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20 Time Management Hacks I Wish I’d Known Before My 20s

20 Time Management Hacks I Wish I’d Known Before My 20s

Being able to manage your time most appropriately is something best done as early as possible. The earlier in life that you start, the better such skills will stick with you. Mastering these time management hacks in your 20s sets you up for success for the rest of your life. If you have not developed these skills just yet, don’t worry.

You can get started today! Choose one hack a day and you will make it through the list in less than a month.

1. Use a calendar app or calendar notebook every day

Keeping all of your appointments in your head is ineffective. That’s why successful people use calendar tools.

For example, I suggest using Google Calendar. It is free and you can set it up to send you email reminders for important activities. Receiving a reminder email about a trip a few days in advance is very useful.

2. Use a task management tool

Yes, keeping a to-do list is vital in successfully managing your time. At first, you may just use scraps of paper (I did that once as well).

It is much more effective to use a dedicated task management tool though. You could use a well made paper notebook such as a Moleskine, or even a digital tool (e.g. Remember the Milk, Microsoft Outlook or Nozbe).

3. Respect your need for sleep by getting 7 to 9 hours of sleep each day

Cutting out sleep to have more fun or get more work done is a short sighted strategy. While you can pull off this strategy in your 20s to a degree, it is a destructive habit to form.

Being tired all day means that you will be able to make effective use of your time, no matter how organized you are. So make it a habit of getting those legitimate seven to eight hours each night.

4. Do a weekly review of the past 7 days

Learning how to do a weekly review is one of the best time management habits for you to develop. The Weekly Review is a concept created by David Allen, author of the classic productivity book Getting Things Done.

To get started with a weekly review, go through the following steps:

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– First, review your calendar for the past week and the current week – look for loose ends, meetings and other matters that need further attention.

– Second, review your email inbox (personal and company email accounts) and achieve inbox zero.

– Third, review your goals for the year and make plans to work on them in the coming week.

This practice will help you to better plan your schedule and avoid nasty surprises.

5. Plan to achieve four hours of real work per day

Did you know that project managers often assume people will be less than 100% productive per day? It’s true! You may have a standard eight hour work day but the reality is that only half of that day is likely to be highly productive.

The rest of the day will be taken up with meetings, responding to email, browsing the Internet and related activities.

Tip: Schedule your most important, high value tasks in the morning, before you get tired.

6. Focus on a single task at a time (i.e. no multitasking!)

Multitasking is a wasteful way to work. Instead, you will achieve more if you choose one activity at a time. For example, allocate one hour in the morning to work on a proposal for a client, then give yourself a short break.

7. Separate strategic and “brain dead” tasks

High value strategic tasks are what companies and clients pay for – coming up with new product ideas, ways to reduce cost and other improvements. However, it is difficult to deliver creative insights all day long.

When the last hour of the day arrives and you’re tired, work through “brain dead” tasks like installing security updates or tossing out old papers.

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8. Accomplish large projects by breaking them down into smaller tasks

The ability to accomplish large projects is one of the most important time management hacks. For example, if you are assigned with organizing a corporate conference in six months, the effort may feel impossible.

Get started by writing a plan and asking for advice from people who have accomplished similar projects.

9. Set a maximum of three priority tasks per day

At the beginning of the day, it is easy to come up with a to-do list with dozens of items. Unfortunately, unplanned phone calls, requests from the boss and others quickly overturn the best plans.

Instead, simply choose three important tasks per day.

Resource: Want to build this activity into a habit? Use the Five Minute Journal to focus on what matters in your life.

10. Learn to delegate tasks effectively at work

Effective managers (and successful professionals) routinely delegate tasks so they can focus on their work better. The basic steps of effective delegation: describe the task and deadline, explain it to the person who will perform the task and ask to be kept informed.

11. Delegate household tasks as soon as you can afford it

During your 20s, you will have difficult years as you start your career. Once you have additional resources, look for domestic activities you can delegate.

