How to Manage Your Time and Take Control of Your Life

One question that I am asked on a weekly basis is, “how do you do it all?” My answer is two words: time management. This skill is not something you can wake up and be perfect at - I am constantly trying to find new and better ways to better manage my time. It takes a lot of practice and self discipline, but for the good of your sanity, it is well worth it. I will openly admit that, although it may seem that my life is perfectly organized and I present myself as though I’m not stressed, that’s not always the case. In fact, I feel a little odd writing this because I am going through an insanely busy week of events, exams, projects, and work. It has definitely been a struggle in the time management department, however, I am usually able to manage my time very well in every scenario. So here are some ways to start using for a more organized and manageable life:

Utilize your Outlook Calendar. I cannot stress this one enough. Outlook has saved me (literally, from going crazy). It takes a little time and commitment to get your calendar set up with your upcoming events, but it will end up saving you time in the long-run… and possibly yourself, from not missing a meeting or deadline (whoops). I have grown so accustomed to my Outlook that if it’s not in my Outlook, I probably won’t show up.

How to use it:

  • Create color categories for all “events” that you attend. I have categories for personal stuff like family, friends and doctor appointments, a work category that I use for anything work related, a Her Campus category for anything Her Campus related ,and a category for each class that I am in. At the beginning of every semester I use the syllabus from each class to enter all of the dates with tests and exams, then give myself a one to five day notice for studying. This allows you to visualize what your day, week and month will look like as you will begin to remember the colors that the categories represent.

  • Sync it to your phone. Every time I schedule something, I immediately take my phone out and add it to my calendar. This allows me to think about the event when the time comes, and not have to worry about remembering to write it down when you have time. You always have your phone on you, but you may not always have your large planner.

  • Set up reminders based on each event. Sometimes keeping the 15 minute default reminder setting is useless, like for studying purposes. Map out each event based on how long you will need to prepare. Setting up reminders allows you to focus on what you’re currently working on, and focus on the situation when you are alerted with the reminder.

  • Invite people to events that you initiate. Remember how I said that if it’s not in my Outlook, I probably won’t show up? That’s not me being rude, that’s how it is in the real world. If you initiate a meeting or event, it is expected that you send the Outlook invite for all of the attendees to have it on their calendar - be sure to include a description as well!

Don’t over-commit yourself. This is one of the biggest mistakes college students make. I see it happen all of the time with people that I know. Not only is it unfair to yourself, it’s also unfair to all of the people you are letting down when you don’t perform at your best, or worse, when you quit. There is honestly nothing more unattractive than a quitter. The harsh reality is that if you commit to something, you either need to hold yourself accountable and follow through, or expect backlash and your reputation to be negatively affected if you decide “you don’t have time.” People and organizations are counting on you - don’t be the person who lets them down. I have so much respect for people when they are up-front and explain that they are unable take on a commitment because they don’t want to give less than 100%. That indicates they are self-aware and know how much they can handle.

Learn to say no. Seriously, saying “yes” to every request isn’t fair to yourself, nor is it healthy. You are creating an expectation that you will always be at any requestors beck-and-call, which may hurt you in the long run when you do have to say no. Practice now. With friends, with family, even at work if your coworkers as you for help (be careful about saying no to your direct boss, as what they are asking may be part of your job).

Make to-do lists every week. This helps me re-prioritize what I have going on. I have a notebook that is my “to-do list” notebook, and nothing more. At the beginning of each week I make my list and cross items off as I finish them. At the beginning of the next week, I write down the items that I didn’t finish last week on top, then continue adding my new items to the list. It is so satisfying being able to physically cross something off!

Allow yourself to have fun! Whatever you enjoy doing, make time for that. Although I am an extremely busy person, I have one rule that I refuse to break (where saying no comes in handy): no obligations on the weekend unless it’s something I enjoy. Now, I understand not everyone in college has the luxury of having an office job on weekdays only. Making time for yourself isn’t just exclusive to the weekend, it just happens to work that way in my schedule. I work hard, and reward myself for that hard work by playing hard. You won’t be happy with your life if you don’t make time to do the things that make you happy.

Bringing it all together: time management is a hard skill to learn, and there is no such thing as perfecting it - just improving the practice. By utilizing Outlook, understanding how much you can take on, learning when you need to say no, taking time for yourself, and making to-do lists, you will soon feel as though your time management is improving and you are not as stressed out. Remember, it doesn’t happen overnight, so be patient and make sure you are strict with following the system you set up for yourself.