7 Strategies to be Productive and Manage Your Time Effectively in the Real World

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productivity and time management

 

I am, by far, the laziest person I know.

My ideal schedule involves sleeping until noon, watching a lot of TV, and then heading to bed around 3am. I’ve never truly understood the people who claim they can’t sleep in for fear of “wasting the day.”

I secretly believe they’re part robot.

Of course, that schedule won’t fly in the real world. Once you have a big girl (or big boy) job, you have to start behaving like an adult. The 9-5 schedule is draining and, if you’re not careful, could suck up every productive moment in your day.

It wasn’t until I was hired for my current job in downtown Dallas that I realized how far a little planning can take you. How minor changes to your lifestyle can have a drastic impact. How easy it really is to go to bed feeling accomplished.

That’s why I’ve put together this list. This list is by no means the be-all-end-all of time management, and there aren’t any revolutionary concepts. It is, however, a list of the 7 strategies I’ve found to make life a little easier and make my days a little more meaningful.

Whether you’re trying to survive your 20’s or just get through another day, I pray this list helps.

Here is this lazy girl’s guide to productivity and time management:

 

become more productive
Make productivity a habit and your days will become more effective

1. Get up earlier

Ask my family, and they’ll confirm I’m about as far from a “morning person” as one can get. In high school, my summer routine was staying awake until 4-5am and then sleeping until 3-4pm. If given the chance, I can quickly slip back into the habit of a 2am bedtime.

I’ve found that, for life in the real world, waking up early really is the best way to setup your day for success. Rushing through my morning routine leaves me flustered, which means I forget something vital (like making coffee), and throws off my entire day. Now, I wake up early enough that there’s no chance of feeling rushed.

My current wake-up time is 6am, though I’d like to eventually bring it back to 5:30 or even 5. When I wake up at 6:00, I have ample time to wake up slowly, make coffee, do 1 or 2 minor chores (like putting away last night’s dishes), and then walk out the door with all of the day’s necessities.

 

2. Set 2 alarms in the morning (and a backup)

As I said, I am definitely not a morning person. When I was in high school and (especially) college, I kept getting into trouble because I was addicted to the snooze button. My alarm would go off, and I’d only intend to hit “snooze” once.

However, my sleep-self was so used to hitting the snooze button, I’d wake up an hour later than I meant to. When I started my first real world job, I knew I needed to fix this problem fast. After reading tip after tip on rising early, I finally found a solution that works for me. I set two alarms (plus one extra as backup).

The first alarm is set for 7 minutes before I need to wake up, and the second is set for my actual wake-up time. The backup is set for the absolute latest I can stay in bed (with the loudest, most obnoxious tone choice available). I’ve found that an extra 7 minutes of sleep is just enough to let my body adjust to waking up without falling back into full-on sleep mode.

 

3. Schedule mentally challenging tasks in the morning

As someone working in a creative field, it turns out not being a morning person is actually to my advantage. Recent studies have shown individuals are most creative when they’re not at their peak hours.

I’ve used this to my advantage by scheduling all of my biggest projects in the morning. Big writing assignments, research, and projects requiring conceptual thinking are first on my list. Right after lunch, I’m the least productive (usually because of the food coma). To cope, I use the few hours after I eat to do any mindless tasks, such as scheduling and posting.

Since I’ve been blocking my day this way, my productivity has improved exponentially. I’m producing a greater quantity of work, and what I write is of a higher quality. It’s much easier to write in the mornings when my coworkers are still waking up and I’m at my mental peak than trying to fight through the afternoon haze, when everyone is getting antsy for the end of the day.

 

4. Adjust your work schedule

This tactic may not be possible for everyone. But for those who can utilize it, this tip is a huge time saver. At my first “big girl” job, the HR representative asked me whether I’d prefer to work 7:30am – 4:00pm or 8:00am – 4:30pm. Of course, I chose the latter.

If you’ve ever driven through Dallas during an off time, you know we have a traffic problem. If you’ve ever driven through DFW during rush hour, you’ve experienced true hell. There is a huge difference in commute time between 7am and half an hour later. Adjusting my schedule 30 minutes would have conceivably saved over 45 minutes a day in commuting.

Now that I work downtown, the time saved is even greater. I’ve realized coming in 2 hours before my coworkers is saving me literally half of the commute time. If you can adjust your schedule to avoid peak traffic times in any way, even by 30 minutes, I guarantee you will add time to your day and hours of productivity every week.

