For the past two years, I’ve been freelancing part time while also working nine to five every day. I got engaged around Christmas in 2016, and we’ve really turned up the heat on wedding planning since last summer. As if that wasn’t enough, I decided a few months ago to start working toward a Master’s degree online.
I knew all of this would mean very little time to myself, but it wasn’t until the end of my first week of classes that I realized I would need to find more efficient ways to get things done. Here are six tips, tricks, and techniques to help you find time to do it all—or, at least, most of it.
Get creative with your time
Finding ways to creatively use my time to my advantage has helped me prioritize my work and still find time to enjoy dinner and catch up with my fiancé at the end of the day. I use every bit of free time that I can manage to get work done as early in the day as I can. Got a few moments on the train? Answer an email. Have a long morning commute? Take work calls while you're on the road.
Lunch breaks are now school breaks, when I’ll get some reading done or do a writing assignment. I walk home most days, so I save my lectures for after-hours. I can queue them up on my phone and listen in while walking (the perks of online learning). If it’s raining, the bus is as good a classroom as any other. While I do miss lounging around on holidays, these are great days to sit down and power through some work during the hours you’d normally be tied to a desk in an office.
Learn how you work best
Not every adult is able to focus on tasks for extended periods of time. In fact, The Daily Muse reported that breaks are crucial to productivity, and the people who are most productive work for 52 minutes, followed by a 17 minute break. While these exact numbers might not work for you, you can use them as a starting point to finding exactly what does.
Set a timer for 52 minutes and get to work. Keep track of when you start getting antsy and checking the time. Take your 17-minute break, and then try the process again. Do you check your timer right after 35 minutes? Then try that number next, followed by a shorter break. Once you’ve nailed down your most productive blocks of time, start structuring your workload around that.
Keep organized, and know what’s coming up
It is critical to have a system in place so you can keep track of everything you need to get done. This could be as detailed as a perfectly customized bullet journal system or as simple as a series of to-do lists. Either way, write down what you have to get done and when by, then refer back to these notes.
That last part is the most critical. You can’t assume you’re going to remember every single thing you’ve written down—that’s the whole point of writing it down. Use your system to remind yourself what’s next on your list, and you’ll stay ahead of the game.
One great way to keep the constant reminders coming is to add assignments to your calendar app or some sort of to-do app. Todoist is a great free option to help keep you on track, though some of its features are premium.
Be realistic with other commitments
If you’re juggling a lot of responsibilities, your social life will probably suffer a bit. It might suck, but hopefully whatever is taking up all of your time (for me, wedding planning and a master’s degree) is temporary. Know that it’s okay, and sometimes necessary, to say no when friends ask you to go out. Just be sure to thank them for the invite before politely declining. It can be hard, but true friends will understand and won’t try to make you feel guilty for missing out. Be easy on yourself when it comes to filling your calendar—remember that it's okay to say no when it means spending your time in the right places (that includes on self-care!)
Of course, it is equally as important to enjoy downtime when you can. Go back to that handy schedule of yours, find some time you can spare, and ask your friends if you can meet up then.
SLEEP. For the love of all things, sleep
You can sleep when you’re dead, right? WRONG. This one is easy. Sleep deprivation shortens your life; it’s not worth it. Plus, getting good sleep means you’re more productive, because you make better use of the precious time you have awake.
I personally find it impossible to fall asleep most nights, so I’ve started listening to the Sleep With Me podcast, and it’s made a huge difference. If even mindless chatter keeps you awake, consider a white noise machine or app to help you out.
Focus on your goals
At the end of the day, whether or not you make good use of your time is completely up to you. You could download every app, write a detailed schedule, and kick off your day with the best of intentions. That doesn’t mean you’ll follow through with anything. One of the best things you can do is keep your goals front-and-center, so you always have a bit of motivation to keep you going.
You can put together some kind of vision board as a reminder of what you’re striving for. If that isn’t really your thing, simply write your goal on a sticky note or piece of paper and put it somewhere you look every day, like your bathroom mirror or fridge. It is critically important that you don’t lose sight of this element. Difficult, busy days are so much harder to get through when you can’t remember why you’re doing it all in the first place.
If you need to, do less
Be good to yourself. This is a hard one for everyone, but it’s true.
Sometimes, the only way to get everything done is to give something up. Assess your commitments and see if there is anywhere you can cut back. Just like budgeting money sometimes requires you to cut out expenses, budgeting time might require cutting out work.
If you can’t cut back, at the very least try to find some time to slow down and take care of yourself. Self-care may seem like a buzz term at the moment, but taking care of yourself physically, mentally, and emotionally will only help you be more productive in the long run.
By Alyssa Huntley
Alyssa Huntley lives and works in Washington, D.C. She has written about a range of topics, from technology to real estate to women's issues. Find her on Twitter @alyssajhuntley or check out her website, www.alyssajhuntley.com .