December 29, 2008

Time Management Tips

If you are anything like me, you started the winter break with a long list of things you wanted to get done, and now you find yourself half way through the break with none of them done, and you've sort of lost the motivation for doing them. You'd rather just read a book.

I was going through some of the journal entries I wrote last year and found this gem. Maybe it will help! Where did I set that book again?

This week, I took a refresher course on time management by reading Steve Pavlina's excellent Do It Now article. It explains several specific time management techniques that you can use to stay productive. The biggest lesson from the article is this: when you're working, work, and when you're not, don't. Don't waste time in a half-brained, distracted, "I'm 'working' but not really" state.

It takes fifteen minutes to enter a state of flow. Once you're there, your work becomes entirely effortless. It still takes discipline to stay there. There are always distractions and you need to ignore them. But once your brain is in a certain state of mind, time seems to disappear and you become completely absorbed in your work. It's easy to stay in this state for 90 minutes at a time. When you need a break, take a break. Take a real break – not an email checking break or a web surfing break – but an actual restful break.

Pavlina suggests that you set aside long blocks of time for your work – up to six or eight hours at a time – and work as long as you can, taking breaks as needed. The only way you'll be able to do this is if you enjoy your work and it has personal meaning for you. Personally, mine does. But finding the motivation is still difficult sometimes.

Another big lesson from the article is to do one and only one thing at a time. I used to be very good at this but I've been slacking a bit. Work really is easier this way. It is extremely inefficient for our brains to keep switching between different tasks. Instead, focus on one task, dedicate all of your energies to it, and then move to the next task. Thinking about all of the other things that you should be doing is a waste of time.

I'm not a self-help junkie, and I don't think that constantly giving yourself affirmations is the best way to happiness and productivity, but I do think that reading some motivational material every now and then is beneficial. Most of us learned these time management techniques in college and are already familiar with them. But in the long winter months, sometimes a refresher course doesn't hurt. Since reading the article, I've been much more productive in my work and felt better about doing it.

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