By: Mike Schultz, President, RAIN Group
Do you struggle with time management?
More than half of college students say they find time management more challenging now than it was in high school, according to a study by Cengage, an education and technology company. And time management gets even harder once you graduate and start your career. Establishing good habits now will put you on the path to success.
As the Director of the RAIN Group Center for Sales Research, I recently worked with a team of analysts to study responses from 2,377 business professionals and uncover which habits and hacks drive productivity.
Our discoveries will help you make the most of your time and get more done every day. Best of all, these habits will follow you through college to the job market, helping you achieve greater success in your career.
Strategy 1: Obsess Over TIME
As a student, you probably feel like you have a lot to do and not enough time to do it. Being smart about how you spend your time will make you more productive and, as a result, more successful.
There are a ton of time management systems out there, but most of them focus too much on setting priorities—what to do first, what to do next—without examining the bigger picture.
We find it useful to view TIME in four levels:
1. Treasured: Time you hold dear (spending time with family, vacationing, playing sports, engaging in hobbies)
2. Investment: Time that generates outsized returns (working on an important project)
3. Mandatory: Time you feel you must spend (filling out reports or cleaning your house)
4. Empty: Time you waste (watching TV or scrolling through social media)
Even now, as you’re just getting started in your career, it’s important to take Treasured TIME. This will help you stay energized and feel like you’re getting the most out of life.
As you’re just starting your career after school, however, note that the key to professional success is maximizing your Investment time—the time you focus on not only getting more done, but also getting the right things done.
In our study we found that extremely productive people (The XP) spend 46% more time each day on Investment activities compared to everyone else (The Rest). How you choose to spend your time makes a big difference in the results you achieve.
Taking treasured time will help you stay centered and feel content. This will allow you to maximize your Investment time without burning out.
Together, Treasured and Investment time are very powerful.
Then, when it comes to both Mandatory and Empty TIME, the key is to minimize, outsource and eliminate. Students often have a lot of ‘free’ time, which means social media, tv and movies, gaming, parties, and so on. (Note, we realize some students don’t have the luxury of time as they have responsibilities, but as a rule, when you start your career free time often tightens up.)
These are not all “empty” by the way. They’re an important part of the college experience. In that sense, they can be Treasured. But, for example, if you’re partying too much, you might end up taking the Treasured time train to college and professional failure.
You have to Say No to a certain amount of this kind of time if you want to drive more success, and to a few more things.
Strategy 2: Say No
Interruptions happen. You’re studying for an exam and your roomie wants to chat. Your mom calls. Your phone beeps.
Guess what? When you start working, they increase. A lot
I know you just got into the office, but can you join our 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. staff meeting?
Can I come by your desk and pick your brain?
When you first start working, you might feel compelled to say yes to most everything. Maybe you’re a natural people-pleaser. Or trying to prove yourself.
When you say “yes” to others, however, you say “no” to your own priorities.
Do you need to go to that staff meeting for an hour? Or do they just need you for 5 minutes? Most people don’t ask. So, they don’t find out. They should.
What about the colleague who wants to brainstorm? Maybe you can chat as you drive home? Don’t ask and you won’t find out.
The XP say “no” to others 3.7 times more frequently than The Rest. That’s how they get so much more done. You have your own agenda to worry about. You can still be a team player and say “no” in a respectful way.
Put these habits into practice now by turning down invitations or requests in favor of activities that will help you achieve the greatest success at school.
Strategy 3: Play Hard to Get
Professors aren’t always available. Sometimes you’ll catch them before or after class. But most of them have set office hours to communicate with students.
When you enter the workforce, there are going to be times when you need to focus. Just like your professors, you can’t be available all the time.
Luckily, you can send the signal to others—as well as to your brain—that you can’t be distracted.
Email is one of the biggest distractions in a workplace; in 2018, people sent and received 281.1 billion emails.
Turn off email notifications to help stay focused. You can even use an app like Freedom FocusMe to block notifications or lock yourself out for a pre-set amount of time. These apps can also lock you out of social media and shopping sites.
If people invade your space while you’re trying to concentrate, move to a new location. Look for an open meeting room, a spare office, or even a coffee shop.
In college, you can work in a student lounge, computer lab, or the library to avoid roommate distraction. Or stay in your room to avoid a whole campus full of distractions.
If all else fails, put headphones on. Not earbuds, but big, sound-masking headphones. Even if you don’t play anything, wearing headphones hangs a “do not disturb” on you. An actual “do not disturb” sign is an option, but headphones are a bit more subtle and socially acceptable. Yet they accomplish the same thing!
Bottom line: The XP avoid distractions and maintain their focus 3.8 times more frequently than The Rest. Escape the people and things that sidetrack you and you’ll be far more productive.
Are You Ready to Take Control?
Maximizing your productivity is not just about getting things done. It’s about taking control of your actions—focusing on investment activities and avoiding anything that wastes your time.
If you struggle with time management, these strategies can help you earn an A+ in focus. Integrate these habits into your life now for greater success in school and a boost in productivity when you start your career, too.
About the author: Mike Schultz is a bestselling author of Rainmaking Conversations and Insight Selling, Director of the RAIN Group Center for Sales Research, and President of RAIN Group, a global sales training and performance improvement company. He and RAIN Group have helped hundreds of thousands of salespeople, managers, and professionals in more than 75 countries transform their sales results and unleash their sales potential. Follow Mike on Twitter or connect with him on LinkedIn.