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Stress Management: Managing Your Time

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Introduction

Time management is a way to find the time for all the things you want and need to do. It helps you decide which things are urgent and which can wait. Learning how to manage your time, activities, and commitments can be hard. But doing so can make your life easier, less stressful, and more meaningful.

  • When you manage your time, you decide which tasks and activities are most important to you. Knowing what's important helps you decide how best to spend your time.
  • There are three parts to time management: prioritize tasks and activities, control procrastination, and manage commitments.
 

Time management means taking control of your activities, duties, and commitments. When you manage your time, you decide which tasks and activities are most important to you based on your values. For example, you may place a high value on family life, but you may not be able to spend as much time with your family as you want. Knowing what's important to you helps you decide how best to spend your time. Managing your time helps you reduce stress.

There are three parts to time management:

  • Prioritize tasks and activities. This helps you decide which tasks are most important to you.
  • Control procrastination. Procrastination is putting things off until the last minute or missing deadlines because you have put things off too long.
  • Manage commitments. This means being able to say "no" to things that aren't important to you and "yes" to things that are important.

Test Your Knowledge

Time management means taking control of tasks and activities.

  • True.
    This answer is correct.

    Time management means taking control of your tasks and activities. When you manage your time, you decide which of these tasks and activities are most important to you.

  • False.
    This answer is incorrect.

    Time management means taking control of your tasks and activities. When you manage your time, you decide which of these tasks and activities are most important to you.

  •  

Putting things off until the last minute is one of the tips for prioritizing tasks.

  • True.
    This answer is incorrect.

    Putting things off until the last minute is procrastinating, not prioritizing. When you prioritize, you decide which tasks and activities are most important.

  • False.
    This answer is correct.

    Putting things off until the last minute is procrastinating, not prioritizing. When you prioritize, you decide which tasks and activities are most important.

  •  

Continue to Why?

 

It's stressful to feel like you have too much to do and not enough time to do it. Spending a lot of time on things that aren't important to you also leads to stress. Time management can help you feel more in control of how you spend your time. When you feel in control, you reduce stress.

Prioritizing tasks and activities may help you find the time to exercise, read a book, take a class, or do other things that you really want to do. Controlling procrastination can help you get things done, such as a big project at work. When you manage your commitments, you commit to the things that are most important to you, and you let go of the things that are less important. All of these things can reduce stress.

Test Your Knowledge

Prioritizing tasks, controlling procrastination, and managing commitments can reduce stress.

  • True.
    This answer is correct.

    Doing any or all three of these things—prioritizing tasks, controlling procrastination, and managing commitments—can reduce stress.

  • False.
    This answer is incorrect.

    Doing any or all three of these things—prioritizing tasks, controlling procrastination, and managing commitments—can reduce stress.

  •  

Continue to How?

 

You can start managing your time by prioritizing tasks, controlling procrastination, and managing your commitments.

Prioritize tasks

Make a list of all your tasks and activities for the day or week. Then rate these tasks by how important or urgent they are.

  • Urgent tasks are those that must be done right away to avoid a major problem, such as paying the electric bill today because your electricity will be turned off tomorrow. Many people never deal with important things until they become urgent. This approach always leads to stress.
  • Important tasks are those that are meaningful or important to you, such as spending time with your family, helping friends, or getting exercise. They are also tasks you must do to avoid a problem, such as paying bills or meeting a deadline at work.
  • Not important tasks are ones that don't need to be done or that aren't important to you.

After you have your list and have rated the items, think about how you are spending your time. If you take care of important tasks in a timely way, you won't have as many urgent tasks to worry about. For example, if you pay your bills when you get them, you won't have to juggle your finances and hurry to pay bills the day they are due.

Think about how you can redirect your time to activities that are important and meaningful to you. Are you spending a lot of time on things that aren't important or urgent? Maybe there are things that you don't need to do at all.

