15 Time Management Skills To Master Before You're 30
Not enough hours in the day? Consider this: even if you work 60 hour work weeks and sleep 8 hours a night (heh), you still have 52 hours each week to make progress on other things.
Time management is one of those skills that evolve from a lifelong process of trial and error, learning what works for you and what doesn’t. Chances are, you’re still figuring it out. But by the time you hit 30, you should be ready to focus on other, bigger priorities (whether that’s world-traveling or just spending quiet time with your partner on Sunday nights). Pulling all-nighters? Not on that list.
Master these tips to help you find balance both in the office and outside of it, making your days a little easier and more fulfilling. The sooner you get the hang of them, the better.
1. STAYING ON TRACK
Whether it’s the last or first thirty minutes of your day, always schedule your day before it unfolds. You’ll be mentally prepared and know what to expect. Plus, you’ll be better able to handle unforeseen circumstances when you have a schedule to help you stay on track.
2. BACK TO BASICS
Yes, it was annoying when teachers insisted on checking to see if our agendas were properly filled out back in middle school, but it seems they knew something we didn’t at the time. A planner is probably one of the cheapest and effective time-saving tools you can buy—it helps you juggle multiple priorities and ensures that no dentist appointments, interviews, or conference calls go forgotten. If you really want to get crazy, color-code your tasks for ultimate organization.
3. THE HARDEST COMES FIRST
While it may be tempting to ease into your day, you’re better off completing the hardest tasks first. Prioritize the three most important tasks of your day—whether it’s something you need to get done ASAP, a chore you’re dreading, or a time-consuming project—and get them out of the way. Once you check them off, your day will be that much easier.
4. MINIMIZE DISTRACTION
According to the Huffington Post, the average worker spends 6.3 hours a day checking their email. Think of all you can accomplish in that time! Schedule purging times to look and respond to emails—think morning, noon, and before you leave the office. This allows you to check in periodically, but saves you from wasting time constantly switching between tasks.
5. MANAGE YOUR INBOX
When it comes to emails, organization is key for managing your time—there needs to be a method to the madness that is your inbox! Keep in mind that “inbox zero” is mostly unattainable, but you can use a few tricks to keep the chaos at bay. Create labels for correspondence (Awaiting Reply, Need to Reply To, Need to Follow Up, etc.) and once you’re ready, file those emails away into other labels for all your big categories. Check out a few more tips from Forbes or Asian Efficiency.
6. PRACTICE SELF-CONTROL
While it’s entertaining to check in on everyone’s weekend photos for a quick break, time can slip by unnoticed, and a 10-minute break becomes half an hour of wasted time. Social media is one of the biggest distractions and time-wasters. It’ll take some self-control, but learn to log out of all your social accounts before beginning a project. It’ll save so much time and procrastination in the long run.
7. WASTE NO OPPORTUNITY
As productive as we all try to be, there will always be downtime factored into our daily lives. Have a long commute on the subway? Use the time to catch up on your work emails so you can hit the office rearing to go. Debating whether you have enough time to go to the gym? Kill two birds with one stone and catch up on your reading while you’re on the elliptical.
8. SET YOUR OWN DEADLINES
Setting your own deadlines is key to avoiding procrastination. If you have an upcoming project, immediately outline the deadline in your planner. Then, create your own deadline for chunks of the project so you’re not rushing to finish it at the last minute—and stick to them. For example, if you have a feature article coming up, give three days for research, a week to schedule interviews, and a day to write each main section of the piece.
9. CUT YOURSELF OFF
Ever spend more time than anticipated on a project or assignment? Give yourself a time limit for each one to help you stay on track. A time constraint will focus your mind and make you more efficient.
In your eyes, what constitutes time well spent? Your answer might change depending on the ebb and flow of life. Every few months, list five activities or things that are most important to you. Maybe it’s a side hustle, reading a new book every month, or picking up tennis. You’ll know where and when to dedicate your free time outside of work, leading to a more productive and happy life.
Assess your workload or what’s currently going on in your life before you make another commitment.
11. CATCH YOUR ZZZ'S...
I mean seven to eight hours of it. For some of you busy-bees, this may be the most difficult “skill” on this list. I know—there are never enough hours in the day. But being well-rested will allow you to be more productive the next day; no slogging through work because you can’t keep your eyes open.
12. SO YOU CAN CATCH THE WORM
Getting enough sleep will also make it easier to wake up early and start the day off on the right foot. I’m sure some of you are night owls and get your best work done during the moonlit hours, but I’m a firm believer that the early bird gets the worm.
13. USE A CALENDAR
A calendar is not only great because it helps you schedule all your appointments, meetings, etc., but because today’s calendars let you sync to other devices so you can access everything on the go. Take advantage of the calendar that comes with your email, such as Outlook, or your smartphone’s calendar. Google Calendar is also ideal, especially if you need to share your meetings with a coworker or your schedule with your spouse.
14. PLAN FOR THE UNPLANNED
It’s important to take some downtime for yourself, which can be hard to remember at times if you’re on a roll with work. For your mental health, schedule buffer time during work, whether it’s a ten-minute break between tasks or a weekend off after an intense week.
15. ASK FOR HELP
The perfectionist in you wants to do everything, but you don’t have to (and shouldn't!). Avoid stress and burnout from putting too much on your plate. Take a load off your shoulders by assigning the less important tasks, or those that may someone else's strong suit, to your subordinates.
And here’s a bonus skill that you need in all aspects of life: learn to say no. Again, you should resist the urge to do everything yourself. Assess your workload or what’s currently going on in your life before you make another commitment.