Manage Your Time Like a Pro: 9 Tips to Effective Time Management

If there is one thing people know me for (other than spending way too much money on plane tickets to basically anywhere), it is balancing a lot on my plate at once and actually doing it well.

In fact, I know for a fact that I do it well.

Whoa there Paula! Yes, yes I know this might sound like self proclaimed arrogance (yikes), but I only claim I am good at it because of the years of successful time management I have to back my claim up.

That and the numerous amount of people that ask me for time management advice. I guess I’m doing something right, right?

With the school year coming up (whether you are in high school or college or just want a more time managed life), I have decided to once and for all write a post on this so that the next time someone asks me for advice, I will have this handy dandy blog post!

 That one time they put me in a magazine 

That one time they put me in a magazine 

 4 years of learning how to manage my time and a full plate amounted to this.  Yes, yes bragging about the glory days

4 years of learning how to manage my time and a full plate amounted to this. Yes, yes bragging about the glory days

To give you a little background on my history with time management (for those that don’t know me too well in my personal life), I have always been obsessed with doing it all, more specifically fitting everything I want to do into my schedule. In high school, I balanced a rigorous academic schedule while being in 7 different organizations at once, volunteering over 1,000 hours, and graduated as the class Valedictorian. In college, I consistently balanced a class schedule of honors/difficult science classes ranging anywhere from 16-21 credits (I slowed down a little as I got older), more organizations than I can count--and leading many of them too, working anywhere from 2-3 jobs at a time, volunteering every week, traveling nearly every weekend, blogging and instagramming full time, maintaining a social life and still managed to graduate university with a latin designation. I am not really one to brag, but if there is one thing I am extremely proud and confident about it is my ability to manage my time and to actually do it well.

So, how exactly do I do this without burning out? Or even at the very least fit everything I need and want to do in one 24 hour day?

Well here are 9 tips to help you with just that:

Disclaimer: I know doing too much, balancing too much or spreading yourself too thin is quite unhealthy, but after so many years of doing this--living this kind of lifestyle--I have learned what my body is like, what my breaking points are and when I need to take a break and reset to prevent from burning out.

Disclaimer 2.0: The thing with advice is that it is based on what I know. That being said, this truly is my best advice that I can give you of what has actually worked time and time again for me. All of these tips may completely work for you or it may not. Take what will work for you and how you are as a person/student. You know yourself better than anyone else.

9 Tips to Effective Time Management

 Traveling is, was and will always be a huge priority in my life so I always carve out time in my schedule for it and actually planned my class schedules while I was in university around it.  Travel on weekends, school on weekdays.  (Havana, Cuba)

Traveling is, was and will always be a huge priority in my life so I always carve out time in my schedule for it and actually planned my class schedules while I was in university around it. Travel on weekends, school on weekdays. (Havana, Cuba)

1. Be aware of how you spend your time

The first step is thinking about time in a strategic way and acknowledging that we all have the same 24 hour day. So yes, you are just as capable of managing your time well as I am. The next is actually accounting for every hour of a 24 hour day. Before anything else, list out what you currently do on a 24 hour timeline, evaluate this and determine where you can easily use that time to do other things. 

Remember (again): We all have the same 24 hour day, so from now on, acknowledge that everything you do with your time is a CHOICE.

Here’s what you need to do now: Log how you currently spend your time. Every single hour. Yes even the time you spend sleeping!

Once you have that information, re-evaluate how you spend your time. Are there things that you can remove? Are there spouts of time that you spend doing nothing that can be filled with something? What can you live without that you can replace with something that will actually benefit you in the long run?

What were the things you always wanted to do, but “didn’t have time” for?  Next time, instead of saying “I don’t have time for (insert something that you don’t have time for here)”, realize that it is not because you don’t have time--it is because it is not your priority. If you really want to do it, take something out that you don’t necessarily need to be doing and replace it with that thing you “didn’t have time for”.