Control procrastination

The more stressful or unpleasant a task, the more likely you are to put it off. This only increases your stress. You may want to try these tips for controlling procrastination:

  • Structure your time. Use a day planner or notebook to plan your day or week. Just seeing on paper that there is a time to get your tasks done can help you get to work. For shorter projects, use a timer or alarm clock to help you stick with your plan.
  • Break up large tasks. If you know that you won't be able to focus on a project for 3 hours, break up your work into 1-hour blocks over 3 days. It's easier to face an unpleasant task if the time you are giving it is brief.
  • Create short-term deadlines. Short-term deadlines will help you make a habit of meeting deadlines. It will also force you to get things done. That way, when the long-term deadline does arrive, you won't have as much pressure and work built up.
  • Avoid perfectionism. If you demand perfection, you might not even start a task because you're worried it won't be perfect. Doing your best is fine. Giving yourself enough time to do your best will reduce stress.

If you find a tip that works for you, stay with it. Over time you'll gain confidence that you can beat the procrastination habit.

You may still slip up sometimes and find yourself putting things off. That's okay. Don't blame yourself. Confidence and positive thinking can help you get back on track.

Manage your commitments

Both too many and too few commitments can lead to stress.

Letting go of a commitment doesn't mean giving up. It means learning what's important to you, recognizing that you have limits, and deciding how you want to spend your time. Here are some tips for letting go:

  • Don't commit to things that are not important to you.
  • When you want or need to let go of something, imagine tying it to a helium balloon, releasing the balloon, and watching it float away.
  • Accept that your life is a "work in progress." You don't have to finish every project or meet every goal in your life by tomorrow or even next week. If one of your goals is less important, you can work on it later in your life.

Making commitments can be just as hard as letting them go. People who are under stress tend to have too many commitments instead of too few. But sometimes stress comes from a lack of commitment. If you need more commitment in your life, think about what is most important to you. When you are ready to commit:

  • Do it. Give yourself to a new commitment as fully as you can.
  • Be responsible. Take your commitment seriously. Don't back out of obligations.
  • Open up. Be open to new ideas and suggestions, and be ready to learn.

Test Your Knowledge

If I spend more time taking care of important tasks, I won't be as stressed worrying about things that have to be done right away.

  • True.
    This answer is correct.

    When you take care of important tasks in a timely way, such as paying bills when they come in, your list of urgent tasks may get smaller. Having fewer tasks that you have to do right away can reduce stress.

  • False.
    This answer is incorrect.

    When you take care of important tasks in a timely way, such as paying bills when they come in, your list of urgent tasks may get smaller. Having fewer things that you have to do right away can reduce stress.

  •  

One way to approach a big project is to break it up into smaller tasks.

  • True.
    This answer is correct.

    Breaking up large tasks is one way to control procrastination. If you know you won't be able to focus on a project for 3 hours, break up your work into 1-hour blocks over 3 days.

  • False.
    This answer is incorrect.

    Breaking up large tasks is one way to control procrastination. If you know you won't be able to focus on a project for 3 hours, break up your work into 1-hour blocks over 3 days.

  •  

Good time management means waiting to start a task until you have the time to do it perfectly.

  • True.
    This answer is incorrect.

    You don't have to be perfect. If you demand perfection, you may never get to work on a task. Remember that doing your best is fine. Giving yourself enough time to do your best will reduce stress.

  • False.
    This answer is correct.

    You don't have to be perfect. If you demand perfection, you may never get to work on a task. Remember that doing your best is fine. Giving yourself enough time to do your best will reduce stress.

  •  

Continue to Where?

 

Now that you have some ideas for how to manage your time, you can try to prioritize tasks, control procrastination, and manage commitments at work and at home. If you often find yourself struggling with procrastination, there are outside resources that can help. College students can find services on campus, and some employers offer Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) that can help you learn to better manage your time.

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Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Steven Locke, MD - Psychiatry
Last Revised May 3, 2013

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