Chapter 7: Time Management
You procrastinated in your schoolwork, you continued to somehow succeed and procrastinate in your post-secondary, and now you are working. You realize you are always in a state of tension, as if you are swimming, as the water is deepening, you are now getting tired but are only managing to keep your head above enough to not drown.
No one wants to procrastinate. If you can break this habit, you can ease the pressure, reduce the stress, and refresh your mind. The internal and constant mental strain can be daunting, so how can you cope with it? A good strategy is to view your long-term goals: are you in the field of work that you want to see yourself in over the next 5 years? Are you enjoying your work? The work environment? The difference between the years of study and the years of work lies in the application of the skills. Do the skills you obtained, and the experience you have accumulated, enable you to feel satisfaction? The answers to these questions should lead back to resetting your goals.
Procrastination can restrict your potential and undermine your success. Procrastination is the avoidance of difficult tasks by seeking or not resisting distractions. Many people believe that procrastination is simply laziness, but it has more to do with the fear of failure or being overwhelmed. For this reason, many perfectionists procrastinate, they fear that they cannot complete the task perfectly and resist beginning or completing it. Some people believe that they work better under pressure and use this to justify procrastination, but this is just a myth – so don’t fall into that trap. The following illustration depicts some of the distractions that we fall prey to. Are any of these familiar to you?
Now that we understand what procrastination is, let’s look at some ways to tackle it. This is where identifying, either by using the illustration and/or using self-reflection, can be helpful in reducing procrastination. If you know what things distract you, you can plan for them.
One of the most important things is to recognize that you are procrastinating. It might be obvious that you are, but sometimes it is more difficult to see that that is what we are doing. Then reflect on why you are procrastinating. Is the work unpleasant, difficult, feels overwhelming? Knowing this will help you know what strategy will work for you.
Here are some strategies that you can use to conquer procrastination:
- Break large or overwhelming tasks into smaller, achievable tasks.
- Reward yourself for tasks that you complete.
- Make yourself accountable to someone else, for example, set up a study buddy system where you and a friend commit to working independently on a task for one or two hours. Peer pressure can work, and it feels less lonely. Ensure though, that the friend is also committed, and you don’t simply distract each other.
- Rephrase your inner dialogue from “I need to” to “I choose to”. The messages we give ourselves are important.
- Minimize distractions – go to the library if home is too distracting, go home if the campus is too distracting.
- Tackle unpleasant tasks first if it helps to get those out of the way.
- Tackle the easy pieces first if it helps you build momentum. This is where it helps to know what motivates you.
- Identify your peak times for work. Are you better in the morning? Or do you prefer to work later at night? Also, what types of tasks are easier for you to complete at different times, for example, I find my mind is clearer in the morning and this is a better time to accomplish writing tasks.
- Set a timer. One strategy that works well for me to break procrastination is commit to one hour and actually set a timer, often at the end of the timer I feel energized and more to work longer, but there are times when once the timer is up, I’m relieved but ultimately, I feel better for doing at least an hour’s work.
- Focus on starting, not finishing.
Also, don’t forget to give yourself some down time. And on that note, this TEDTalk by Tim Urban: Inside the mind of a master procrastinator (2016) offers great insight on procrastination in a humorous way.
Improving Your Productivity
Productivity is a way of measuring how much work you get done. It is a word people use to describe the relationship between the work you do and the time it takes. Productivity helps determineing your efficiency. When you are working, especially for the first time, you may need to take longer complete tasks. Efficient workers are often able to get more done in less time. Here are a few ideas to try that are connected to improving your productivity.
The 80/20 Principle
This is a rule, sometimes called the Pareto Principle, that suggests that some of your time and energy is more meaningful than others. In general, the principle is that 20 percent of the input yields 80 percent of the output. From a productivity perspective, it means that “20% of your time produces 80% of your results” (Lavinsky, 2014). To use this principle effectively at work or school, you need to reflect on what you are doing and how you are doing it. Look for the most effective practices and focus on those. When it comes to your workplace, pay attention to inefficiencies and to the high-impact practices you see that make up that magic 20%.
