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The secret to mastering your time is…

You had to know it wouldn’t be that easy. Unfortunately, there’s no one-size-fits-all multitasking solution—no yoga pants of productivity. If this were the case, we’d all be masters of our time. As it is, we’re lucky if we can get to work without spilling coffee on wrinkled pantsuits pulled out of the dirty laundry bin. (Or is that just me?)

We’ve all hit a wall at some point in our lives, whether it’s at work or in our personal lives. No one expects you to always give 100% to everything you’re doing, but wouldn’t it be nice to give at least 80% to some things you do? In the 21st century, time really is money. The more time you spend actively working toward your end-goal, in business or in life, the more success you’ll see at the end of the day. This may feel like a lot of pressure, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s all about perspective.

Draw Lines in the Sand (of the Hourglass)

In the age where it seems like someone always beats you to the punch, be happy that this is for once a good thing. This means someone else has done the work when it comes to figuring out the best practices to master your time. Applying it to your own life may be difficult, but it’s necessary if you want to stop feeling stressed and start maximizing your productivity. Yes, these two things can work side by side—with the right tools in your box.

A genius article by Oliver Emberton summarizes the issue all people with time management problems have: separating what’s urgent from what’s important. Emberton points out that modern society has reversed the roles of urgency and importance, leading to the demise of good time management skills. For instance, an email alert on your phone gives a sense of urgency to respond right away, putting off something that’s more important, such as finishing a project for work.

As a society, we’ve been molded to push ourselves to the limit. Competition across all industries is fierce, and it feels like there’s no time to waste. If we let our guards down for two minutes, we may miss something significant—like Kim Kardashian and T-Swift’s next blood feud or another report about the Pokémon GO phenomenon. We’re pulled in many different directions at work, at home, and on the go, constantly putting off what’s most important in lieu of what society tells us is most important. It’s time to draw a line in the sand.

If your social life is a contributing factor to poor time management, learn to say no. Say no to requests of getting drinks after work, no matter how tempting. Say no to checking Instagram twenty times a day to procrastinate. Say no to group chatting about nothing. When there’s something more important you feel you should be doing, turn off the voice inside your head that whispers sweet nothings about social media. Focus on the task at hand.

Smother the Urge for Instant Gratification

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Nothing worth having comes easy. This tends to be the case in life, and it’s certainly the case when it comes to shutting out instant gratification. Our world is designed to give us a dozen forms of entertainment at the push of a button, preying on our weaknesses to take our attention off what we should be doing. Here are a few tips to actually achieving the focus you so desperately need. Not surprisingly, they mostly center on tuning out technology:

  • Turn off unnecessary devices. This may feel like unplugging your lifelines, but trust me, it’s for the best. Use one piece of technology at a time to channel your focus, and avoid irritating (and distracting) notifications.
  • Log off social media. A website I’ve found to be incredibly helpful with this is Cold Turkey, which enables you to schedule time where you’re blocked from social media, gaming, and apps of your choice. This is ideal for people (like me) who don’t have enough self-discipline to stay away from tempting entertainment.
  • Schedule your priorities. Actually schedule them with good old-fashioned pen and paper if that’s what it takes. Don’t just “get around to” doing things that matter to you. Write them into your schedule.

Remember, busyness is not the same as productivity. Mastering your time comes down to getting the things you need to accomplish done, not simply getting more things done. It may surprise you that highly productive people are often less busy than those who are stressed, overwhelmed, and overworked. Prioritizing and optimizing your time during the day will give you more time to focus on what matters, getting more accomplished in a lesser amount of time.

Make Time Your Friend, Not Your Enemy

The Pareto Principle, or the 80/20 time management rule, can be an excellent tool if you need help identifying which things to prioritize in your life. In business and time management, the 80/20 rule basically means that most things in life aren’t evenly distributed. For example, 20% of workers produce 80% of results, or 20% of customers generate 80% of total revenue.

Applied to time management, this means that rather than spending the majority of your time on the 80% that may or may not get you results, spend a shorter amount of time on your best 20%. Rather than spending one hour drafting content you’re not sure you’ll need, spend 10 minutes brainstorming ideas and the remaining 50 writing about the best one. The 80/20 rule helps you allocate time wisely, focusing on the critical 20%.

Try a few of these tips next time you’re feeling overworked and underproductive. You may be surprised how much you get accomplished without pulling your hair out or spilling coffee down your shirt.