Ten Tips For Handling Your Busy Life
I used to be terrible at time management (what does time management even mean?! I feel like it’s one of those things they made up to make job interviews even more horrible.) But anyway, I left every assignment till the last minute. Throughout high school, I was a train wreck at getting my work done in a timely fashion–but it didn’t matter too much, because I also didn’t need to sleep. Somehow, teenaged me could spend two full nights writing her research paper on Cold War nuclear political theory and then go to school the next day and actually learn. Even though I had more than my fair share of meltdowns.
When I went to college, the assignments got harder. Ten, and then twenty, page papers became the norm. At my school, we had classes that were designated as ‘writing-intensive’, which meant you wrote a certain number of pages a week. I think you had to take four writing-intensive classes to graduate. I was a writing major, so most of my classes were writing-intensive. Also, reading-intensive. And time-intensive. I went to a college that is famous for being incredibly competitive, a place where fun goes to die, and also for a student body that widely abuses Adderall.
My freshman year of college, I was doing a Spanish assignment where I had to read a short story and then answer questions about it. I thought I could write a sentence for each, but then I read the assignment closely–oh. A paragraph for each. That’s basically a sneaky way to make you write an essay. (This would not be the last professor to use this trick.) I finished it late, and then felt the overwhelming despair of the rest of my unfinished assignments and the knowledge that I could have slept had I just started the damn thing earlier. I remember this event, more than half a decade later, because it made me understand that it wasn’t enough to do everything well–we have to do everything fast. I live in New York City now, and I feel like this is something that defines my friends and I. All of us have jobs, projects, goals, teams, hobbies. And yet, somehow, we also have a social life!
I fully believe that for most people, a busy life is a happy life–as long as you can handle it well.
So here are some tips!
1. Work efficiently
Here’s an anecdote: my freshman year of college, I had a class on Latin American politics with two good friends of mine. Our midterms were ten-page research papers. We started essentially at the same time. I finished mine with enough time to get some sleep before my next class. Both of them walked into the classroom wearing the same clothes they had worn the night before. I knew how to write a research paper better than they did at the time. (If you’re interested, I’ll tell you how.) I didn’t waste time. I got an A, by the way. This is something that will be personal to you. How do you best retain information? For me, it’s making a study guide. Some people like quiz cards. Some people just need to read the info. Don’t waste time doing something that isn’t going to help you.
2. Combine activities
If it works for you, be social while getting stuff done! Study parties can make long nights of work better. You don’t necessarily have to even be working on the same thing, just hang out with your friends and do homework. Their focus might rub off on you. Some of my most fun memories of college were late nights in the library with my friends. (I went to a nerd university.)
3. Plan when you’re going to do things
I love physical planners, but whatever works for you. Most people write down when their assignments are assigned and when they’re due. Great? I like to write down when I will actually work on stuff. This takes some knowledge of yourself. Break each assignment down into steps (for a research paper: gathering sources, outlining, writing) and assign a chunk of time for each step. This will give you a better clue of what days are busy, what you might need to move up, and when you can slack off a little. Every single time management article is going to tell you to make a to-do list. To me, a to-do list is like a prison, a long list of things that I will never finish. It makes everything part of a Sisyphean quest to conquer life. Fuck that. Having a calendar of when you will do what when helps. (You also feel less guilty about enjoying yourself if you know you have everything figured out!)
4. Stop procrastinating
You can google all sorts of “tricks” to beat procrastination, but in the end, it’s just a matter of doing it. Just stop procrastinating! (This is easier said than done. I’ve been trying to do this for years, and I’m still a terrible procrastinator when it comes to exercise and cleaning.) I’m also not one of the many people who suffer from clinical depression, which can make it so much harder, if not impossible. But try to spot the early signs of procrastination for what they are. For me, personally, I know that I’ve fallen into the trap when I start assigning myself a time to start the task. Saying, “I’ll start cleaning at 4 pm!” is great, except that I won’t do it because I’ll be distracted.
5. Turn off the internet when you don’t need the internet
There are lots of programs out there that will block sites like Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr for a certain period of time. I sometimes just turn my internet off. The hardest part of any task is the start. Then you get in the zone and its fine!
6. Don’t sweat it
I am a perfectionist at heart. Even when it comes to my nemesis, cleaning, I ideally want everything to be perfect. I would love to wake up, exercise, pack a delicious, nutritious lunch, finish every task to the best of my ability, never leave an e-mail unanswered, socialize, cook dinner, clean my room, have some relaxing time and then settle into bed at a reasonable hour. It doesn’t happen. It’s okay to get Bs and not As. It’s okay to take a shortcut. It’s okay to scan some readings instead of close reading them. It’s okay to every once in a while skip a class or take a day off work. Just don’t make it a habit, and learn to tell the difference between what requires 100% of your effort and what requires 75%. Remember: just because it’s not traditionally “important” doesn’t mean that it’s not important. Don’t put all your effort into work and none into leisure time!
7. Don’t overbook!
I am the queen of this mistake. I never say no! My first instinct when someone asks me to take on a task, or to hang out, is to say yes, and then I end up regretting it. Pick what’s important to you. If you need to give something up, make sure it’s something you’re okay with giving up, but don’t be afraid to say “this is too much for me!”
8. Don’t be afraid to ask for help
I wish this one was self-explanatory, but so many people are afraid to ask for help. There’s no shame in it. Go to professors, bosses, friends and let them know what’s going on BEFORE it becomes a problem.
9. Break everything up into pieces
When I was a little girl I lived on a street that was a big hill. Walking up this street was the worst thing ever to little me. It wasn’t just steep–it was long. (Longer and steeper to a child than an adult, of course). One day I discovered that if I looked at my feet, so all I saw was the next step, it got easier, and then I would look up and look at how far I’d gotten. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by huge assignments, tasks, and chunks of tasks. Just break it up, and focus on the one you’re doing. Have a plan and stick to it, one step at a time.
10. Accept that sometimes things will suck
Sometimes I feel like a very zen person because I can often be very cheerful in horrible situations (like a red-eye flight on the most uncomfortable airline ever followed by an annoyingly busy workday). Sometimes, the only way to make things suck less is to let it suck right now. We’re naturally programmed to avoid the suckiness as much as possible, so we do things like let our work pile up while we browse the internet forever. Embrace the suckiness as much as you can. Sometimes you won’t be able to go out with your friends. It’s okay! It won’t be forever!
In the end, you have to figure out what works for you. Are you the type who needs to finish all their daily tasks before going to bed, or can you wake up early and get things done? Is having an evening to veg out and browse the internet super important for your mental health? Do you need to see friends once a day, once a month? Be honest about who you are. Getting a beer with friends is important to me, and I treat it as such. There are people who will tell you to make these time matrices where you arrange items by importance and urgency. I stole one off the internet and annotated it so you know what I think of it.
Because sometimes wasting time IS important and IS urgent! (By the way, yes, I am available for custom photo-editing.)
How do you manage your busy schedule? Share your tricks in the comments below.
Written by Jess Mary Aloe