Being in high school and an athlete is hard, especially when you are balancing all of the expectations and goals placed upon you. Something you might hear a lot is, “You have to manage your time.” After the 14th time hearing that, it gets pretty frustrating, especially as no one tells you how to manage your time while making it sound like a herculean task. It quickly becomes apparent that it is borderline impossible to manage your time when there are more tasks to do than there is time to do them, no matter how you distribute it. Well, I’m here to dispel the mythical level difficulty, by giving you tricks, tips, and habits that will make you into a productivity machine, without sacrificing your sanity.

1. Do by Given Date, Not by Due Date

Our education system is outdated, and with it we have due dates. Although this translates to the real world with tasks and deadlines you have to complete, it is a bad way to look at the world. Work expands to fill the time available; when you look at the time a task is due, you are making more work for yourself. Instead, organize and do tasks as soon as they are given, at the first time available. Do tasks that were given to you first. That sounds like a quite common sense idea, but unfortunately it is not what many do in practice. By implementing this instead of looking for the deadline and putting your tasks off, you’ll always be ahead of the game. This also helps manage task overlap. If you are given one task that is due in two weeks but during the first week you are given another task due at the same time, and then you wait a week to start either you end up with a week to do two tasks, rather than having one week to do the first task and another to do the second. You cannot avoid task overlap all together but minimizing it should be a top priority.

2. Be Lazy, Better, Spitefully

Let’s be honest here, if you are go-go-go all the time you will burn out. However, what will really be the killer of your style is having imminent tasks looming over your head as you try to enjoy much-needed rest time. How can you enjoy marathoning a season of your favorite show, when you have an essay due Monday you keep remembering before every episode? Though it might feel good to put off that essay for the next 45 minutes, it is much more satisfying to watch to your pleasure without that reminder. So, plan in fully free lazy time. For example, if you have a weekend, plan to do your essay by Saturday night so your Sunday is yours to do with as you please. And the best part? You get to spite the parents and coaches telling you that you should be doing something else: because you can tell them how silly it would be to do something that is already completed.

3. Plan Ahead in your Planning

Broad stroke plans are fine, until you realize that you have more things planned in one day than is physically possible to complete. You then end up running late on every errand, having to push events around to other days, which in turn creates other days that are cluttered and difficult to manage. The best way to avoid this is to be specific when planning and look ahead to see if there are likely to be areas where time can get away from you. If you have a family brunch from 10 to 11, what really are the chances that this will end at 11? You probably should not be planning a study session with your friends across town at 11:30. I recommend planners that have a column for each day with hours for each block. That way when you are planning you can easily see if one day is getting cluttered or doesn’t have any breathing room for when you start running late because of traffic or because you forgot to try grandma’s pudding. A simple to do list is fine if you are simply writing down tasks so you don’t forget, but once you are figuring out when to do them, being time-specific is more beneficial.

4. Stick to Your Timetable

Obviously you cannot always guarantee everything will stay on time, but creating the habit and sticking to it helps. And the longer you do that, the more others start catching on, and it will all become easier. What I mean is, if you were planning to be somewhere from 5 to 7, get there at 5, and leave at 7. No matter if someone asks you last minute for a favor, tries to start talking to you, or if you feel bad about leaving someone there. It may feel awkward at first, but you would be surprised just how much this rule will free up your time. A good trick is to warn people if you need to leave at a specific time. That way it is not rude when you tell them that you’ve gotta run. Another trick is to plan in 10 minute intervals, so if you need to be somewhere at 4 you actually plan to be there at 3:50. Sticking to your timetable can also include last minute invites. Ask people to give you at least a days notice for an event, and any event you are notified after that with a clear conscience you can say that this is last minute and if you can make it you will, but it is not guaranteed. This will allow you to have the time needed to plan out your day and avoid events “popping up” taking away your valuable pre-planned time. Obviously this rule requires some exceptions as some people you cannot say no to like your boss or your significant other. But making it a general rule will cut down unexpected events and free up your schedule even in the busiest of days.

5. Plan for the Essentials

Having all of your errands and times to do homework is completely useless if you have to change that whole plan mid-day because you forgot to plan in a lunch. When distributing your time, make sure to include breakfast, lunch, dinner, getting ready in the morning, sleep and other things. These are often things that people do not account for fully in their days, and it makes them run late. For example, you originally had plenty of time to make the 45 minute drive between events, but that got ruined because you needed to make a stop to grab some food. This leads to unhealthy food choices, and often compromises your sleep schedule as your days get moved later and later until you are cutting into your night. As a rule of thumb, your breakfast should take about half an hour, lunch will be an hour, and dinner will be an hour and a half, and plan in at least 9 hours of sleep – if you plan 8, you will get 7 because it will take you time to fall asleep. Another thing is if you are getting ready with multiple people, like your parents, add roughly a half hour to your getting ready time for every person added. These little tricks can seem like they add more into your schedule, but in fact once you start planning for it, you are more likely to be always running on time – majorly decreasing your stress level.

6. Learn to Count Time Backwards

This is a very simple but effective trick. Many people figure out a version of this in their later years, but by doing this early you can grab a handle on your time table and become an efficiency machine. What counting backwards entails is to take a time you need to be somewhere and count all the things you need to do before that, backwards. For example, you need to be at a meeting at 4, and before that you have to take your dog to the vet. So, if you need to be there at 4, to be early you should be there at 3:50. It’s a 50 minute drive from the vets so you have to leave the vet at 3. The vet trip normally takes an hour but you want some extra time in case it goes over, so you should book the vet for at least 1:30, and from your house to the vets it’s a 20 minute drive. So you have to leave your house at roughly 1pm. From there this is around lunch time so if you start cooking and eating at 12, you will be good. So, with getting ready you need to be up at 11:30am. This counting time backwards allows you to plan your day with needed time in between, without accidentally not leaving enough time for lunch or getting ready.

Managing your time can be overwhelming, and it is true that sometimes there is simply nothing you can do if you have not planned properly. At those times, it is easier to accept the awful day, and manage it to the best of your ability. However, with these tricks, tips, and habits, you should be able to limit those days, reducing your stress, and making you able to do more while staying healthy and positive. Most importantly, realize that everybody is human. And no matter what anyone tells you no one is perfect. Everybody runs late, forgets tasks, and procrastinates. Beating yourself up over mistakes does not help you, it simply takes away time from you solving the problem – further compounding stress. Instead, use these tips, tricks and habits, to take control of your time for good.

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