Dakota Farmer

Tips for better time management

Young Dakota Living: With so much to do, being efficient with your time is the only way to get it done.

Sarah McNaughton, Editor, Dakota Farmer

April 26, 2024

5 Min Read
alarm clock above field
KEEP TRACK: With only 24 hours in a day, managing those hours effectively can help you become more efficient to get your to-do list completed.STILLFX/Getty Images

“I thought we weren’t doing this this year, Sarah,” my mother says to me, a high school 4-H member who, as usual, is scrambling to finish my static exhibits the night before the fair. And no, not just the baking projects that needed to be done the night before — it's the things I had literally months to work on.

See, in the summer, there were always things to do that sounded more fun than hand-sewing the binding on my annual quilt or painstakingly cutting out lettering for whichever poster project seemed interesting that year. So, thanks to my less-than-optimal planning, there was more than one occasion where I was hand-sewing my quilts on the way to the fair.

Fast-forward a few years, and I have to say my time management has improved drastically. Deadlines for homework or papers in college kept me on track, even with my slight attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder tendencies. Jump ahead again, and I was suddenly working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic, working through a whole new can of time management worms.

All these stories aside, I am a type A individual. I love the satisfaction of writing out a daily to-do list and seeing those boxes get checked as the day goes on. Although I don’t always finish my daily lists, there is nothing I love more than getting it all done.

Several years of remote work and plenty of deadlines later, I have a few tips and tricks to share about how I’ve found better ways to manage my time and get everything done by the due date. See which of these can help you get your to-do list done with ease.


Reading the book Essentialism: the disciplined pursuit of less, written by Greg McKeown, really made me reflect on what I was trying to get done in a day. Trying to implement time management techniques when you just have too much to do is an unsustainable task.

Feeling stretched too thin, always being busy but not productive and feeling like your time isn’t your own are all signs shared by McKeown that reflecting on what is essential to your life could be beneficial. Saying no to boards or tasks that you don’t have the time to do, working more efficiently on what is essential, and otherwise just being intentional with your time can leave you feeling more relaxed and productive than ever. As the book says: “Essentialism isn’t about getting more done in less time. It’s about getting only the right things done.”

Time blocking

What could be the most popular method of time management among corporate elites or entrepreneurs like Elon Musk, this method assigns a time block to each task. This could look like having a morning schedule for your everyday tasks. For me, this means that I mentally block out the first hour of my day to dedicate time to communication. Whether that be returning emails or calling anyone on my to-do list for the day, setting aside that time to get my communication handled means that I can focus on the next task as long as possible. Once that block is over, so is your time working on that task.

Outside of work, I time block myself with chores that are less enjoyable, like doing laundry or vacuuming. I know that I have a short block of time after dinner where I run around my house like a crazy person and get as much done as possible before I unwind for the evening. For me, time blocking works well with my routine task schedule for the best results.

Set a timer

Although I’ve been trying to race the clock to finish a chore such as cleaning the kitchen for what feels like forever, apparently this technique has an actual name: the Pomodoro Technique. Similar to a daily schedule, I thrive with a deadline. Knowing that I only have a short time frame to get things done can help me to focus and not get distracted by my phone, dogs or family.

Experts say that the Pomodoro method is a five-step process:

  1. Select the task to accomplish.

  2. Set a timer for any amount of time.

  3. Fully focus on the task at hand.

  4. Take a break for a few minutes.

  5. Repeat steps two through four as needed.

Now, when I practice this, I have varying levels of success. Sometimes, knowing that a timer is going off soon gets me laser-focused on the task at hand. Other times? I know that I can set another timer and start again. I find this most productive on tasks that I just need to sit down and get started on, and the timer helps give me a kick to just do it.

Getting things done

This is not a method I use much at all, but sometimes you just have to get something done. This technique can benefit those who feel overwhelmed and struggle to focus on the task at hand. Take a five-step approach with this method:

  1. Select the tasks that need attention.

  2. Reflect on what those tasks need.

  3. Organize your actions to prioritize what’s most important.

  4. Review these tasks often as priorities change.

  5. Snowball tasks to finish faster tasks first.

The way I use this method is through a more holistic manner. For my Farm Progress work, it means having a running list of things I have to do or want to accomplish. Certain professional development opportunities, stories I want to cover, events to go to — you get it. When something pops up to be timely, that task jumps up the priority list, and I take the steps needed to complete it.

Personally, this is most often used in my long list of home improvement ideas — rooms to paint, landscaping to try and other home maintenance. A lot of this is dictated by the season and how much time we have. But if there’s suddenly something leaking in the utility room, it jumps up on my priority list as the next thing to tackle.

No matter what type of time management technique you think would work best, as we move into busy season, give one of these a try and see if it helps you be more effective.

About the Author(s)

Sarah McNaughton

Editor, Dakota Farmer, Farm Progress

Sarah McNaughton of Bismarck, N.D., has been editor of Dakota Farmer since 2021. Before working at Farm Progress, she was an NDSU 4-H Extension agent in Cass County, N.D. Prior to that, she was a farm and ranch reporter at KFGO Radio in Fargo.

McNaughton is a graduate of North Dakota State University, with a bachelor’s degree in ag communications and a master’s in Extension education and youth development.

She is involved in agriculture in both her professional and personal life, as a member of North Dakota Agri-Women, Agriculture Communicators Network Sigma Alpha Professional Agriculture Sorority Alumni and Professional Women in Agri-business. As a life-long 4-H’er, she is a regular volunteer for North Dakota 4-H programs and events.

In her free time, she is an avid backpacker and hiker, and can be found most summer weekends at rodeos around the Midwest.

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