Managing your time is one of the most valuable skills you can learn. We all have the same amount of hours in a day, yet some people seem to be able to get much more done in the same amount of time. Whilst this could be down to some form of time machine, it's much more likely that they've mastered the art of time management.
Even if you feel like you'll never get anything completed, there are a few simple things you can do to get yourself started.
1. Know what needs to be done
You can't really start managing your time until you know exactly what you need to be getting done. Setting goals is a great way of deciding where you want to go, but you still need to break it down into smaller chunks that you can actually do.
If you've set yourself a goal, grab some paper, write your goal in the middle and then list all of the tasks you'll need to do before it's completed. You don't have to think of everything, but it will give you a much firmer plan to work with. Once you've listed your ideas, write them down in the order you want to complete them. Some might be more urgent than others, or might yield the greatest return. For example, doing a bit of research at the start might reveal some sticking points that you can avoid (and save time).
Finally, estimate how long you think each task will take. It's always best to over-estimate these, as there are usually unexpected complications. I find it helpful to write down how long things actually took once they're done so I can estimate better in the future.
2. Monitor your time
I've written about using time logs before, and they're a really easy way of getting a grip on where your time goes. If you use a computer a lot, you've probably had days where you've been "just checking" your email but ended up wasting lots of time. Once you see just how much time you've spent on surfing the web, it can be quite sobering.
All you need to do to get started is grab a sheet of paper and note down when you start each task and when you finish it. Remember, you're not just noting down work tasks but everything. Getting up to make tea/coffee, answering the phone and "checking emails" all count. It might sound trivial, but it's these trivial tasks that can take up your time.
After a week or two, you'll have a firm idea of what's taking up your time and you can start doing something about it. Sometimes just the act of keeping a time log will make you more effective, as it makes you resist the urge to procrastinate as you know it'll be noted down!
3. You can't do everything
Nobody dies with an empty to-do list. There will always, always be some things you won't be able to do. Whether it's a simple project or going into space, it's a fact that you will have to sacrifice some things in order to do others.
It can be difficult to turn projects down, so to ease yourself into it keep a separate list of projects on the back burner. Once the initial excitement has worn off, the project might not seem like such a good idea after all.
Another way of giving yourself some extra time is delegating your work to someone else. You can either give it to a friend or relative, or hire someone from an outside agency to help. This isn't just a strategy for big jobs either. Even something simple like mowing the lawn can be outsourced. There are always people looking for a little extra cash, so keep an eye out for them and reward them for their work.
Good time management doesn't happen overnight
Creating the habits of good time management takes time and effort. No amount of tips and tweaks can suddenly make you super-efficient (I wish they could!), but if you take things one step at a time you can build upon your successes. Over time you'll become more experienced at recognising time sappers, and you'll have developed the strategies for dealing with them.