Sunday, August 9, 2009

How to be a Busy Bee Without Getting Squashed: A Lesson in Time Management and Organization

For anyone that knows me personally, you probably know that I am the queen of overbooking myself and sprinting from one activity to another. While I do not encourage other people to take on jam packed schedules, I have been able to work out a few time management and organization tricks that will hopefully help anyone and everyone efficiently complete everything they want to in a day.

Let's hit organization first. When I'm talking about organization, I'm not necessarily talking about whether your socks are folded and arranged in neat little piles in your drawer. Organization (especially when it comes to career searches and school) is your ability to set yourself up for success because you have covered all your bases before ever entering an interview or a classroom. The best piece of advice I can give to any student or professional is to keep track of the things you do! Keeping a planner, jotting things into a Google Calendar, or having a notebook with your daily accomplishments can make a huge difference!

Here's how I have applied these ideas to my life. Ever since high school, I have kept a planner to manage all my classes, appointments, homework assignments, projects, tests, etc. Depending on who you talk to, the idea of keeping a planner is either seen as an essential or a waste of time. In my case, I think I'd forget to do a whole lot of things without a planner. The more you have going on, the more a planner seems to be an asset to your day. On any given day during school, I can check out my planner to figure out what my #1 priorities are for the day in order to get work done. Once I know what I need to attack for the day, I can decide how I want to space out my time. If I know I have to accomplish a lot in an evening. I'll avoid scheduling any other activities, get over to the gym early, and space things appropriately so that I have enough time to take a small break in between activities to catch my breath.

The way I use this method at work is to keep a notebook with everything I get done during the day. Obviously, I'm not going to put "Peed 6 times and chatted with my officemate for 24.5 minutes", but I will put down if I finished a spreadsheet, called someone to get critical information for one of my projects, or attended certain meetings. Doing this will help set you up for productive reviews with your boss and also works great for helping you remember what all you've accomplished if you feel like you've gotten stuck in a rut.

This brings up to time management. I had a discussion a while back with a friend about prioritizing time in two different ways. One way is to give yourself a list of things to do for the day knowing that each thing will take a certain amount of time and just take each thing down one at a time. The other way of organizing your time is outlining your day almost minute-by-minute and saying that you may have 1 hour at the gym, 4 hours of class, 2 hours to finish your thermo homework, etc. Either method works depending on how you like to divide up your time. Personally, I like the first method. It may not always be the most efficient, but it seems to keep me from getting so overwhelmed with what I have to do when and I'm more likely just to sit down and tackle a whole mess of things.

The next step to mastering time management and organization is figuring out your priorities. What is going to be most important to get done in your day? Sometimes we can get so wrapped up in small details that we are unable to focus in on the things that are essential to our day. When planning your time, think about what you truly need to get done in the time you have available. Some days that is actually going to be realxing and taking time for yourself and other days that is going to be spending 4 hours in front of a computer at an EB lab and knocking out a lab report. It may occasionally be frustrating to face the fact that today is just going to be a very tough day, but dealing with one tough day is generally way better than scrambling through an entire night trying to get something done and losing sleep.

One tip I have for anyone with lots of projects on their plate or tests coming up is to break everything into manageable pieces and attack the entire project over time. Giving yourself several days and knocking out material in small portions can be a huge asset to your ability to get things done. Instead of spending an entire evening trying to finish a project, it is way less stressful to work on it over several days. You're also way more likely to get things done on time and save yourself from losing some serious sleep.

The final piece of advice I'd like to extend is making time to do the things you want to do. I've talked to a lot of people who tend to say "No, I can't, I don't have enough time." Okay, I understand if you're just flat out too busy to do something, but that's not always a passable excuse. If you aren't using your time wisely and are thus missing out on great opportunities, you may want to rethink your approach to time management. Even though I'm busy, there are things I'm almost always willing to make time for. Even in the worst semesters, I have made time to communicate with family, get in solid workouts at the gym, or even take walks with friends or family member to just cool down my stress levels.

The moral of the story is that time management and organization are HUGE assets to your ability to get the things you have to do done so that you can start focusing on the things you want to do. There's always going to be times where your life feels like a mad house, but if you set yourself up and cover your bases, there's a solid chance you'll survive your busy days. Also, if you stay open to continuously re-examining your priorities and maintain a positive attitude, you are almost guaranteed to make a dent in your day.

Like always,

Good Luck Job Seekers!

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