Getting Better at Time Management
June 18, 2014
A look at personal and professional development.
Some of the most common complaints in any workplace have to do with time management. Employees feel like they don’t have enough time or struggle with using their time effectively to accomplish daily goals. The purpose of developing time management skills is to maximize the time we do have, and where possible, find more time in the day that can be used to accomplish those goals and objectives.
How do we do it?
Let’s take a moment to think about the people you have known, from high school, college, work, or even through personal relationships. Who is the most organized person in your life? What kinds of habits do they have? What tools do they use to stay productive?
The person who came to mind is probably always busy, but is rarely unprepared or pressed for time. They squeeze a lot of activities into a day including hobbies, work and a strong social life. This person spends ten or fifteen minutes of downtime with you on a regular basis, but you probably have to plan a trip to the movies a week in advance. He or she always seems to be checking schedules and to-do lists and is probably constantly taking or referencing notes in some form; whether it's on the calendar app they have installed on their phone, a mobile tablet, emails or using good old fashioned pen and paper.
These small habits you’ve noticed subconsciously have a lot to do with that individual’s productivity. In this article, we will explore some of those tools and how to start incorporating some of the good habits of a person with great time management skills.
10 Tips to Tackle Time Management
If you're not a master of time management, print out this page or start taking notes here. It will save you the time later. Here are ten tips to tackle your time management problems in an actionable, habit forming way.
1. Always carry a pen and paper. (Or the electronic equivalent.) This seems so simple that it’s almost a no-brainer but it is truly a great way to stay organized. If you have important thoughts, conversations, or meetings throughout the day- it's always helpful to take notes. They don’t need to be incredibly detailed, but they should serve as reminders about important topics or actions. A padfolio, voice recorder or a daily appointment app for your phone are all great investments to suit the note taking needs of different personality types or technology preferences. You can even find tutorials on how to take notes more efficiently!
2. Analyze the amount time you are spending on tasks. For a lot of people, note-taking will be a big help. For a week, take rough notes about how you are spending your time. Thirty minutes working out; an hour preparing for a meeting; two hours in the meeting; forty-five minutes dealing with customers; fifteen minutes running errands; twenty minutes to get home; two hours of television; six and a half hours of sleep, etc. This type of activity log will help you identify where you are spending the most time (in both your personal and professional life), what tasks could be condensed into a more productive block of time and help you to prioritize your activities to identify where you can make improvements in your daily life.
3. Find your most productive time of the day. That time period is different for every person. When taking notes throughout the day, jot down a smiley face or emoticon to express your mood. If you find yourself more inspired on average at a particular time of day, use that time effectively by scheduling it to brainstorming creative solutions to problems or making a fair amount of progress on a large project. On the other hand, if you find yourself hitting a productive low at a particular time of day, schedule a break or change in activity that is least likely to put you in a negative mood.
4. Develop a rough schedule. Planning out your time a week in advance (with to-do lists and appointment calendars) can help you meet deadlines and prioritize your activities. Including items like travel time, appointments and time for both personal and professional activities can help you maintain an objective balance between work and home. That balance is very important to staying productive.
5. Schedule time to unwind. Where possible, give yourself five or ten minutes to recover from prolonged or intense activities. It will leave you feeling more relaxed and refreshed for the next task. It’s also important to schedule in time for relaxation at the close of your day so that you can rest more easily at night and be more productive in the morning.
6. Spend a small amount of time each day re-evaluating your schedule or to-do list. Setting aside half an hour in the morning to evaluate your day's activities will help you prepare mentally for the challenges ahead. It also gives you an opportunity to shuffle items around as needed. No schedule should be set in stone because the human brain doesn’t generally work that way. Some days your mind won’t be on the planned activity. But that doesn’t mean you can’t be productive on another one. By giving yourself this time, you have the ability to re-evaluate priorities and retain enough flexibility in your schedule to alter plans or meet changes in deadlines. It can even be done during mundane morning activities, such as getting ready for work or in commute (if you're not busy driving).
7. Take the time to review your goals and prepare for appointments. When you can help it, don’t just dive head first into a meeting or a project without thinking about it. Take time to evaluate the situation, do research, think about who is involved, what steps need to be taken to proceed, what goal(s) you want to reach, questions you need answered, the best way to tackle communications and how to delegate tasks. You can’t do or plan everything yourself, but you will be more capable of assuming your part if you show up to the appointment well prepared.
8. Identify and eliminate distractions. Sometimes we all have to work on a project or a team we’re not too thrilled about. Without a lot of self-discipline, you can to be easily distracted from the task at hand. After all, it's human nature. But you should not let that interfere with your productivity. Take the time to identify possible distractions. What habits do you use to procrastinate? Do you check the news or weather a lot? Frequent the water cooler? Chat with a co-worker? Stare at the wall? Try posting a sticky note on the wall with a message telling yourself to get back to work; make a “Do Not Disturb” sign for your office door to ward off coworkers when you need to focus; or get a nice sized reusable water bottle to keep at your desk. Try turning off unnecessary electronic devices, email notifications, text messages and social media alerts. For every bad habit, there’s a preventative measure you can take to help keep you on task.
9. Prioritize your communications. First, is it really necessary to check your email every 15 minutes during the day? Would once an hour be more appropriate? If it takes 5 minutes to check your email, over an 8 hour work day you are spending over 2.5 hours on your inbox if you check it at 15 minute intervals. (At once an hour, it goes down to only 40 minutes out of the day. Even if you double the time spent checking your inbox each hour, that's still over an hour of time saved out of your workday to be more productive.) Second, is checking your voicemail once a day enough? If a customer or colleague is calling you, it’s probably important. Try checking it twice a day (once in the morning and once after lunch) to improve responsiveness and communication. Third, wait until you’re on break to check your personal social media accounts. Putting off liking that cat picture until your lunch hour will probably give you the same amount of satisfaction and will definitely keep you more focused on work.
10. Sleep. Get plenty of it. If you can help it- keep your laptop, television and reading activities outside of the bedroom. That way your brain and body associates the act of laying down in your bed as time for sleep. Not a time to play games, surf the web or watch your favorite sitcom. It may seem like watching TV in bed is a good way to relax, but no one likes coming out of a TV binge to the sudden realization that it’s 3am and they have to be at work in a few hours. Usually 7-9 hours of sleep is adequate for an adult. Pencil it in and remember that if you over-sleep, your productivity can slow down too.
If you’re serious about improving your time management skills, these ten tips are a great starting point. If you still find yourself struggling, incorporating additional tools such as check-lists, alarms, and scheduled reminders through an application like Google Calendar can also help you develop those good habits.