Northern Alberta Institute of Technology

5 tips for better time management

Finding time to write this article has been difficult. Is that because I’m too busy, or because I waste time like it’s water, ignoring the finite nature of an eight-hour workday?

Sarah Walz, NAIT’s coordinator of academic support services, wouldn’t accuse anyone of being a waster, but she has ideas about how to be more efficient. “If your goal is to be the best video game player in the world, it’s not so bad if you spend eight hours a day playing video games,” she says.

“If that’s not your goal, then you need to re-evaluate how you’re spending your time.”

Each semester, she shares her timely tips with students. Recently, she shared them with us so we might apply them to our work days or, for that matter, our lives. Here are five steps toward time well spent.

1. Follow the time

To find time, you first need to know where it goes. Walz recommends an audit: create a three-day schedule, look back and fill it to the best of your memory with what you did and when you did it. “In the days that you track, could you improve the use of your time?” she asks.

The audit will show productivity high points, or time slots when you’re used to being busy and could tackle important projects. It will also show the lows, and likely point out those black holes of inactivity you should attempt to avoid – the couch, the game console, whatever pulls you in and doesn't easily let go.

2. Identify your goals

These aren’t life goals, per se – just short-term but significant projects. Because of that, says Walz, “Your goals are going to change. It’s something you’re always evaluating.” Spend time on clearly identifying them and their components. In fact, write them down.

3. Make a list

Walz likes lists, and believes other people do, too. “I think people like that feeling of crossing things off – that accomplishment. Also, just getting it all down on paper can certainly relieve some anxiety.”

There’s a method to her lists. Anything that absolutely must be done by her alone is marked “A.” If responsibility for an item is shared, it gets a “B.” “C” is a task that she’d like to do if time permits, but isn’t essential. “D” is for delegate; “E”: just be realistic and eliminate. “Then,” Walz says, “you just work your ‘A’s off.” (Read in the pun if you like.)

4. Don’t put it off

Everyone procrastinates, but not in the same way. Walz sees two types: relaxed and tense. Will you get to it whenever, giving in to distractions along the way, or does something about the task make you unable to face it?

Knowing which kind you are can help. If you’re relaxed, spot your distractions and turn them into rewards for getting the job done. If you’re tense, “It may be a bigger issue,” says Walz. “Are your goals too big? Is it a fear of failure?” These questions may need to be dealt with before the job itself.

5. Strike a balance

Most workdays end up looking like scoreboards for competing priorities, with some getting too far ahead, others too far behind. So where should you invest resources to level the playing field?

One way to help make those decisions is to plot important aspects of your job at the ends of spokes in a wheel. Then rate from one to 10 how you much energy and attention you currently devote to each, plotting a one by the hub, a 10 at the outter terminus. “Then you connect the dots,” says Walz. The result is supposed to be a circle, "but it rarely is.” The diagram shows where to start evening things out.

It’s worth making another circle, she points out, with work being just one spoke among other aspects of life that may be charting low on the scale. Then dedicate yourself to rounding out the circle. “Make sure there’s time for you, time for your family, and downtime” says Walz.

Subscribe to receive more great stories every month

Find out more news about NAIT, stories about our alumni and their impact on their communities, and useful how-to content featuring our experts.