5 Brain Hacks to Improve Your Time Management and Productivity
“If only you managed your time better,” is a saying all us procrastinators have heard too frequently. In fact, I even turned in this blog post after my deadline because I still struggle with time management myself. It’s been one of my greatest weaknesses since middle school, but because I’ve been working on it since then, I have tried (almost) every technique and want to share a few I’ve tried and found useful.
The Pomodoro Technique
I’m sure most of you have heard of the Pomodoro technique. I started using it recently to study for some of my midterms and was surprised that I was actually able to focus for the short periods and finish reading a textbook chapter within an hour.
The idea is simple; you set a kitchen timer (or any timer, including your phone) to 25 minutes. After the timer rings, you take a 5-minute break. After 100 minutes of being focused on a task (or 4 cycles of the timer), you can reward yourself with a 10-minute break.
This technique was invented by Francesco Cirillo while he was in university. It’s called the Pomodoro technique because “pomodoro” is Italian for “tomato,” and he used a tomato-shaped kitchen timer when he started using the technique.
Try the Matrix
One of the techniques I’ve jumped across in my efforts to better manage my time has been the Eisenhower Matrix. This is also known as the “Urgent-Important” Matrix, and it works like this:
You make a 4-box grid and label one side as “Urgent” and “Non-Urgent,” and the other side as “Important” and “Non-Important;” the diagram below depicts how to create the box.
I found this method really useful since you need to take the time to prioritize your tasks, and it puts into perspective what you actually need to do and what you should not be doing because it’s not worth your time. Because you’re able to prioritize tasks using this method, you will hopefully be able to focus on the more important and urgent tasks first, which will ease some of your anxieties.
Tired of Texting? Try a Tree!
One of the problems I’ve had while trying to focus on tasks so that I can be productive is the trap of social media. Every couple of minutes I end up picking up my phone again, going to different social media apps, and refreshing to see if something new has popped up in the time since I was away.
One of the solutions I’ve found to this is an app called Flora. Similar to the Screen Time feature on the iPhone, with which you can set time limits on various apps, this app blocks your entire phone for the time you have set. Each time you successfully stay off your phone for the amount that you set the timer for, a tree is planted, and your collection of trees can soon become a garden.
For example, let’s say you want to focus on a task for 30 minutes. You can set the timer on the app for 30 minutes, log off your phone, and focus on your task. If you try logging back into your phone and scrolling through other apps, Flora will send a notification for you to go back to work or the tree that you’re planting in the app will die. I like this system because it makes you feel responsible for planting trees, and your garden’s size is entirely up to you. Additionally, you start to feel guilty if you kill a tree because you scrolled on your phone instead of focusing on your task, and that made me (and will probably make you) want to try focusing harder next time.
Once you fully complete a timer cycle, you plant a virtual tree! There’s even an option to subscribe so that each time you successfully manage your time or complete your tasks using the timer, you can donate money so that a tree is planted in real life. It’s a really nice way to help the environment while helping yourself at the same time.
Or, Of Course, Try Technology
Since most of us have our phones within reach almost all the time, why not use our phones to try other ways to manage your time as well?
One of the other apps I have found helpful is Google Calendar. I downloaded it onto my phone and inputted all my homework assignments, test days, volunteering and internship commitments, important work meetings, and even club and extracurricular activity meetings. I color-coded all my events and set approximate time frames so that I would know just how much time I would need to dedicate to doing the task.
A method I heard from a former classmate that I really liked and started using as well was changing the color of the completed tasks. She used green, and I used blue, but it was a really easy way to check at a glance what important task or event you were missing so that you could schedule it for a later date. I also like that with Google Calendar, I’m able to move around the tasks very easily and be flexible with my schedules; it makes me feel a lot more free than writing down my tasks and having to erase them and rewrite them to reschedule them.
Finally, one of the most satisfying methods of time management and task completion I’ve tried is the traditional planner. These come in so many forms that you’re able to find almost any style on the internet or even create your own if you prefer being creative and artsy.
The planner that I tried out (and stuck with for the longest) was actually a bullet journal. I ordered a dotted grid journal online, some pens, and started scouring the internet for ideas, layouts, and themes that I could incorporate into my journal. I loved creating my own weekly layouts, seeing the mood and habit trackers in the beginning of each month, and just using the journal as a creative outlet. It wasn’t as helpful for me once I got to university since I had to start scheduling a lot more of my events, but it was definitely one of the most fun planners I’ve ever had.
Another planner that I purchased at the beginning of the academic year in an effort to try something new was the Passion Planner. With this planner you’re able to break down your goals and incorporate them into your everyday life, but what I loved about this was the weekly schedule layout. The version that I purchased had days broken down into hours for each week, and I appreciated being able to check which classes or meetings I had at a glance. Another similar planner that I am starting to try out is the Panda Planner. With the version of the Panda Planner that I own, I’m able to put a lot more focus into each day because it has an hourly schedule, notes space, and space for tasks that you can prioritize, your morning and evening routine, and a place to mark whether you meditated that day.
I hope you’re able to try out some of these techniques to manage your time better. There are so many more methods available on the internet, but I chose some from each category to try and help you manage your time.
Guest Writer Bio
Ayesha Durrani is a senior at UCLA majoring in Psychology. She transferred over from Santa Monica College in 2019 and will graduate in June 2021. She joined the My LA Therapy team in December 2019 as a Content Marketing and Public Relations Intern and loves the work she does with the team! Ayesha aspires to become a licensed clinical social worker one day, and provide counseling services to others in need. She has been volunteering for her community since she was a freshman in high school and cannot imagine how her life would be without it. In her free time, Ayesha enjoys painting or creating henna designs, going on adventures with friends and family, or eating ice cream.