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Updated 4/17/2020

Funny how much things can change in a few short months. This article was originally published in the fall of 2019, well before anyone in any country was self-isolating. Many of us were already working from home pre-Covid-19; however, now it is the norm. We’ve decided to republish this post because the points seem more relevant than ever to helping those new to working from home stay on task. Stay safe and healthy, everyone!

What’s on your to-do list today? Groceries? Helping your children with homework? Getting the report to your boss? Anyone with a busy schedule knows that time management skills are essential to being productive and whittling down that every growing list of things to do. Now that I’m a grad student, juggling classes, homework, and online teaching has made my life more hectic than before. Whether you’re a student, parent, or a digital nomad, these time management skills will help you keep your day organized and make sure you have enough time for yourself along the way. 

  1. Think about how you typically spend your time: There are plenty of time management tools that let you do an “audit” of your day, where you keep track of everything you do and how long you spend doing it. Knowing what you do and how much time you spend doing it can help you recognize ways where you could cut back on certain activities or fit in more leisure activities. I remember being inspired by an article written by a mother who began tracking her time in a simple spreadsheet. In the three years that she was doing it, she “found” time to read more novels, start a podcast and be present with her children. 
  2. Have a routine: When I first started working from home, it seemed like I had all the freedom in the world; I could work when I wanted, where I wanted. But I quickly found that was very unproductive for me. Instead of sitting down to do work, I took 10 minutes to watch a YouTube video, half an hour to make lunch, 15 minutes for a walk, and nothing was getting done. To change this, I made a set schedule for my online ESL classes and other projects to work on for the week. Although it took some self-discipline, creating a routine has been an important time management skill and made me more productive. 
  3. Organize your week or day: Every Sunday, I take 10 minutes to make a weekly schedule. I write down events, due dates, and the tasks I want to get done each day. I know that I probably won’t accomplish everything on my calendar on the day that I have scheduled, and that’s OK. My calendar is a time management tool that lets me visually see what I need to work on and where I have time to fit in non-work and school activities. 
  4. Chunk your time: One of my favorite time management strategies is to break down big projects or papers into manageable pieces and assign a time limit to them. For example, when writing a paper for class or an article for this blog, I’ll give a limit of 30 minutes to write the introduction on Monday, an hour or two for writing a few body paragraphs for Tuesday and so on. Then I always leave an hour or hour and a half to revise the draft as needed. Through this strategy, I stay focused and avoid feeling overwhelmed.
  5. Organize your emails: In August, a classmate told me that keeping thousands of emails in your inbox wastes a lot of energy and is environmentally unfriendly. That was enough motivation for me to clean up my folders but has also become an important time management strategy. Now I only keep emails that need my attention in my inbox. Once I have answered them or completed the tasks they represent, then I archive them or move them to another folder. It helps me keep track of what need to do and finish first. 
  6. Make time for yourself: We hear the advice to leave time for yourself but feel guilty when we do. But research has shown that it really is important to give your mind a mental break throughout the workday. Take time to stretch your legs or let your mind wander and you’ll return to your task with more energy and focus than before. It’s also important to let yourself relax so you don’t get burned out! 

My final tip is to find what works best for you: These time management tools won’t work for everyone 100% of the time. Some people like taking notes by hand, some people keep everything in their calendar app, and others leave themselves voice reminders. Everyone has different preferences, so try different techniques to see what works best for you. What time management skills or tools do you use? 

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