This past month, I spent time with more than 650 NCAA student athletes. When I asked several of them what their number one challenge was, the overwhelming response was “time management.” I heard statements like:
- I just wish I had more hours in my day.
- It’s almost impossible to balance my sport, classes, and personal life.
- I don’t think my coach remembers how hard it is to manage a student’s week.
I also spent time with about 300 coaches this past month. Most of them empathized with the busy schedule of a student athlete, and then added, “But, welcome to adult life.” Although 15 hours of classes each week along with 30 hours of practice and another 30 hours of study and homework leaves little time for personal priorities, I have found life has never gotten any easier and my schedule has never gotten lighter since graduation. I got my master’s and doctoral degrees while working 60 hours a week and trying to prioritize being a husband and father.
The key is to not perceive yourself as a victim of busyness. Here are some ideas.
Nine Ideas to Manage Energy and Time Better
1. Measure accomplishment, not activity.
Don’t let yourself become intoxicated with busyness. Being busy is like a trophy for many people (students and professionals). Forget being busy. Keep score on what you accomplish with your hours. The key to a good life is to score outcomes not just inputs. Find efficient ways to get the results you need.
2. Wake up with timed caffeine.
Try this trick. Set an alarm 20 minutes before you need to wake up. At that time, consume a caffeine tablet or a caffeinated drink and go back to sleep for the remaining time. When it’s time to get up, you’ll be ready to hop out of bed and take on the day. (Obviously, you’ll want to get eight hours of sleep as a norm.)
3. Prioritize quick things first, then first things first.
One way I get moving each day is to first tackle an essential task I can achieve quickly. Once I check it off my list, I feel I’ve got momentum, dopamine is released, and I can move on to the most important tasks I must get done. Tending to important things ensures they’ll likely get done even if others don’t.
4. Make routines your subconscious habits.
Any routine I do daily, I try to move to a subconscious habit as quickly as possible, from brushing my teeth and getting dressed to checking emails and evaluating projects. My goal is to open up as much creative space in my brain for the essential thinking I must do that day. I focus on new and crucial items.
5. Handle each task once.
One poor habit that tripped me up for years was looking at a document and failing to make a final decision on how to handle it or reading an email and not responding once and for all. If possible, you should choose what to do with each item you encounter and execute it so you don’t have to look at it again.
6. Focus on one task at a time.
Sometimes we get into trouble when we look at our entire to-do list and get overwhelmed, preoccupied, or worse, paralyzed. Don’t multi-task when it comes to important priorities; focus on one important task at a time and give it everything you’ve got. Then, shift gears to move on to what’s next.
7. Plan to do something while you wait.
Much of our lives are spent waiting. Waiting on people, results, reports, etc. I try to have something to do whenever I have waiting time. I keep a book in my car for when I wait at long stoplights or for my wife who’s picking up a dozen eggs at the store. Always redeem the time—unless you need to rest.
8. Batch similar tasks together when possible.
Our brains get into a rhythm when doing administrative tasks or people tasks. I try to put all my administrate jobs back to back so I can get into a groove and complete them faster. Then I move onto to people jobs or creative jobs. When possible, organize your day like this, and you’ll find results come more efficiently.
9. Evaluate your activities every season or semester.
Problems arise when we just repeat what we’ve always done, even when some of those activities should be cut from the list. Our lives are full of excess. Every three to four months, list all that you must do and choose to do and evaluate if it still belongs on that list (i.e. unsubscribe). Cut as much as you can, when you can.
Keep in mind you and everyone around you have the same amount of time as Albert Einstein, Mother Teresa, or Martin Luther King, Jr. did. They just made the most of their time while we often fail to do so. So, what’s most important to you? Money? Grades? Games? Friends? Why not manage your time as well as you manage those items?