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Not Enough Time? Schedule More Things

by Brought to you by the ACS Career Navigator
December 1, 2014 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 92, Issue 48

Credit: Shutterstock
Stock image of a person holding smartphone and writing in calendar next to a computer keyboard.
Credit: Shutterstock

Being busy and feeling overworked are the new normal. But if you’re busy all the time, yet don’t feel like you’re actually getting anything done, it may be time to reevaluate how you are spending your time. Below are some proven techniques to get more done.

SCHEDULE MORE STUFF. There’s a common expression that if you want to get something done, you should ask a busy person to do it. On the surface, that is counterintuitive—aren’t busy people already too busy? Perhaps, but they also have their time scheduled. Designating certain time periods for specific activities reduces the likelihood you’ll procrastinate, because your later time is already committed to other things. Eliminating the option to delay a task forces you to focus and get the task done now.

MAKE TIME FOR FUN. Waiting until you have a big block of time to do something fun rarely works, because even if time does appear, it may not be convenient for your desired activities. Instead, decide what you want to do and whom you want to do it with, then put it on your calendar. Scheduling lunches with friends, buying tickets to plays and concerts, or signing up for a weekly shift at your favorite charity allows you to put a priority on that activity and makes it harder to back out later. It also gives you more incentive to get other tasks done in their assigned time, so you won’t have to cancel out on fun.

CREATE REALISTIC TIMELINES. If you have a large or even a medium-sized project, invest a few minutes up front to develop a plan with concrete deliverables and deadlines. Even if you’re the only one who ever sees them, by putting them on your calendar and blocking out specific chunks of time to accomplish them, you will make sure you’re on track to complete everything on time. Many projects require time to ponder the best way to accomplish them, and getting started early on a small piece lets you start thinking about how the whole project needs to go.

REDUCE VARIABILITY. Studies have shown that when people are told they must do the same tasks every day, they tend to cut down on bad habits (see “The Science of Self-Control” by Howard Rachlin). For example, if you spend two hours surfing the Internet today, instead of thinking, “That’s okay, I’ll just work harder later,” you start thinking, “Do I want to surf the Internet for two hours every day for the rest of my life?” Putting the action into a bigger context lets you make better decisions about how to use your limited time and not just fritter it away.

Every person has the same 24 hours in every day, and only you can decide how you’re going to invest yours. When you look back over both your professional and personal life, have you been spending your time in the ways that are really important to you? If not, now is the time to do something about it.

Get Involved In The Discussion. The ACS Career Tips column is published the first week of every month in C&EN. Post your comments, follow the discussion, and suggest topics for future columns in the Career Development section of the ACS Network (


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