How much time do you have? Tempus fugit!

Frequently running late, feeling stressed, and with endless to-do lists? If you struggle to find ‘quality time’ for yourself and your loved ones, it’s time to take control and end the “I don’t have enough time” routine! By Dr Anna Caballé

That a day consists of 24 hours is a fact that we can’t change. How we perceive this time, however, depends on different factors; if we are having fun time flies, but if we are busy, the day isn’t long enough. Having good time management skills can help us achieve a good lifestyle balance that can contribute to our health, our happiness, and to us being more productive at work and at home.

It is challenging to achieve the ideal work-life balance, with most of us experiencing (at least one): long working hours, short sleep at nights, an unbalanced diet, little or no physical exercise, high levels of stress…. to name a few. Any of these can have an impact on our mood, anxiety levels, body fitness and, more importantly, on our relationships, and our family and social life. If you are not getting proper rest and feel overwhelmed with your weekly routine that means that some things need to be adjusted in your life. This will help you feel in control, more relaxed and focused. Here’s a collection of 5 actions that you can take to improve the way you manage YOUR TIME, try them:

1. Set your priorities straight: think first!

Think about the big picture: what are your priorities in life, the main goals in your career and personal life, what do you want to achieve within the next few years? Then, work your way down and decide your short and medium-term plans, for the next month, or from now until the summer holidays.

2. Make a list or table: focused and realistic

Now focus on actions and results. Be as specific as possible, and realistic (the first step to feeling better about yourself is knowing your limitations and working accordingly)! When looking a few weeks ahead, it can help to use a time management app or create a priority table. What is that? I learned this at a course for PhD students some years ago. Divide your tasks in four zones depending on urgency and importance: 1. Urgent and important, 2. Not urgent but important, 3. Urgent but not important and 4. Neither urgent nor important. Note: try organising your desk according to the four zones too!

Be active, talk to your friends, communicating your problems will help you feel better

3. Build resilience and be proactive

Of course, you will never be able to stay 100% in the green zone: unexpected things happen, last-minute tasks come up… that’s normal. Resilience is what allows you to cope with different situations. If you are working efficiently (smarter, not harder), you will be able to react to impromptu situations in a better way. If the circle repeats itself, take it easy, breathe and simplify. Be ruthless in prioritising, set time limits for tasks and don’t waste time unnecessarily. When you take control back and become a ‘doer’ (a person who does things), you will start seeing the effects. And as a famous scientist once said: don’t worry about what you can’t change, try to remain positive.

4. Tackle email-related stress: the ‘four Ds’

According to Emma Donaldson-Feilder, an occupational psychologist, making a quick decision as soon as you read an email is crucial, try these four: delete (probably half of the emails you get), do (if the email is urgent or can be completed quickly), delegate (if the email can be dealt with by someone else) and defer (set aside time later to spend on emails that require longer action).

A similar approach can be applied to WhatsApp messages: reply quickly and immediately, if you can or find 5-minute gaps in your day (sending audio messages can be useful when multitasking!). Finally, spare some time during the evenings or weekends to have longer chats/phone calls and to reach out to your friends and relatives.

5. Schedule time-off and be healthy

This is as important as any other task and can be used to reward yourself. You may have to push yourself to find free time but try to get routine “me time”, take care of yourself and your loved ones. Whether it is watching the latest Netflix series, going shopping, taking a bath, planning your next trip or playing with your kids… have fun, spend time doing what makes you happy (ideally with humour; laughing helps lower stress levels). To engage other areas of your brain, try different activities, like going to the theatre, visiting a museum, enjoying a concert of classical music (or your favourite rock band, if you prefer) or do some volunteering work.

Don’t forget about your social life. Yes, we all feel lazy to go out to meet friends or go to new places, but how does it feel afterwards? Great! So, be active, talk to your friends – communicating your problems will help you feel better and you may find people able to help you.

Finally, remember that mens sana in corpore sano, take care of your body: sleep more if you can, eat well and spend time cooking, get out of your office to get fresh air during the day, and exercise (it helps clearing your head, keep your heart healthy and activates your muscles)! Try walking your dog for a bit longer (not just around the corner), go running, swimming, dancing, join a yoga class, find a sports team, practice Nordic walking, enjoy a bike ride or hike during the weekend… find what works for you, and just do it!

Anna Caballé (@caballe_anna) és doctorada en biologia molecular i cel·lular. Treballa com a investigadora biomèdica per a la Universitat d’Oxford (Anglaterra). 

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