For example, you may want to use a dry cleaning service to keep your professional clothes in good condition.

12. Review the past to become better, not assign blame

Repeating past mistakes is one of the worst ways to misuse your limited time. That’s why it makes sense to have review your projects, work deliverables and habits regularly.

For example, if your smart phone always runs out of power during the work day, buy a charging cable for the office. Putting that improvement in action will save you time and frustration in the future.

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13. Set deadlines for every task

Giving deadlines to yourself is one of the best ways to stay organized. A task without a deadline is likely to frustrate you after all.

If your boss gives you a deadline for Friday, you may want to get the work done on Thursday instead so that you have time to review it.

14. Schedule travel time on your calendar

Travel time is a reality that we need to learn to manage. For example, you may realize that it takes you 10 minutes to travel from your main office building to a nearby client building.

That means you cannot afford to schedule back-to-back meetings and still be on time.

Tip: Plan for travel time using a worst case scenario (e.g. heavy traffic) – that way, you are more likely to arrive early.

15. Put a proven productivity system like ‘Getting Things Done’ into action

You don’t have to come up with every aspect of time management all on your own. Instead, invest the time to read a great time management book like Getting Things Done by David Allen and put the ideas into action.

Tip: Set time aside every month to gain new knowledge and become more effective by reading good books: 11 Books To Make You Lead A Much More Productive Life.

16. Put personal rest and relaxation on your calendar

If you are driven to achieve results, it is easy to neglect yourself and work all the time. That’s why it you should always have time on your schedule for enjoyable activities.

For example, you may set aside Saturday afternoons to read a good book at home or play sports with friends.

17. Take breaks during the work day

Sitting in a chair at your desk all day is bad for your health according to Popular Science. To maintain your health and focus – key inputs for good time management – take breaks of 5-10 minutes every hour to walk around.

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Simply getting a glass of water and stretching for a few minutes will do wonders for your body.

Resource: 29 Exercises You Can Do At (Or Near) Your Desk.

18. Learn to say no effectively

Saying yes to new responsibilities is a great way to grow your career when you first get started. Yet, this is a habit that you can take too far. If you are a people pleaser and struggle with saying no, then read The Power of No: Because One Little Word Can Bring Health, Abundance, and Happiness by James Altucher and Claudia Azula Altucher.

19. Use your values to make decisions about your time

Understanding yourself is essential to managing your time. For example, if your top value is family then you will have to manage your work requirements according to that value.

Discovering your values is challenging if you have never given thought to this area before.

20. Admit mistakes quickly and move on

Covering up mistakes wastes everyone’s time including your own. You can achieve much more in life if you admit your mistakes, solve the problem and move on.

Most managers are willing to forgive mistakes, especially if you are honest and work hard at preventing the mistake from occuring again.

Featured photo credit: Clock/alvarouribe via pixabay.com

More by this author

Bruce Harpham

Bruce Harpham is a Project Management Professional and Founder and CEO of Project Management Hacks.

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Last Updated on March 21, 2019

11 Important Things to Remember When Changing Habits

11 Important Things to Remember When Changing Habits

Most gurus talk about habits in a way that doesn’t help you:

You need to push yourself more. You can’t be lazy. You need to wake up at 5 am. You need more motivation. You can never fail…blah blah “insert more gibberish here.”

But let me share with you the unconventional truths I found out:

To build and change habits, you don’t need motivation or wake up at 5 am. Heck, you can fail multiple times, be lazy, have no motivation and still pull it off with ease.

It’s quite simple and easy to do, especially with the following list I’m going to show to you. But remember, Jim Rohn used to say,

“What is simple and easy to do is also simple and easy not to do.”

The important things to remember when changing your habits are both simple and easy, just don’t think that they don’t make any difference because they do.

In fact, they are the only things that make a difference.

Let’s see what those small things are, shall we?