The Time Constraint Method
In a humorous essay from 1955, historian Cyril Northcote Parkinson developed Parkinson’s Law, which states that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion” (Wen, 2020). In other words, work will take up all of the time you allocate for it. So, to be more efficient, you need to set deadlines and parameters on your work. The more time you allocate, the less productive you will be. So, consider adding constraints to you work. Set aside 30 minutes or 1 hour to work intensively on a project, instead of planning to work all afternoon.
The To-Do (Not) List
You have already heard about the benefits of a to do list. However, some people improve their productivity by identifying things that don’t work for them. This means you need to set your boundaries and list the things you will not do. For instance, some employees refuse to answer their email first thing in the morning, schedule meetings in the middle of the morning or afternoon, refuse to accept every project that comes their way, or don’t accept meetings that come without prior notice or have a specified ending time. While you may not be able to control meetings as a new worker, you may decide when you will choose to answer emails, complete challenging or mindless tasks, or set a limit on how much time you spend engaging in small talk (Leonardo, 2021).
Prioritizing Your Work
It is easy to feel like every task you are assigned is equally important and valuable. Though they likely do all need to get done, they probably don’t all need to get done right now. You need to reflect on the importance and amount of time the tasks will take when you attempt to prioritize tasks. In truth, your tasks will take different amounts of time, energy, and focus to complete. One of the most important skills you can learn on the job is how to prioritize. Don’t forget to get help when it comes to identifying priorities. Often, your supervisor or instructor will have a better sense of the big picture. They can help you take a list of tasks and turn it into a schedule.
Organize Your Tasks Based on Complexity
To help with your time management, here are a few ways to manage your time based on complexity. These techniques focus on the nature of a task, the level of difficulty, and the
amount of time it requires After you try out these techniques, consider checking in with your boss to make sure your prioritization matches theirs!
The Sequence Method. Sequence your tasks in order of complexity. You might want some sticky notes! First, write down all the different tasks you are assigned in any order. Then, assess each task and arrange them in an order of most important to least important, and most urgent to least urgent. This will help you figure out where to begin and provide you with a clear sequence for your work and where to focus is required.
The Eisenhower Matrix. This technique adds a visual component to the sequence method. Draw a table with four quadrants. Place your tasks onto the quadrant based on their importance and urgency. Tasks that are important are rarely considered urgent whereas those considered urgent are may not be important tasks. This method will help you to understand to understand which tasks you must do, schedule, delegate, or eliminate. See below for an example of a visual representation of this matrix.
In this matrix, allocate the most amount of time to the important but not-urgent tasks because they are directly associated with your productivi
ty. The absence of a deadline but the requirement of their completion indicates the weight these tasks carry in relation to your work.
The ABCDE Method. In this method, you will group tasks into four categories. The “A” tasks are those that are the most significant and highest priority. “B” tasks are important but don’t have a binding component (i.e., time, a pending client response…etc.). “C” tasks are low priority tasks that you don’t necessarily need to complete in order to achieve your goals. “D” tasks are those that can be delegated, meaning that they can be carried out by others for you. As a WIL student, you may end up completing your supervisor’s “D” tasks!, and “E” tasks are those that can be eliminated or deleted from your list because they are not important or even a burden to the rest of your productivity (Roomer, 2019).
