Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared on FlexJobs.com.
If you let your schedule run you instead of the other way around, you’re going to stifle your personal and professional life in profound ways.
The stress of always trying to put out fires instead of proactively managing your tasks will carry over to your work performance. And then it will slowly start to seep into your personal life.
Instead of accepting that as the standard, consider some of the following time management skills.
You can decide if you’re struggling with any of them specifically or if you need an entire overhaul of your approach to scheduling.
For example, are you excellent at creating boundaries around your off days? But are you still struggling because you don’t prioritize daily tasks well?
Analyzing where you’re struggling is key to moving toward better time management.
Creating a Manageable Schedule
The best way to manage a schedule, and which tool or system you choose to help you do so, is going to look different for everyone.
There are some overall guidelines, however, that will help anyone build a successful foundation.
1. Polish Your Planning Skills
Do you start the day with a relative idea of what needs to be accomplished or with a clearly itemized list of tasks? Good time management begins with good planning skills.
It’s tough to manage your day or week if you don’t have a handle on which tasks should get completed. The first step is to create a to-do list for each day, including any deadlines that you need to meet.
Be sure to leave some flexibility in your schedule, as unexpected tasks or delays can always arise.
Depending on your personality and job environment, it’s worth it to research and adopt a planning technique that fits your style.
Which one is best? The one that gets you excited to use it. Take some time to explore, and then try one on for size.
2. Acknowledge Your Priorities
To excel at time management, you must control your time. That often means handling your most urgent task first to ensure that it’s out of the way before any schedule disruptions.
It would be best if you also worked to maintain transparent communication and understand your manager’s priorities.
If you’re working on one task that you feel is a priority only to discover that they consider something else more urgent, you’ll be scrambling to adjust your work schedule.
3. Learn the Art of Saying No
There will always be people and tasks that want your time and energy, but you have to be selective about who and where you focus it. Otherwise, you will quickly become overwhelmed and stressed out.
At times, it’s a simple matter of letting your manager know that you could take on another task but communicating what will have to slide down your list of priorities if you do. Perhaps that’s alright with them.
Just ensure that you’re actively choosing what to bump rather than simply adding more to your task load than you can manage.
4. Eliminate Distractions
Do you find that your attention is quickly pulled away from standard tasks because of email notifications or social media updates? What about coworkers in an office or kids in your home office?
If you’re being honest, do you have regular distractions routinely eating into your productivity?
Take some time to honestly determine what they are and then create a solid plan of attack.
Can you schedule your break when your kids get home from school so that they can have your undivided attention before you hit work mode again for the rest of the afternoon? Can you put regular “do not disturb” notifications on your emails for several hours in the morning and afternoon?
There are many ways that you can address distractions. It’s simply a matter of determining when and why they routinely occur. Then, set some healthy boundaries for yourself and others.
5. Avoid Multitasking
Many people believe that multitasking is the key to good time management. However, research has shown that multitasking can actually lead to just the opposite.
When people try to focus on multiple tasks at once, they often feel scattered and overwhelmed, leading to mistakes and missed deadlines.
In addition, multitasking can also interfere with memory and cognitive functioning. For these reasons, it’s best to focus on one task at a time to stay on track and get things done efficiently.
6. Embrace Your Breaks
Stepping away from your desk for regular breaks is an important factor in achieving the highest level of work productivity. Studies show that taking a breather can actually help you be more productive.
The most effective break will get your blood flowing and take your mind completely off of work. Head to the kitchen for a glass of water and then take a short walk or do a few yoga poses.
Nothing is better to help you regain focus and alertness than a quality break. This includes longer intervals, such as lunches and days off.
Downtime is essential to recharge so you can perform your best.
Mastering Your Time Management Skills
Anyone who’s ever tried to stick to a New Year’s resolution knows that change is hard! Remember, it takes practice to create healthy habits, so don’t be discouraged if you slip up now and then.
Keep working at it, and eventually, your new skill will become second nature.
You’ll discover that you have more energy and less stress when running your schedule instead of letting it run you.