There are times when I look at my life and think that I never imagined myself becoming the kind of person who makes To-Do Lists. What I did imagine however, is being the kind of person who is able to set my mind to a task and get it done. Part of that has been learning the range of professional skills needed at work, but the other part has simply been knowing how to manage time well. Here are 4 timeless time management strategies that work.
Today there are a whole range of productivity and time management tools that you can carry with you on your phone or tablet. Many of them are well designed and can be very useful, but at most they can only augment the basic time management skills you’ll need to make the most of your efforts.
KNOW HOW YOU SPEND YOUR TIME
Perception can be a tricky thing. Often times the things that stick out in our minds are not the things taking up most of our time. Knowing how much time you spend on various activities can help you schedule your time better, and identify what is consuming most of your day to make sure your effort is in line with your priorities.
Keeping a time log is one way to find out how well you are using their time. In 15 minute intervals, over one or two weeks, write down what are you are doing. Evaluate this against whether or not you were able to get done your most important tasks. Looking back on the log will show you what tasks take the most amount time, when you are most productive, and where most of your time is devoted.
If you’ve read anything about time management then you’ve come across the distinction between urgent and important tasks. Sometimes they are the same, but more often they are not. Extensive research in workplace activity tells us that urgent activities tend to dominate most people’s days at the expense of more important one.
Focusing on what’s important means saying ‘no’ some of the urgent tasks that come up during the day, but allows you to take control of your time and focus on higher value work. The easiest way of starting to make the distinction is the familiar to-do list. Add a simple ranking system to separate the important, urgent, and interesting but not strictly necessary things that are distracting you from your most important work.
GET HELP FROM OTHERS
If you can start letting others help you, you will get more done. This can come from a number of different ways. One is to simply purchase help, hiring an intern at work, or someone to mow your lawn can free you from necessary but maybe lower value uses of time. Unfortunately, this is not a practical option for everyone.
The other way is to delegate and accept help from others. If you pay attention you will probably find that there are people offering to help that you are turning down, or people who are able to help that you are not taking advantage of. To make it work you will need to accept that other people won’t do things the same way you would, but what is more important is focusing on the overall results, and there are times when it is ok to accept ‘good enough’.
Easier said than done of course, at least in my office, but switching between tasks is one area where you can lose a lot of time. This is a topic that has received a lot of research attention lately and studies seem to all conclude that excessive multitasking robs people of the concentration needed to get work done efficiently.
The main ways I use to focus on tasks that take a long block of time are:
- Set my calls to go to voicemail
- Turn off all message alerts
- Booking meeting times in my calendar for when I plan to work uninterrupted
- Get out of the office, or at least away from my desk
These strategies do take some motivation and self-discipline to follow, but the gains of effective time management are huge. In one recent study it was found that people who practice good time management techniques often find that they:
- Are more productive,
- Have more energy for things they need to accomplish,
- Feel less stressed,
- Are able to do the things they want,
- Get more things done,
- Relate more positively to others, and…
- Feel better about themselves (Dodd and Sundheim, 2005)
Now doesn’t that describe the person who you want to be?
1) Time Management - by Ryan Hyde
2) To-do list book. - by Justin See
3) Public Domain
4) Multitasking - by Jenn Vargas