Remember: What you choose to fill your time with is completely up to YOU. (But be realistic! You did the math, you know how much time you have--make sure to take into account transition time)

  A glimpse of what I was involved with while in university

A glimpse of what I was involved with while in university

2. Wake up earlier!

When I tell people I wake up around 5 am/6am everyday (5 on the weekdays, 6 on the weekends--earlier if I have photoshoot planned), they think I’m crazy. I mean who in their right mind consciously chooses to wake up at the crack of dawn? People who want to get things done, that’s who!

A large part of the reason why I am able to do so much is simply because I start my days off with more time than most people have to work with. Yep, no magical superpowers here.

Think about it. What time do you usually wake up on the weekends? 12pm? 10am if it’s a good day?

By the time you wake up, I already have had 4 hours worth of productive time to get all the stuff I have to do on my list. Plus, no one is typically awake at 6 am and most places don’t even open until 10am, so I have hours of time to be productive without any external distractors! It also helps that I am the most productive in the morning when I first wake up.

 Found the time to dance amidst my busy schedule-- no it did not complete a professional goal, but it did make me happy.  It's still important to find time for things that make you happy!

Found the time to dance amidst my busy schedule--no it did not complete a professional goal, but it did make me happy. It's still important to find time for things that make you happy!

3. Be strategic with what you spend your time doing

Here’s how I like to think of it: If you have time to go to the bar or spend 3 hours at the movies, you actually have time to do that extracurricular activity or volunteer work that you have been saying you “do not have time” for. If you have time to watch TV, you have time to pick up that new hobby you have always wanted to pick up. If you have time to go to a party, you have time to study an extra hour to get a higher grade.

Rather than make excuses about what you cannot do, be strategic with what you want to spend your time doing.

-What I do: I have personally stopped watching TV altogether (with the few exceptions here and there) because I would rather spend that time writing blog posts or answering emails. I limit the amount of times I go out to bars or parties or make sure I never go out on Sunday nights so that I can spend that extra time planning my schedule/editorial calendar, reading, or teaching myself new information and skills.

4. Learn how to say no

This one is definitely one of the harder ones that took me quite a bit of time to get good at...honestly still working on it. I am a “yes” person. Can you volunteer at this event tomorrow? Can you stay an extra hour? Can you make this extra portfolio or shoot this extra look? I have always been a people pleaser and while that is not the worst trait to have, it can start hindering how you manage your time.

Nowadays, before saying “yes” to everything I take a few seconds to think: Does this put me one step closer to my goal of the week, month or year (more on this in a second)? Do I have the time to spare to do this? In what way will this benefit me (either professional development or personal growth)? What value does this hold/contribute to my bigger picture?

If it doesn’t contribute to your week, month, year goals, develop you professionally/personally or hold any value, Learn to say NO. Let someone else who has more time and attention to give do it instead!

 My last semester of Uni was probably one of the busiest, most hectic semesters of my life. But I managed to survive and actually thrive because of my effective time management!

My last semester of Uni was probably one of the busiest, most hectic semesters of my life. But I managed to survive and actually thrive because of my effective time management!

5. Set aside time to plan

Always plan to plan! I said it in my How I Stay Organized and Motivated blog post and I will say it again: It is so important to make a schedule and plan your whole week/month in advance! Chances are if you have already spent a lot of time planning, you are more likely to stick to it.

I set aside one night every week to plan my whole week (in detail) in advance so I have structure and an idea of how my whole week will look like. Everyday or the night before that day right before I go to bed, I make a to do list for the following day.

If you want to be able to manage your time and actually do it well, you have to meticulously plan your schedule. Or at the very least have some sort of plan!

Having a plan leaves lesser room for doing things that do not benefit you.

6. WRITE IT DOWN

Simple enough right? But, you would be surprised at the amount of people that do not write things down and instead just “remember it in their head”.

Here’s my reasoning: When you write things down, it in a way makes it a “real thing”, at least psychologically. When I write something down in my planner, on a post it note or a piece of paper, it is now a real tangible goal that I am giving myself. It is now something I can hold myself accountable for.

Plus, writing things down prevents you from forgetting important deadlines, events, ideas and saves you that 5-10 minutes you will most likely spend in the future trying to remember it.