Case Study: Mohammad’s Tries Out the ABCDE Method
Mohammad is learning more about time management, but there are just too many techniques to try. He does not want to get caught up in too many options. So, he starts by trying out the ABCDE technique. First, he writes out all of his tasks. Then, he organizes his tasks into priorities. Here are his tasks for next week organized using ABCDE:
A (Highest Priority)
- Complete web design project by Wednesday
- Finish communications readings by Friday
- Provide peer feedback on Noah’s website
- Update my web portfolio to account for my new web design project
- Grab dinner with my classmates after class
- Ask Bariqa to carpool to school this week
- Lay out my closes for tomorrow
Divide and Conquer Your Tasks
Another way to maximize your efficiency is to know how to group, organize, and divide your tasks. The techniques in this section are based on the idea of enhancing your productivity through maximizing your efficiency. Ideally, you should focus on one task or a set of similar tasks. Doing this is more rewarding than constantly having to switch between different tasks. When you are switching all of the time, you will spend more time reorienting yourself and refocusing.
The Clustering Method. List all of your projects and tasks. Then, cluster those of similar types together. Begin with the most important tasks and get a head start on them. You may also begin with short and urgent tasks to remove them from your list of items that would otherwise hinder progress on more important tasks.
The Energy-Based Method. Assess your overall state, your energy levels throughout the day, and the space and times where you feel most driven and focused. Then, remove as many distractions as possible as they would negatively affect your energy levels. Once you have a good sense of your own patterns, plan your tasks using these patterns. Divide your tasks over the different times, based on your discretion.
Another method that will likely not apply to you in your WIL role, but would be good to know as you progress through your career is the Delegation Method. In this method you divide your tasks into a category of which you would need to complete yourself, tasks that can be delegated to a team, and a set of tasks that can be done automatically.
Stress in Relation to Time Management
Stress is what happens when pressure overwhelms us, and we don’t know how to cope. Though we all deal with stress, some stressors are more than we can handle. Stress is often seen in a negative light, it is described as something that has adverse effects on your health, a harmful feeling if not dealt with. One reality that hasn’t been often included in the descriptions of stress is that it is a natural response. It is your body’s way of telling you that you need to prepare for something, make a change, or face a new challenge. Embracing stress means making a change in your perspective. You need a new outlook where you realize stress is not harmful, but instead indicates you need to do something differently.
In order to properly cope with it and deal with its impacts on our bodies and minds, we need to develop coping strategies. Here are a few:
1. Identify the cause of your stress. Is it work related? Is it stemming from a specific task or deadline? Identifying a cause will help you to work toward a solution, clarify the situation you face and choose a course of action.
2. Visualize all your tasks. Either write them out or look at the list you created. Prioritize tasks. Eliminate all distractions and all unnecessary, non-urgent, and unimportant tasks.
3. Gather your resources. Prepare as your stress informs you. What do you need to do to overcome the stress? Think of all your abilities, your network, and your connections.
4. Devise a plan. Structure your approach, create a mind map or a schedule to help you carry out your plan. Hopefully by this step, you will start to feel your stress levels decrease. Remind yourself that you have chosen to be proactive rather than reactive.
5. Use your support systems. Can you discuss your concerns with your supervisor or a colleague? Can you speak with your supervisor to extend a deadline? Can you request technical supports to aid in the proper completion of a task? A WIL perspective on time management does not solely emphasize your productivity and efficiency in a process, it also intends to prevent the possibility of losing time over incorrect task completions, increase your accuracy in your work, and aid in the development of positive and helpful habits.
Technology and Time Management
We have all spent more than our fair share of time lost down a Wikipedia rabbit hole, stuck in a Netflix binge, or scrolling endlessly on our phones. Technology is often treated in popular culture as a time suck, and, well, it certainly can be. At the same time, many of us will work in fields where we spend lots of time using technology for our jobs. Technology can be a time saver and can help us succeed. Here are a few tips to make the most of your technology to enhance your productivity:
- Embrace the Scheduler. There are so many different apps that can help you with to do list, calendars, etc. Pick just a few and try to set aside time to use them.
- Manage Your Notifications. Turn on notifications that will help with your work but turn off notifications that will encourage you to get distracted.
- Review Your Usage. Many phones now track how much time you spend on them and what you are doing. Take a look at those reports and tweak your behaviour if you are spending too much time scrolling.
