The why, what, and how of time management

01 September 2020
By Alissa Delafuente
Time management

In this new age of work-from-home and online learning, you might find yourself buried under so many monolithic project deadlines or online-course discussion and response posts that you feel like you’re drowning. Taking time to reflect on and practice the following four steps of goal setting and time management will help you make the most of your day, week, month, and year.

Get your "why" in order.

You can think of this as your motivation.

Why are you working on this project?

Why now?

Why are you enrolled in these courses?

Why now?

The more concretely you can answer these questions for yourself the easier it will be to stay motivated and break down large tasks and projects into smaller goals.

Clarify your long-term goals.

Once you have your "why" figured out and it rings true and inspires your best effort, it's time to get cracking on more clearly articulating your long-term goals. I encourage you to write these down, even if the final results don't match exactly the timeline you set for yourself.

Many people are familiar with the idea of a five-year plan. That feels too rigid to me, though I love to pretend that my next five years will be completely within my control. For example, upon graduating with my bachelor's degree in 2013, my five-year plan included things like publishing three books before 30, buying a house, having a baby, and starting a career. Now that I'm 29, I've bought a condo, published one book, am with a different partner who I have now been with for five years, have no kids, and just lost my job in a field that was hit hard by COVID-19. Things get messy, but if you know what you're aiming for it is easier to get back on track when you're feeling lost.

Connect the dots.

Now it is time to get down to the nitty-gritty. Take those big, long-term goals and see how your day-to-day tasks match up. Do the tasks you work on daily for your job do double duty to help you provide value to your company and develop skills you'll need in the future? Ideally, they will, but that isn't always possible. Perhaps your paycheck simply allows you to have a stable living situation and enough food. That's great too, though sometimes less motivating when we start to reflect on the (lack of) progress we've made toward long-term personal goals.

There are often ways to find opportunities today that will help you develop skills you'll need tomorrow, so seek them out! You might volunteer with a nonprofit in an area you're interested in even if your "day job" is unrelated to your future career goals.

Break down your goals into small pieces and set aside time.

Look at each week and "carve" out time in your online calendar to make sure you get each week, month, and quarter's tasks and projects completed. One secret to making this work is to set aside buffer time each week or month for overflow, project delays, questions, etc. Then, commit to your schedule.

If you're employed full-time in the type of job that allows you to take on long-term projects or manage reoccurring tasks independently, map it out. The cycle of higher education, for example, requires that certain work tasks all happen at predictable times during each quarter and year. Many companies also have an ebb and flow based on the seasons, holidays, or cultural patterns. Take time each week or month to anticipate these time crunches, rushes in orders, upcoming conferences, or other patterns to your workflow, to plan your work out strategically rather than succumbing to the dreaded long days and high stress of having too much to do.

Which steps feel most applicable to your life and pain points? I encourage you to set aside a half-hour today to try out one or two and start new habits related to goal-setting or time management.

Alissa Delafuente has worked as a success coach for several years. She writes fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. For guidance through these steps and more, check out her book Get Your Life Together: A practical guide to getting organized. You can purchase it on Amazon or her blog,

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