The following is a guest post from Matt Saucier. While still a senior in high school, Matt manages to eloquently address a subject that I still struggle with from time to time, and maybe you do too.
To my younger readers, I’m sure you’ll easily relate. And to those who have been in the working world for a decade or two, I think you’ll find this article useful and inspiring. You may have to replace references to tests and assignments with, I dunno, TPS reports and quarterly self-evaluations, but same difference 🙂
Bruce Lee once said, “If you love life, don’t waste time, for time is what life is made up of.”
Our notion of time is so weird: We literally only have twenty-four hours in a day—that’s it. Twenty four hours. No recharging or refills. With this limited time, we have to balance between the things we need to do vs. the things we want to do.
Manage those two things correctly and you move forward. Mismanage, and you get stuck in one place or even worse, you move backward.
That’s where “Time Management” comes in. It is a phrase that gets thrown around a lot, but no one ever really goes further repeating what I just said: “Do what you need to do when you need to do it”.
Well thanks, Captain Obvious.
Put simply, time management is the collection of tactics you use to guarantee that you’re always moving forward, and I’ll cover those tactics in this post. And if you feel like you have no concept or skills for the management of your time, or if you have a problem with procrastination, all is not lost! Just keep reading.
Procrastination vs. Prioritization
Picture this: you’re a college student and you have a ten-page paper to start and finish by tomorrow for an 8:00 A.M. European Literature class…the fact that it is currently 10:00 P.M. is probably a minor setback. There’s nothing you can do about the time shortage, so you do the best you can.
The solution, however, is to understand and identify why you are in that position in the first place, and to keep from ever being in that position again.
My two keys to addressing time management are: Prioritization methods and a calendar-based reminder system.
Prioritizing things inherently includes writing them down—know what you have to get done in order to get them done! I’m a little bit extreme on this, but my system works…for the most part.
On my computer, there are sticky notes available in the Dashboard Window (that is for Mac, I’m sure Windows has something similar). I use these sticky notes to write everything down for school and for life, and I mean everything.
I’m the kind of person that will only remember things if I purposely put them in a place where ‘Future Me’ will trip right over them. Literally.
If I need to take out the trash, I put the trashcan at the foot of my room’s door so that I fall over it catastrophically – hitting my head on the door, spilling my coffee all over myself staining my clothes, and nearly dying of brain trauma.
Why? Because it is an absolutely foolproof way to make sure that I, in the end, take out the trash (maybe that’s a bit exaggerated, but I do have to put things at the foot of my door to remind me to take care of it).
I apply this to my sticky notes by using an assortment of icons and symbols to denote different things.
In descending order of importance, I use >, +, =, ≈, -, and ~ as the “dash” in front of the things on my to-do list. These different dashes mean I’m doing this tonight, or I’m doing this tomorrow, or I’m waiting to work on this because it’s not due for two months.
For example: I’ll leave all of the things on my to-do list at the default dash (-). From there, I say, “Ok, I need to read this passage TONIGHT so that I am ready for discussion tomorrow.” That deserves the most important icon (>).
Then I can say, “But these two assignments aren’t due until Friday, so if I have time tonight after reading the passage, I can do them. If not, that’s ok.” Those assignments might receive the next most important icon (+).
This example is a microcosm of the eight to ten things I may have on my to-do lists at any given time.
Every night, I first go through and assign dash icons, then I figure out exactly what I need to do and when I need to do it. Only two or three mandatory things to get done in one night is MUCH easier to look at than an assortment of ten or more assignments that clutters and overwhelms.
This is a screenshot of an exemplary set of sticky notes:
I’ve trained my eye to disregard what’s not important and to only see what I plan to do right now. That’s me. Find a system similar to this that works for you (or feel free to use this one). It will keep you from getting overwhelmed.
The caveat to this is that you have to plan things out in advance so you know how important something actually is. How do I do that? With my calendar, the second key to addressing time management. I use my local computer calendar, but Google offers a great calendar option if you have a Gmail account.
Once you’ve added events and due dates, add another layer of organization by color-coding each event based on subject. Doing this elevates an already great tool to a more effective level.
Take a look at this example (the events correspond to the events mentioned above).
As you can see, Economics and Calculus have different colors and are abbreviated to exhibit the difference. Also, you can see that there is a meeting scheduled for Thursday, which you can set a reminder for in order to remember it.
Just writing down a due date somewhere in your notes won’t feed into your daily life like a calendar to remind you when you have but a day left to do it. The moment I receive a due date, it goes in the calendar with a color code and a reminder set to go off with enough time to prepare. Then I don’t have to worry about it until I see it coming up in the coming week or few days.