1. Start Small

The biggest mistake I see people doing with habits is by going big. You don’t go big…ever. You start small with your habits.

Want to grow a book reading habit? Don’t start reading a book a day. Start with 10 pages a day.

Want to become a writer? Don’t start writing 10,000 words a day. Start with 300 words.

Want to lose weight? Don’t stop eating ice cream. Eat one less ball of it.

Whatever it is, you need to start small. Starting big always leads to failure. It has to, because it’s not sustainable.

Start small. How small? The amount needs to be in your comfort zone. So if you think that reading 20 pages of a book is a bit too much, start with 10 or 5.

It needs to appear easy and be easy to do.

Do less today to do more in a year.

2. Stay Small

There is a notion of Kaizen which means continuous improvement. They use this notion in habits where they tell you to start with reading 1 page of a book a day and then gradually increase the amount you do over time.

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But the problem with this approach is the end line — where the “improvement” stops.

If I go from reading 1 page of a book a day and gradually reach 75 and 100, when do I stop? When I reach 1 book a day? That is just absurd.

When you start a habit, stay at it in the intensity you have decided. Don’t push yourself for more.

I started reading 20 pages of a book a day. It’s been more than 2 years now and I’ve read 101 books in that period. There is no way I will increase the number in the future.

Why?

Because reading 40 to 50 books a year is enough.

The same thing applies to every other habit out there.

Pick a (small) number and stay at it.

3. Bad Days Are 100 Percent Occurrence

No matter how great you are, you will have bad days where you won’t do your habit. Period.

There is no way of going around this. So it’s better to prepare yourself for when that happens instead of thinking that it won’t ever happen.

What I do when I miss a day of my habit(s) is that I try to bounce back the next day while trying to do habits for both of those days.

Example for that is if I read 20 pages of a book a day and I miss a day, the next day I will have to read 40 pages of a book. If I miss writing 500 words, the next day I need to write 1000.

This is a really important point we will discuss later on rewards and punishments.

This is how I prepare for the bad days when I skip my habit(s) and it’s a model you should take as well.

4. Those Who Track It, Hack It

When you track an activity, you can objectively tell what you did in the past days, weeks, months, and years. If you don’t track, you will for sure forget everything you did.

There are many different ways you can track your activities today, from Habitica to a simple Excel sheet that I use, to even a Whatsapp Tracker.

Peter Drucker said,

“What you track is what you do.”

So track it to do it — it really helps.

But tracking is accompanied by one more easy activity — measuring.

5. Measure Once, Do Twice

Peter Drucker also said,

“What you measure is what you improve.”

So alongside my tracker, I have numbers with which I measure doses of daily activities:

For reading, it’s 20 pages.
For writing, it’s 500 words.
For the gym, it’s 1 (I went) or 0 (didn’t go).
For budgeting, it’s writing down the incomes and expenses.

Tracking and measuring go hand in hand, they take less than 20 seconds a day but they create so much momentum that it’s unbelievable.

6. All Days Make a Difference

Will one day in the gym make you fit? It won’t.

Will two? They won’t.

Will three? They won’t.

Which means that a single gym session won’t make you fit. But after 100 gym sessions, you will look and feel fit.

What happened? Which one made you fit?

The answer to this (Sorites paradox)[1] is that no single gym session made you fit, they all did.

No single day makes a difference, but when combined, they all do. So trust the process and keep on going (small).

7. They Are Never Fully Automated

Gurus tell you that habits become automatic. And yes, some of them do, like showering a certain way of brushing your teeth.

But some habits don’t become automatic, they become a lifestyle.

What I mean by that is that you won’t automatically “wake up” in the gym and wonder how you got there.

It will just become a part of your lifestyle.

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The difference is that you do the first one automatically, without conscious thought, while the other is a part of how you live your life.

It’s not automatic, but it’s a decision you don’t ponder on or think about — you simply do it.

It will become easy at a certain point, but they will never become fully automated.

