How to manage your time and live and work better

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Creative jobs require flawless time management. You need to gather information, come up with ideas and create your output. And then there are deadlines, adjustments based on customers’ requests, and so on… To make the best use of the hours at your disposal, you need to have a grasp of time management. But what is it exactly?

What is time management?

Time management simply means organising your time in the best way possible. It doesn’t just apply to work, but it is also a way of improving your performance and becoming more effective in any activity you carry out. One word that always frightens workers is deadlines. Whether you’re an employee or a freelancer, there is always a final delivery date. This is where the time element comes in, and it becomes essential to optimise the way you use it.

Time is the most valuable commodity humans have at their disposal. Everyone has the same amount of it to manage every day, 1,440 minutes to be precise, and nobody can change that. However, many people do not manage to unleash the enormous potential those precious minutes contain, which become wasted hours, days and months if they are not sorted out.

But everyday life is not that simple; it can’t always be controlled by a calendar or a to-do list. That would be too easy. Something unexpected is always just around the corner, and the commitments you have for any one day tend to overlap. What you need to do is stop time from becoming a tyrant, and instead attempt to turn it into a trusted ally. 

Time is not money

Time is the most precious asset we have. The original concept of time management does not come from self-help books or personal development gurus, but from the world of philosophy: the question we need to ask ourselves is how we can use our time to give our life meaning. Modern time management, meanwhile, is written for or by consultants, not philosophers, offering tricks, systems and advice on how to do more, work more quickly and be more efficient. These may work very well for some, but you have to start off with the right questions. First of all, why should we manage time? Because time is precious, many people would say. In that case, how much is it worth?

The fact that time is not money has been shown by various studies. The people that equate their time directly to money tend to be more stressed, always in a rush and, put simply, less happy. According to the Roman philosopher Seneca, if you think that time is money you are seriously undervaluing your time. That’s because the time you have available is limited, not just in terms of any particular day, but also in terms of your entire life. When you reach this conclusion, you start to understand time’s true value, which certainly cannot be expressed in terms of an hourly rate.

Time is valuable…so get organised!

At times, when you have a job to complete, delays and sleepless nights can pile up. People sometimes think that a night-time marathon session can release the genie of creativity, producing a sudden lightbulb moment that turns a project into gold. It’s possible, but rare. The first mistake to avoid is thinking that creativity comes from the pressure of the work itself, when good organisation and getting into healthy habits actually are what makes the difference. You might meet the deadline after a sleepless night, but you will be exhausted and incapable of quickly moving on to a new project, or a new task at work.

Organising your time therefore means making choices and sometimes saying no, to avoid the burnout caused by stress. This might mean turning down a client, for example: the choices you make today influence the time you have available for a certain project tomorrow. In addition, there are various practical ways to optimise your time, some of which are very simple. Here are a few options.

Time management techniques: to each their own

Pomodoro Technique

This is a very simple way of improving your concentration, which many people find very effective. Invented by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s, it takes its name from the Italian word for tomato, a shape used for many Italian kitchen timers. Here’s how it works:

  • Find a kitchen timer or download the Tomato Timer app for Android or iOS
  • Divide up your work into 25-minute intervals, choosing just one task from your list
  • Concentrate fully on that activity, whatever it is, for 25 minutes
  • When the timer goes, take a five-minute break
  • Every four ‘tomatoes’ you can stop for 15 minutes.

Pareto analysis

Pareto’s principle states that 80% of activities can be completed in 20% of the time available, with the remaining 20% completed in 80% of the time. You therefore divide your activities into two groups and tackle the activities that require the least time first. Following the 80/20 rule, with 20% of your time used you will already have completed 80% of the activities.

Create your own rules

Regardless of the commitments you have,other people’s methods and rules do not suit everyone. You can therefore set rules for yourself, while always remembering that it is impossible to do everything in a short period of time. You could decide when you are most productive and concentrate your work (or your writing, drawing or reading) in that particular time window. You could decide that your bed is for sleeping, not for working or studying. Or that small breaks are not only necessary, but vital. The secret is to listen to yourself and work out which habits are the easiest to both adopt and persevere with.

Credits: CC2.0 Dan Taylor / Heisenberg Media (taken from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Elon_Musk_-_The_Summit_2013.jpg)

Time management by the busiest people in the world

Elon Musk, Arianna Huffington and Mark Zuckerberg are certainly extremely busy, running business giants like Tesla and Facebook. Zuckerberg wears the same type of t-shirt and jeans every day, and so reduces the number of decisions he has to make in the morning. It’s a way of optimising his time from the second the alarm clock rings.

Musk does not divide his days into hours, but rather into small, five-minute slots. This very rigid structure, made up of a succession of small units of time, allows him to maximise the potential of every minute. Arianna Huffington, meanwhile, doesn’t look at her email inbox for at least 30 minutes before going to bed, and doesn’t check it immediately after waking up. Everyone therefore applies their own techniques, but the essential thing is to be realistic. Don’t make time management itself a waste of time.

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