How Actively Thinking Can Better Your Time Management

Advice from an Editor who was Forced to Change

By Clifford Michel

College students and young professionals are constantly expected to multi-task their way into success. And while it’s easy to criticize this new norm, it’s essential to dominate it in every sense of the word.

This semester—between running CSI’s student newspaper, (briefly) holding an internship, and taking 16 credits—I’ve learned that successfully managing your life takes active thinking, a willingness to change, and difficult decision making.

Here are some of the tips that have helped keep me sane this past year.


Determining your goals will be daunting, but once you finalize it, it’ll be encouraging because you have more or less mapped out your personal path to success. Start with larger and grander goals.

Common ones look like this: I want to work in Public Relations (PR).

More refined “sub-goals” look like this: Keep a good GPA, join a club and coordinate their social media, get an internship.

And day-to-day goals should reflect measurable and actionable steps you need to take in order to reach those sub-goals listed before. This means working on assignments that aren’t necessarily due the next day, reaching out for support in areas you feel weak in and so forth

Those last two are known as SMART goals, meaning that your goals should be: specific, measureable, achievable, realistic, and based on timeline. Think about this when you make your to-do list every morning.

As this paper’s Editor I’m tasked with something daunting tasks (i.e. finish designing and editing everything by 5pm) and sometimes I handle these huge tasks wrongheadedly.

I write one article, edit two more, and start designing. But was that the most productive use of my time? Not always. Perhaps organizing all of the pictures for the paper beforehand would’ve made for a smoother process.

This applies to almost all actionable goals.


Focus might seem obvious, but it’s often overlooked. A lack of focus means that tasks take longer to get done and both fatigue and time will begin to creep up on you.

It’s important to be able to bring your attention to the right things and ignore distractions. This is best done by being mindful of what you’re doing and promoting an active dialogue with yourself.

Internal distractions that are within your control are frustrating. Embarking on a quick Google search can easily turn into 30 minutes filled with listicles and Vine videos. There’s no one solution to fixing this, but catching yourself as early as possible is one rule.

External distractions, due to humans being humans, are a bit trickier. Other people don’t know the reality of your schedule or workload, so you have to be the one to tell them.

So when you’re having a side conversation with an acquaintance that’s is taking a bit too much time out of your day, politely, but curtly, tell them that you’re sorry, but that you really should be getting back to work.

It hurts and sometimes you have to do it more than once for the more persistent ones. A stern demeanor paired with a smile usually gets the message across. 

Again, it’s important to do away with distractions actively rather than passively.

Actively shutting down distractions is reminding yourself that there’s a reason you have to focus and why a distraction, no matter how tiny, can be detrimental further down the road. Passively shutting down internal distractions, doesn’t teach you anything and harbors bad habits.

Decision Making & Sacrifices

Get used to cutting things out.

It’s going to frustrate you that you won’t have time for everything in life, but it’s always better to do a few things well, rather than a handful of things mediocrely.

The best way to go about this is to create scenarios in your head of what would happen if you couldn’t complete one task compared to another.

If you feel that you cannot finish everything you wanted to finish today, the first thing you should do is start creating those mental models of different scenarios that outline the impact of not completing a task.

Then, either eliminate the task entirely or plan to do them tomorrow.

What you’ll learn as you do this is that many things in life are flexible.

Yes, it feels good to answer all your emails or finish a small assignment for your class because you know it’s easy. But by cutting these out entirely or leaving them at the end of your list, you avoid triggering that “I’m so accomplished, now it’s time to check Snapchat” feeling.


Create your own type of motivation. Celebrate micro-goals with a drink or maybe even take-out and Netflix—anything that ignites your brain and reminds it “Oh my God, this is sort of worth it.”

Also, if one of the sacrifices you’ve been making has been hanging out with your friends or significant others, cut out up to an entire day dedicated to hang out and try to make it as eventful as possible.

This reminds the people in your life that they still matter (and it keeps you sane).

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