Time Management Skills for Keeping Afloat

Time Management Skills: We are not robots.

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

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.

Practicing “Less”

Anybody who’s seen my apartment would call me a minimalist. Maybe not hardcore, no frills minimalist, but getting close. I don’t like having a lot of physical things, because things take time and energy to store and care for and just deal with on a daily basis.

Yet, despite that tendency toward less is more in physical space, I haven’t quite gotten into the habit in my mental space.

I have 100 articles saved to read later in Instapaper. 50+ blog posts tagged in Feedly. About 30-60 links in my Bookmarks to get to later on any given day. Ten tabs open, at least, things I clicked on because they caught my eye and I figured I’d get to shortly. Things upon things that don’t take up space but that take up time and intellect.

At the end of any given day my goal is to write more and write better. I need to start tossing the things that get in the way of that. Some fluff time is fine–we all need a cute puppy vid here and there to remain functioning adults, and they boost productivity too. SCIENCE.

But I don’t need to read every article with a grabby headline. I don’t need to watch every video short. I don’t need to read every webcomic. I don’t even need to open every email, let alone be subscribed to so many lists.

And much in the same way I find myself happier when I haul a pile of clothes off to Goodwill, or toss something that doesn’t have anything wrong with it other than it serves no actual purpose, I suspect 1) it’ll be hard at first, noooo what if I want to look at that link later and I never find it again?! the world will eeeend and 2) I’ll either feel a lot better or totally forget about it when it’s gone.

Either way sounds fine to me.