 

5. Tackle big tasks right after work

I understand, when you get home from work you’re exhausted. You’ve had a long day and sitting in traffic didn’t make things any better. But hear me out. Because you’re so tired right after work, the moment you sit down, you’re down for the night.

Yes, you say you’ll get to the gym or dishes or cleaning up, but it doesn’t actually happen. If you walk in the front door and immediately handle your to-do list, you know it’s done. Your entire list for the night is complete, so you don’t have that nagging “don’t forget to…” thought replaying in the back of your mind.

Plus, your chores or the gym are a different enough activity from your workday that it acts as a refresher of it’s own. Your mind is being reset as your body is standing and moving, so the chores are rejuvenating. This way, you can actually enjoy the rest of your night instead of slipping into zombie mode in front of this week’s Big Bang Theory rerun.

 

6. When possible, group tasks together

Schedule all of your doctor appointments on the same day. Run all errands at once. Cook batch meals for the week. Whenever you can group tasks together, you’re saving time because you’re not having to start-stop-reset. What’s the hardest part of any errand or chore? Getting started.

When your tasks are grouped together, you don’t have to exercise the same amount of will power over and over again throughout the week. It’s just one shot and done. If you schedule all tedious activities at the beginning of the week, you’ve achieved the same benefits as #5! The bulk of your to-do list is already complete, so you’re not left with the nagging thought all week long.

Personally, I run errands and cook the week’s meals on Sunday, then schedule any appointments I can Monday morning. When the end of the week rolls around, I know I don’t have to go grocery shopping, cook, or be held to any obligations that I haven’t chosen. It’s a simple schedule adjustment that saves time, effort and energy.

 

7. Set an alarm for going to bed

This one might sound odd, but stay with me. I know what time I need to go to bed in order to get a full night of sleep, but when that time comes, I can never seem to get into bed. It’s always “just 5 more minutes.” Then, of course, those 5 minutes turn into an hour. It never fails.

By setting an alarm, I’ve given myself no excuse. That is my “time’s up, lights out” alarm and I made a commitment to myself to stick to it. And actually, it works! I’m not sure if there’s something psychological about connecting the alarm to the bedtime. But, since using this strategy, I’m going to bed on time almost every single night.

When I go to bed on time, of course it’s 10X easier to wake up in the mornings. Recently, I’ve taken this method a step further by setting a prior “electronics off” alarm. When this alarm goes off, I know it’s time to shut down my laptop and put my phone up for the night. By turning off my electronics before actually going to bed, I give my brain and eyes ample time to wind down.

 

Bonus Tip: Reign in your TV time

Television is my weakness. I’ve been binge-watching TV shows since before Netflix existed. I can sit through 12 hours of TV without a second thought. While others get bored after a few hours, I thrive on the mindlessness.

That being said, I’ve realized hours and hours of watching television is the exact opposite of being productive.

Here are a few ways I’ve reined in this beast:

Cancelled cable

While I do miss out on watching new shows live, I’m not tempted to sit down and zone-out after I get home from work. Anything I watch, I have to seek out intentionally. The additional $60 a month has been put to better use.

Designate “TV time”

Since I don’t have cable, it’s less of a temptation to wake up on the weekends or come home from work and immediately turn on the TV. Instead, I have designated “TV times”. If I’m eating, I can watch a 20-minute sitcom on Netflix. If my boyfriend is over, we can watch a movie.

Don’t let TV be a priority

Growing up, TV was always priority #1. Now, I don’t even let myself turn the TV on outside of the designated TV time. By remembering everything else in my life that comes first, I’m more motivated to use my time productively.

 

This is in no way an exhaustive list

And there are individuals much more qualified (and productive) than I am who can speak more clarity into this issue. These are, however, the 7 strategies I use on a daily basis. Since I’ve been in the real world, they’ve served me well.

 

Photo Credit: Maria Reyes-McDavis

 

What are your strategies for being productive? Leave a comment letting me know how you manage time at your real person job!

 

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  • kenneth dawson

    well I have a solution for the tv thing–just get rid of the stupid thing–I did and I feel much more free from the distraction.

    • MeganInTheRealWorld

      I actually tried that once and ended up making the problem worse because all of my favorite shows are online! I stopped getting any work done because I’d always be using my laptop for streaming TV shows 😛