 My academics were always one of my top priorities, if not my top priority. So, when it came to determining which commitments were more important, school always came first! # doublelifestruggles  

My academics were always one of my top priorities, if not my top priority. So, when it came to determining which commitments were more important, school always came first! #doublelifestruggles 

7. Prioritize Effectively

Prioritize, prioritize, prioritize. The most popular buzzword surrounding the topic of time management. But what help is prioritization if you are not actually doing it effectively? One of the other reasons why I am able to balance so much on my plate is the fact that I am able to eliminate external time consumers and prioritize my commitments in order of importance.

Here is a question I ask myself each day (that helps with prioritizing effectively): Is this in some way contributing to one of my end goals? If the answer is no, I let it go and move on. Time is money!

Here’s what you need to do now: Rank your commitments in order of importance. Before I started doing this, I always ran into the problem of all my commitments being EQUALLY important and not knowing which one to prioritize.

So similar to the way I rank my tasks by level of priority (mentioned here), I rank all my commitments by level of priority. I pick the 3 most important things in my life that I cannot compromise at all and revolve everything else around that. What are the 3 commitments I ABSOLUTELY HAVE TO DO otherwise repercussions will result? What 3 commitments get me closer to my end goals? What are things I do not necessarily have to do, but would really like to do if permitted the time?

List these 3 priorities out and then schedule the rest of what you want to fill your schedule with around them!

8. Dream Big, BUT give your goals a timeline

 Balanced blogging seriously while in university and working,  especially my last two years!

Balanced blogging seriously while in university and working, especially my last two years!

I keep talking about “doing something everyday that puts you one step closer to your big goals”, but what exactly does that mean?

Everyone who knows or has met me knows I am a dreamer. But for the longest time, that is all I was, just a dreamer. Not actually a doer. Until I started implementing my Biggest Dreams List into my life.

What exactly is this? When I decided I wanted to finally get serious with my time and what I do with it, I sat down and created my Biggest Dreams List (kind of like a bucket list--but a goal with a timeline). I listed everything I wanted to accomplish in my personal, professional, travel, blog, academic life, etc. no matter how big or small.

From this, I set a timeline (it doesn’t have to be super specific, but just give yourself a deadline so it does not eternally sit in the back burner).

For example: Goal: Learn French fluently by the time I am 25. Short term deadline: Learn how to say hello, goodbye, how are you, etc. by November 2018.

I then divided how I think of my goals into categories. What can I accomplish this week, this month, this year that can contribute to one or more of the goals I have on my list?

You do not have to tackle it all at once! Instead, take small steps everyday that contribute to your goals this week.Take small steps every week that contribute to your goals for this month and so on. Personally, when I feel like I am losing sight of this dream, I come back to my list and think: What small thing can I do today that will get me one step closer to this big goal I have?

9. Look for ways to make use of “sitting time”

That commute to work/school while in the car/subway or that wait for your dentist or doctor’s appointment? That is a precious 30 mins-1 hour you can use to accomplish something instead of just sitting doing nothing or staring at your phone.

 My favorite thing to do while driving or in the subway is listen to Ted Talks, read a book or listen to podcasts!

My favorite thing to do while driving or in the subway is listen to Ted Talks, read a book or listen to podcasts!

-What I do: Broadening my scope, expanding my knowledge, learning new things is something that is incredibly important to me. But, with my insanely jam packed and busy schedule, sometimes I just truly do not have the time to sit down and dedicate an hour or even 30 minutes to that as I have other things I need to be doing. So instead of just sitting down on my phone during my commute on the subway, (or when I lived in Vegas) sitting in my car and listening to music, I use this precious commute time of 30 mins-1 hour each way to broaden my scope.

This means reading a new book, listening to a podcast or a TedTalk, reading up on the news or some new trivia, or even just editing a photo to save me some time instead of doing it later. Every. Single. Minute of your day is a choice!

WHEW! Boy this was lengthy! But like I said, this is something I am confident that I am good at, so I want to share ALL the knowledge I have gained throughout the years.

I hope this helps you in some way! What are some ways you manage your time effectively?

Til’ Next Time,

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