How to Get Better at Time Management & Problem Solving

How to Get Better at Time Management & Problem Solving

Guest Writer

Updated August 3, 2023 Updated August 03

Dr. Hara Tsekou, EduJob career counselor

The terms time management and problem solving are high up on the wish-list of graduate recruiters worldwide. No matter what kind of job you’re applying for, it’s likely that you’ll be asked to show you possess these two essential ‘soft skills’. As well as making you more employable, possessing these qualities is also likely to make your life a lot less stressful – whether you’re still studying or entering the workplace.

So, what’s really meant by time management and problem solving, and how can you develop these skills?

Develop your time management skills

Just like our financial resources, our time resources are limited and valuable. Every day has a standard duration of 24 hours – and that’s simply not going to change, no matter how many hours seem necessary to fulfill your obligations.

Although we cannot change the duration of any day, we are able to manage the way that we utilize these 24 hours. These time management skills have to do with self-monitoring, self-control and planning. People who are more effective in planning their time tend to be more productive, more energetic, more efficient, and to have higher self-esteem.

A significant stress factor, related to poor time management, is procrastination. Continuously putting off activities does not result in relief, but in escalation of stress. The application of time management skills contributes to the settlement of your obligations within preferred time-limits.
The first step in developing time management skills is to identify the way you operate in relation to time. In order to achieve that, it may be helpful to keep a diary for a couple of weeks. In this diary, you should record how you spend your time, including both work and hobbies, and how much time each activity takes.

When enough information is gathered, you need to assess how much time you’re currently spending on each element, and make a note of points you’d like to change. After self-monitoring you may decide not to spend too much time on a particular activity, or to reorganize the programming of activities in order to to save time. For example, you may choose to schedule activities which are located close together for the same day of the week, instead of wasting time travelling back and forth.

The second step is to prioritize. In the time allocation record it is important to keep in mind the degree of urgency of each obligations you undertake. We tend to get involved and carry through ‘urgent’ obligations, regardless of their overall level of importance.

This is of great significance, because it may not leave us time to focus on the really important issues. In the time allocation program, it is helpful to note and take into account both the degree of urgency and the degree of importance.

Finally, it is important to cooperate with others and ask for their help, as well as appropriately allocating tasks to coworkers. When the workload is heavy, try to avoid wasting time with small talk, or mindlessly surfing the web. Keep track of the time each phone call takes, and set a limit on how long you’re going to spend replying to emails – then do them all in one go.  

Develop your problem-solving skills

There are many times in our lives that we are called to apply cognitive, emotional and behavioral skills to deal with unpleasant or novel situations, to which we may not know the right answer. Problem-solving skills are also related to one's psychological well-being and positive personality characteristics, such as high-self esteem.

Problem-solving skills training aims to help people to:

·        Identify the problems that cause them distress

·        Recognize their own existing problem-solving skills

·        Learn to apply a systematic problem-solving methodology

·        Reinforce their own belief in their ability to take control over problems

Problem-solving techniques involve a predefined series of steps that enable the person to focus on the specified problem and effectively cope with it. These steps include:

1.     Define the problem in specific terms. Be as specific as possible.

2.     Generate as many solutions as possible by brainstorming.

3.     Examine the advantages and the disadvantages of each possible solution. The goal is to evaluate all the solutions and identify the optimum.

4.     Plan the application of the chosen solution, carefully and with as much detail as possible. The plan should cover what will be done, when, with whom, and in what order.

5.     Undergo a cognitive rehearsal. This means an imaginary application of the solution, so as to pinpoint any potential traps and mishaps.

6.     Take action!

7.     Evaluate the results.

If the solution was successful, congratulations are in order. If not, evaluate and learn from your mistakes. We all learn from our experience. So, the same steps are to be repeated, either from the beginning, or from step 3 onwards.

Hara Tsekou studied psychology at Royal Holloway, University of London, obtained a Masters in Cognitive Neuroscience from Imperial College London and completed her PhD at the Medical School of the University of Athens. She has considerable academic, teaching and research experience at the University of Athens as well as in several private sector colleges. She is a certified CBT psychotherapist, and has been practicing in the private domain for almost a decade.

This article was originally published in October 2013 . It was last updated in January 2020

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