Some say that they wouldn’t remember to look at their calendar, but with how attached we are to our phones and laptops, I urge you to just try it. With everything in the calendar, there will be no surprises. You can check your schedule each morning to stay on track for the day and the week ahead.
But unfortunately, procrastination is the downfall of this system. It doesn’t matter how much you plan and prioritize, if you don’t get it done, it doesn’t get done—plain and simple.
We All Need A Reason
We have to address apathy and procrastination from a psychological and metaphysical standpoint, not just a superficial one. If we look at why we procrastinate, it has to be because we’d rather be doing whatever we resort to (because we like it so much) or because we dislike what we need to do so much that we resort to anything but what we need to do.
Many times this can be caused by being overwhelmed and can lead to making excuses. You know when people say that you need to “cut the crap” and stop making excuses? That’s called getting motivated.
Motivation is the absolute foundation of extinguishing procrastination, and motivational speaker Tai Lopez affirms this by saying that you must find your true motivation in order to stop procrastinating.
Turns out my true motivation was found in one simple phrase: “Never Stop Learning”. This motivates me to invest interest in whatever it is that I’m doing.
Now, as I am about to go off to college, I’m realizing that it doesn’t matter so much how I do in class, but what I’m getting from it—that’s why we have the education system in the first place.
Find your true motivation by finding logic. The logic behind my motivational quote, “Never Stop Learning”, is to gain knowledge and understanding for my future by investing interest in what I’m doing right now, right this second.
Similar logic can help you get in touch with the effects and consequences of doing something or not doing something. When you become motivated to do something, you understand that there is an end goal that justifies why you are doing what you’re doing.
Find that end goal in everything that you do. If you can’t find it, then stop it, because all you’re doing is wasting time (see the opening quote).
Making It Real
Whew! Now that we have addressed time management superficially and metaphysically, let’s talk about how to integrate it into your life.
I’ll start by asking one of the hardest questions to answer: What do you like to do for fun?
Weird, isn’t it? Many of us would say hanging out with friends and family, but that seems to be a bit cliché nowadays (though it certainly is valid, no doubt).
The focus point I want to hit on, though, is what kinds of activities or what kinds of sensations do you feel most relaxed, peaceful, happy, and energized about? It could be knowing that you don’t have anything else to do, or it could be accessing knowledge and philosophy through reading a book, or it could be obtaining that feeling of invigoration from a great exercise…
Whatever that “thing” or activity is for you, find it and harness it—this is your enjoyment and entertainment. I value that as a fundamental facet to a balanced and healthy life, because remember, life is not solely about working or studying, it is about living happily.
Everything you do besides just living happily should be meant to facilitate and supplement the overarching goal of living happily. Your work should be leading you to happiness, and the best way to ensure that work equals happiness is to get the most out of your education.
Note, I did not say “get a good education”, I said get the most out of your education, because not everyone will get the same opportunities to go to great colleges and great high schools or even any college or any high school at all—get the most out of what you have and roll with it (the Internet is a great place to supplement the learning process, by the way).
Someone who takes everything out of a high school education will be better off than someone who gets nothing out of a college education, and so on.
Your education (wherever you find it) should serve to complete the four main aspects of life: Entertainment, work, study, and sleep.
Without entertainment, we become dull and lifeless.
Without work, we become lazy and unmotivated (and remember work can be very simple things like housework, it doesn’t have to be the regular 9-to-5 job).
Without study, we become lost and confused about the world around us and lose touch with society.
And without sleep, we cannot take advantage of any of the benefits of the other aspects of life.
The best-case scenario that any person could experience would be enjoying an occupation that included each of these aspects within the job. If we strive for doing what we love, all of these facets of a healthy life will fall into place.
So how does this all come together?
If you have a problem with time management like the vast majority of people do, the first step is to address it and set up a system to improve it.
Then, find a psychological motivation by presenting yourself with a problem and then searching for how to obtain the solution, whatever that may be. This will be the fuel to run your time management system.
Thirdly, ensure that time management is not relegated to just work or school. It has to become part of your lifestyle. Managing your time means looking at life hyper-critically to appreciate and recognize what is most important to you and how much time you want to devote to it.
Once you can manage your time well, you’ll feel the weight leave your shoulders. You’ll gain confidence and liberty, which directly correlates to your self-image.
Addressing your time will improve who you are and how you present yourself. Equally, advancing your confidence levels can motivate you to new heights, which will catalyze a time management system that reciprocates the effect back on your confidence.
It’s all one big cycle of life that we have to pursue with the best intentions to enjoy.
That’s the goal: To have fun and enjoy, just make sure you set aside some time to finish that task that is color coded and dated for next week.