First things first: TAKE A BREAK! Right now. Just set your phone timer for 20 minutes, and go do whatever you want to until the alarm. Come back to this article when you’re done–go! Don’t read another sentence.
You Are More Than Your Productivity
As a sufferer of anxiety who also wrestles the beast of time management, I’ve got you. Any time I find myself desperately looking for ways to “fix” or “improve” my time management skills, I’ve learned it’s a sign that a) I’m stressed and b) I’m procrastinating or avoiding a specific task. The reason I insisted you take a break FIRST THING is that you need to understand that you’re not doing anything WRONG when you experience anxiety, and you’re allowed to take breaks, even if you’re running late on something or struggling to get it done.
As @domesticblisters of TikTok often says, productivity is morally neutral, and for me, the worst part of time management is how much of it I waste feeling guilty or beating myself up for not being better at it. You deserved that break, and you deserve the next break you take too. In between breaks, you can try some of these time management tips that may be able to help you feel less anxious about scheduling enough time for everything you have on your plate.
Time Management Tips for Anxiety
1. Take breaks. I know! It feels wrong. You’re trying to get more done, and taking breaks gives you less time to do that–right? Wrong. If you don’t give your brain and body the rest they need, especially when you’re stressed, busy, or anxious, you’re on a one-way track toward burnout. At some point, you’re going to crash, whether that means falling asleep on your textbook, dropping the ball on your chores, getting a speeding ticket, or failing a test. A good rule of thumb is to give yourself a 10-15 minute break for every hour of working or studying. If possible, try to take time off completely on the weekends, too. If you work or have sports and family engagements on the weekends, try to at least give yourself a couple of hours to decompress, rest, and play (do something just for fun).
2. Get a planner. Write down your classes, deadlines, assignments, work shifts, games, practices, and family engagements–write everything down. Write things down as soon as you learn about them, for as far into the future as you can, even if that means writing down the date of your cousin’s wedding three years from now. Building a habit of writing everything down helps cut down on the constant anxious fear that you’re forgetting things due to overwhelming. It will also help you with your weekly and daily planning–you won’t accidentally schedule yourself to work on the same night as your dance recital if you write down the recital date as soon as you get your semester schedule.
3. Enlist the help of technology! Setting reminders, timers, and alarms on your phone or watch can be excellent tools for helping you stay on top of your time management. Set an alarm that goes off every morning to remind you to take your meds. Build a recurring event into your calendar that reminds you about Mother’s Day and important birthdays so you don’t have to hustle for last-minute gifts every year because you forgot. Check out apps like Routinery, Pomodoro, or any of these recommended by VeryWellMind. Find what works for you and helps you feel less anxious, not more.
4. Determine where your time management struggles are coming from. People can struggle with time management for a number of reasons. What’s yours? Are your projects so big that you don’t know where to start? Maybe you need to break them up into smaller, more bite-sized tasks. Or do you procrastinate because you’re afraid of doing it wrong? In that case, it sounds like you’re struggling with perfectionism. Maybe you have trouble understanding how long activities or projects are going to take or you spend too much time making sure everything is done perfectly. In that case, perhaps you need to double or even quadruple the amount of time you think you need to set aside for certain tasks. Pinpointing the specific source of what derails your time management can help you figure out what kind of tools and habits will help manage your anxiety.
5. Choose your commitments wisely. Aside from the non-negotiables like school, don’t be afraid to say “no” to activities that you don’t have time for, don’t want to do, or would only make other people happy. The world will not stop spinning if you tell your aunt that you can’t go to the farmer’s market because you need to study, or if you tell that one teacher you can’t sign up to help tutor the freshmen. These activities might be things you would love to do! But if you’re struggling to manage your time, consider removing or swapping out another scheduled activity for each new activity you schedule. If you continue to pile on the commitments, your anxiety and overwhelm will get worse because you won’t have any room to breathe.
6. Be flexible and make adjustments. Except for hard deadlines, it’s perfectly reasonable to move activities and tasks around in your schedule. It’s okay if you end up getting a haircut next Tuesday instead of during the only free 40 minutes you have between school and work tomorrow. Ask your friends if you can go see that movie next weekend instead, because it took you way longer to finish your paper and you still need to study for the biology final. Don’t worry if your week doesn’t end up going exactly the way you planned–that’s life, and you’ll be alright.
7. Create a productive environment. Pick a place where you feel the most focused. That could be your desk at home, a table in the library, or the corner of a coffee shop. Wherever it is, choose it intentionally, and go there for a set amount of time each week. When you’re there, turn off your phone notifications so that you won’t be interrupted and set a timer. For the amount of time that you decide, you are dedicated to whatever work you need to do, whether that’s studying, drawing, answering emails, or catching up on assigned reading. Keep this place special–don’t use it for hanging out with friends, streaming your favorite show, or playing Candy Crush. This is your dedicated focus place, where you’re able to get in the mindset of accomplishing today’s important tasks.
8. Talk to someone if your anxiety is getting worse. Make an appointment with the school counselor and consider chatting with your parents about seeking the help of a mental health professional. If your anxiety is overwhelming you, no amount of time management is going to make it go away–it’s a deeper mental health issue than keeping a detailed planner can address, and you may benefit from having support. If you’re nervous, check out our article called “How to Talk to Your Parents About Anxiety” to figure out where to start.
9. Rest. This is different than Step #1. In this case, resting means sleep. Your brain and body can’t keep up with a busy schedule or make good time management decisions when you’re exhausted. Learn about good sleep hygiene, and develop a strong boundary around your rest time. Get your 8 hours of sleep!
Be Gracious With Yourself When You Mess Up
While it’s important that we accomplish the things that are important to us and carry out our responsibilities to others, your mental, physical, and spiritual health should always be the top priority! It’s okay to slow down, to take breaks, to ask for help, and to make occasional time management mistakes. You’re human, and no human is doing everything perfectly. As Brene Brown says, “Perfectionism is not the same thing as striving to be your best. Perfectionism is the belief that if we live perfect, look perfect, and act perfect, we can minimize or avoid the pain of blame, judgment, and shame. It’s a shield. It’s a twenty-ton shield that we lug around thinking it will protect us when, in fact, it’s the thing that’s really preventing us from flight.”
When your anxiety rears its ugly head because you’re not managing your time as well as you might wish, drop the shield–cancel an event, ask for an extension on an assignment, and reach out for support. Nobody expects you to be capable of perfection, especially not at TheHopeLine, and most especially, not Jesus Christ. Reach out today if you want to learn more about how to give yourself grace when you’re struggling with anxiety.