what the day has in store. Or if you’re looking for more writing-specific advice, take a peek at these tips for just getting started.