In today’s world, we are busier than ever. Life is nonstop, on-the-go and many people feel overwhelmed. We struggle with work-life balance, the cumulative stress of multitasking, and a countless number of responsibilities. Then we sacrifice what’s most important – our health!
The way you manage (or fail to manage) time has a significant impact on your life. Little to no exercise, poor eating habits, increased stress, and poor sleep will eventually take a toll on overall wellbeing. In addition, spending too much time and effort on one area of your life at the expense of others could lead to guilt, regret and frustration. This can have a negative impact on relationships and self-esteem. A study published in the Indian Journal of Psychiatry showed that failure to achieve life balance has been linked to lower physical and psychological wellbeing, lower productivity and more stress-related ailments.
Now the question is, how can we better manage our time to live healthier and happier, do the things we know are important, and still handle our responsibilities? There is no right or wrong answer; it’s about finding the strategies that works best for you. Below are a few tips to get started.
Keep an activity log. This will give you a better understanding of how your time is spent (it’s helpful to track it for a week or more). Then evaluate the results. Ask yourself, did you accomplish everything you needed or wanted to? Also, analyze to which category most of your time is devoted, e.g., job, family, personal, recreation, etc. Identify your most time-consuming tasks and determine whether you are investing your time in the most important ones.
Set priorities. It’s important to distinguish between important tasks and urgent tasks. What’s urgent or important are often different things — especially when it comes to health, where important issues almost never seem urgent. For example, going to the gym today is not urgent but is important for long-term health. Begin by categorizing tasks in one of four categories: urgent; not urgent; important; and less important.
Make a to-do list. One of the easiest ways to prioritize activities in your life is to make a to-do list. Take your list of categories and rank tasks in order of priority (important, urgent, etc.). Make a daily, weekly or monthly list. Allocate days and times to grocery shop, prepare meals, participate in family activities, and work out. The goal is not to mark off the most items, but to mark off the highest priority items. Having a prioritized to-do list allows you to say “no” to activities that do not fit your priorities.
Use a planning tool. Using a personal planning tool can help improve productivity. Noting your tasks, schedules and memory joggers can free your mind to focus on priorities. Start small by simply planning your day the night before. You will be surprised at the head start you have in the morning. Planning and tracking also allows you to look back and see what was accomplished over the past weeks. Some popular organization apps include Wunderlist and Any.do. You might also try hard copy planners, such as Passion Planner and Panda Planner, which also has a free downloadable PDF.
Set a deadline. Having a specific endpoint for certain tasks will help you manage your time and energy wisely. If a task does not feel important but needs to get done, the chances are it will get put off until the last minute.
Tackle your challenging tasks before lunch. Knock out your most challenging work when your brain is fresh. If you have busywork or meetings, save them for the afternoon. Scheduling your day this way will productively manage your time.
Use mornings to focus on yourself. Start early and begin your day by getting a good breakfast, reading the news, meditating, or working out.
Stop multitasking. According to a study at the University of Michigan, people who multitask decrease their productivity by 20 to 40 percent. Switching tasks increases their complexity and time to complete, which makes multitaskers less effective than those who focus on one project at a time. Multitasking can also affect your IQ — in a negative way.
Earl Miller, an expert on divided attention and a neuroscientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology says, “The brain is not wired to multitask. When people think they’re multitasking, they’re actually just switching from one task to another very rapidly and every time they do, there’s a cognitive cost.” Just spotting an email mid-task is enough to reduce your IQ by 10 points as your mind wanders from the job.
Take more breaks. Give yourself a moment to refresh by going for a walk, grabbing lunch or a snack, or meditating. You will come back recharged and more efficient.
Unplug. Technology has helped our lives in many ways but has also created expectations of constant accessibility. Set boundaries for social media, email, conference calls, and more. For example, make family time true quality time. Try your best to focus on the in-person experience, rather than text messaging or checking Facebook at your child’s sporting event or while you’re hanging out with family.
Indian J Psychiatry. 2010 Oct-Dec; 52(4): 295–297