8. What Got You Here Won’t Get You There

Marshall Goldsmith has a great book with the same title to it. The phrase means that sometimes, you will need to ditch certain habits to make room for other ones which will bring you to the next step.

Don’t be afraid to evolve your habits when you sense that they don’t bring you where you want to go.

When I started reading, it was about reading business and tactic books. But two years into it, I switched to philosophy books which don’t teach me anything “applicable,” but instead teach me how to think.

The most important ability of the 21st century is the ability to learn, unlearn, and relearn. The strongest tree is the willow tree – not because it has the strongest root or biggest trunk, but because it is flexible enough to endure and sustain anything.

Be like a willow, adapting to the new ways of doing things.

9. Set a Goal and Then Forget It

The most successful of us know what they want to achieve, but they don’t focus on it.

Sounds paradoxical? You’re right, it does. But here is the logic behind it.

You need to have a goal of doing something – “I want to become a healthy individual” – and then, you need to reverse engineer how to get there with your habits- “I will go to the gym four times a week.”

But once you have your goal, you need to “forget” about it and only focus on the process. Because you are working on the process of becoming healthy and it’s always in the making. You will only be as healthy as you take care of your body.

So you have a goal which isn’t static but keeps on moving.

If you went to the gym 150 times year and you hit your goal, what would you do then? You would stop going to the gym.

This is why goal-oriented people experience yo-yo effect[2] and why process-oriented people don’t.

The difference between process-oriented and goal-oriented people is that the first focus on daily actions while others only focus on the reward at the finish line.

Set a goal but then forget about it and reap massive awards.

10. Punish Yourself

Last two sections are pure Pavlovian – you need to punish bad behavior and reward good behavior. You are the only person who decides what is good and what is bad for you, but when you do, you need to rigorously follow that.

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I’ve told you in point #3 about bad days and how after one occurs, I do double the work on the next day. That is one of my forms of punishments.

It’s the need to tell your brain that certain behaviors are unacceptable and that they lead to bad outcomes. That’s what punishments are for.

You want to tell your brain that there are real consequences to missing your daily habits.[3]

No favorite food to eat or favorite show to watch or going to the cinema for a new Marvel movie- none, zero, zilch.

The brain will remember these bad feelings and will try to avoid the behaviors that led to them as much as possible.

But don’t forget the other side of the same coin.

11. Reward Yourself

When you follow and execute on your plan, reward yourself. It’s how the brain knows that you did something good.

Whenever I finish one of my habits for the day, I open my tracker (who am I kidding, I always keep it open on my desktop) and fill it with a number. As soon as I finish reading 20 pages of a book a day (or a bit more), I open the tracker and write the number down.

The cell becomes green and gives me an instant boost of endorphin – a great success for the day. Then, it becomes all about not breaking the chain and having as many green fields as possible.

After 100 days, I crunch some numbers and see how I did.

If I have less than 10 cheat days, I reward myself with a great meal in a restaurant. You can create your own rewards and they can be daily, weekly, monthly or any arbitrary time table that you create.

Primoz Bozic, a productivity coach, has gold, silver, and bronze medals as his reward system.[4]

If you’re having problems creating a system which works for you, contact me via email and we can discuss specifics.

In the End, It Matters

What you do matters not only to you but to the people around you.

When you increase the quality of your life, you indirectly increase the quality of life of people around you. And sometimes, that is all the “motivation” we need to start.

And that’s the best quote for the end of this article:

“Motivation gets you started, but habits keep you going.”

Keep going.

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More Resources to Help You Build Habits

Featured photo credit: Anete Lūsiņa via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Sorites paradox
[2] Muscle Zone: What causes yo-yo effect and how to avoid it?
[3] Growth Habits: 5 Missteps That Cause You To Quit Building A Habit
[4] Primoz Bozic: The Lean Review: How to Plan Your 2019 in 20 Minutes

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