Time management is something many of us aren’t very skilled at.  What typically happens is you think you have all the time in the world, so you procrastinate.  Then you freak out when it becomes clear that you underestimated how long a task will take.  You may even vow to do better in the future but odds are you’ll just continue the cycle.  By adding some structure to your day, you can become a lot more productive.  Here’s how to start using your time wisely.

Monitor your daily habits for the next week

If you’re like most people, you probably have no clue where all your time goes.  That ends now.  Spend the next week writing down every single detail of your day.  This includes time spent on social media, watching TV, lollygagging in the bathroom, etc.  Don’t omit anything.  At the end of your experiment, review your findings so you know exactly what’s stealing your time.  Then come up with a plan to do better.

Eliminate distractions

Having internet access is a gift and a curse. On one hand, it makes a lot of tasks easier.  You can shop, pay bills and do your taxes without leaving home.  But it also presents the opportunity for more distractions. One minute, you’re checking things off your to do list. The next, you’re clicking on a random article with a catchy headline.  An easy way to break the habit is to use a time management tool like Rescue Time. The software runs in the background of your phone or computer, tracking how you spend your time online. Then it gives you a detailed report of your activity.  A paid version of the program can even notify you when you’re spending too much time on a task and block distracting websites.

Prioritize

Guess what?  The world isn’t going to end if you have to take some stuff off your plate.  It’s one thing if the task is a part of your job description then okay, you have to do it.  But outside of work, you can give a few things the ax and no one will even notice.  Decide which activities are crucial to your goals and push those to the top of your priority list.  If there are things that need to be done but not necessarily by you, feel free to enlist outside help.

Automate when possible

These days, there’s no need to pay your bills in person.  Save time and gas by handling your financial needs online.  It only takes a couple minutes to have your savings and bill payments automated.  Just tell them who needs to be paid and when.  To ensure there aren’t any issues, we recommend checking your accounts weekly.  The last thing you want is to wind up in the red because your math was off.

Be less accessible

Some people are natural born fixers.  They love throwing on their superhero cape and saving the day when there’s a problem, no matter how small the issue.  There’s nothing wrong with doing an occasional favor.  But if people are constantly coming to you with things they can handle on their own, you need to start setting boundaries.  You don’t want to be so consumed with their stuff that you forget about your own priorities.  Instead of being “on call”, let them know you’ll be unavailable during certain hours unless it’s an absolute emergency.  Follow through by turning your phone off or putting it on silent so you can focus.  You may even want to have a special time dedicated to answering texts, emails and returning phone calls.

Set a time limit

Sometimes we know exactly what needs to be done but we dread doing it.  In those instances, it helps to set a time limit.  Give the task a solid effort for 15 minutes.  Once time’s up, you can call it quits until another day or keep going if you’re in a zone.  Just make sure you finish everything before the deadline.

Take regular breaks

Working straight through the day isn’t the best way to get things done.  Eventually, you’re going to feel burnt out or your minds going to wander.  Taking a breather helps get your creative juices flowing again and boosts productivity.  In fact, studies show that the most productive people take a break every 52 minutes.  So, the next time you find yourself hitting a wall, step away from the project for a bit.  When you return, you might see things differently.

Plan each day the night before

Before you go to bed at night, take few minutes to create a game plan for tomorrow.  Write down everything you’d like to do and assign each activity a time slot.  This includes work and play.  With everything clearly listed, you’ll never have to wonder what to do next, or have something important slip through the cracks.

Pad your schedule

Whatever you do, avoid booking an airtight schedule.  There’s always a chance that something unexpected will happen and you’re going to need time to deal with it.  Whether it’s someone needing to talk as you’re walking out the door, getting stuck in traffic or circling the block for the 15th time trying to find a parking spot.  By giving yourself extra wiggle room, you can handle unforeseen events without throwing everything else off.