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Time Management Tips

Dr. Zinatelli’s Top Ten Time Management Tips

© 1999 Dr. Marna Zinatelli, Psychologist

  1. Set clear priorities – Many people are confused about why they can’t seem to get things done until they realize that they have not really decided what is most important to them.  Imagine a pie chart that reflects the way you spend your time and compare it to the things that are most important to you.  Are your values reflected in your pie chart?  If school is more important to you than television but you spend more time watching television than studying, then you may want to work on changing the way you spend your time.
  2. Evaluate your time management system – There is no single way to organize your time and most people have some kind of system that works to some extent.  Basic time management involves the use of a planner of some sort that you keep with you at all times so that you can book events or set aside time for specific tasks.  If you have a habit of missing appointments, rushing to get things done at the last minute or forgetting what you were supposed to do and when, you could benefit from changes in your current system.
  3. Experiment with a range of strategies – Do you know someone who you consider to be a good time manager?  What is it about this person that makes you think he or she is a good time manager?  Try to learn from this person.  Experiment with things that work well for him or her.
  4. Keep promises to yourself – Most of us would not miss a lunch date with a friend but we might easily break a promise we made to ourselves that involved completing an important task.  When we break promises to ourselves, we disappoint ourselves and undermine the trust and confidence we have in ourselves.
  5. Formalize tasks – Setting a specific time period, a specific place and a specific task significantly increases the chances of succeeding at accomplishing the task. This process of formalizing helps put the same structure on things we do for ourselves as we normally put on things we do for others.  This process also helps reduce the risk of procrastination.
  6. Set realistic goals – It is very common for people to overestimate how much can be done within a given time period.  This is a recipe for failure and disappointment as well as self-punishment.  If you use your planner to track your goals and your use of time, you will gradually develop a better sense of what you can accomplish and learn to set more realistic goals.
  7. Reward yourself – Many people avoid tasks by procrastinating. They usually do not enjoy the activity they are using to procrastinate and they often feel guilty and unhappy.  These “procrastination activities” can be used as rewards to pay yourself for having completed your work.  Many people report that they experience a much deeper sense of enjoyment and satisfaction when they are using their “procrastination activities” as rewards.
  8. Take breaks – People often say that they can’t afford to take breaks and that they have not done enough work to deserve a break.  This is like saying you don’t have time to pull over and refill you gas tank.  It is best to measure your work in total time spent working rather than in terms of tasks completed.  This allows for a rest and reward system to be put into effect.  A good rule of thumb is one five to ten minute break after every hour of studying followed by a two or three hour break after three to five hours of studying.  It is best to have something special planned at the end of the week that involves a few hours of good fun.
  9. Be a kind boss – In the end, you are your own boss.  No one can really make you do things you don’t want to do.  Many people are unkind bosses to themselves and use name-calling and punishment to try to motivate themselves.  This approach is not effective.  It is worth the effort to learn how to be a positive boss or self-manager.
  10. Practice – Most people have some time management skills even if they feel they need a lot of improvement.  If you can evaluate yourself and make an effort to build on your skills, you will find that there are always opportunities to learn how to improve.  It may be helpful to review your time-management history.  Have you been improving?  Did you have a better period at one point?  If so, what helped?


Dr. Marna Zinatelli is a psychologist practicing in Ottawa, Canada. You are invited to visit her web page at