- Block Time and Distractions. Schedule time just to work without distraction. This might mean you need to block websites and notifications that keep you out of your work zone.
Getting Help with Time Management
Time management is a life-long skill. Most of us will struggle with aspects of time management throughout our professional lives. Remember, you aren’t alone. Understanding time-management from a WIL perspective requires initiative from you, your supervisor, and your instructor. When you work together to identify priorities and tasks, you will find it much easier to determine when and how to complete the multiple and shifting deadlines you encounter in school and work.
If you need help, get help! Don’t forget that you can access services on campus and in some workplaces to help you with time management needs.
- At School. Start with your WIL teacher! Ask them questions and seek out their advice during office hours. You can also check in with your academic advisor, a learning strategist, or with Accessibility Services.
- At Work. Start with your supervisor. They will be able to tell you what is important and why. You may also be able to access support and programs through Human Resources. Many larger organizations provide a free Employee Assistance Program (EAP) which includes access to counselling and support.
- At Home. Turn to your friends and family. Many of them will have faced similar challenges in their own life. They can help you to prioritize, organize and refocus during times of trouble.
- Your motivations help you to understand and prioritize your goals and values.
- Take time to plan and organize your work.
- Prioritize tasks based on their importance and complexity.
- Break down large tasks into smaller steps.
- Remember that stress and pressure are normal processes.
- Ask for help when you need it.
A monopoly style12-cell board starting at:
- Start assignment
- Go out for pizza with friends, lose turn
- Bake healthy muffins, go back 1 space
- Watch 2 hours of cat videos, skip turn
- Wash floors, go back 2 spaces skip turn
- Daydream about sunny beaches, miss your turn
- Online shopping, go back 3 spaces
- Play Fortnite until 3 am, return to start space
- Nap through your turn
- Watch 4 hours of Tik Tok, lose track of time and your turn
- Take a coffee break, go back 4 spaces
- Clean out your closet, go back 5 spaces
- Do First. First focus on important tasks to be done the same day.
- Schedule. Important but not so urgent stuff should be scheduled.
- Delegate. What’s urgent but less important, delegate to others.
- Don’t do. What’s neither urgent nor important don’t do at all.
- “Figure 7.3 Map of Procrastination” by Deb Nielson is licensed under a CC BY-NC 4.0 licence.
- “Tim Urban: Inside the mind of a master procrastinator” by Tim Urban is licensed a CC BY-NC-ND licence.
- “Figure 7.4 The Eisenhower Matrix” by Deb Nielsen, Emily Ballantyne, Faatimah Murad and Melissa Fournier is licensed under a CC BY-NC 4.0 licence. Based on Eisenhower, 2021.
Cirillo, F. (2021). The pomodoro technique. Cirillio Consulting. https://francescocirillo.com/pages/pomodoro-technique
Einsenhower. (2021). Introducing the Eisenhower matrix. Eisenhower. https://www.eisenhower.me/eisenhower-matrix/
Healthline. (2017). Intrinsic motivation: How to pick up healthy motivation techniques. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/intrinsic-motivation
Komninos, A. (n.d.). Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Interaction Design Foundation. https://www.interaction-design.org/literature/article/maslow-s-hierarchy-of-needs
Lavinsky, D. (2014, 20 Jan). Pareto principle: How to use it to dramatically grow your business. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/davelavinsky/2014/01/20/pareto-principle-how-to-use-it-to-dramatically-grow-your-business/?sh=814ab0a3901d
Roomer, J. (2019, 9 Mar). Forget a to-do list, use the ‘ABCDE’ method instead. Medium. https://medium.com/personal-growth-lab/forget-a-to-do-list-use-the-abcde-method-instead-5a3a329ff448
Wen, T. (2020, 21 May). The law that explains why you can’t get anything done. BBC. https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20191107-the-law-that-explains-why-you-cant-get-anything-done