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Time management is an essential skill that enables you to work smarter – not harder – to do more in less time, even as time seems to be small and the activities are more than the available time in a day. Failure in time management significantly reduces your efficiency and increases stress.
Sometimes, one day seems not to be enough time to get things done. However, it takes time management to use the same 24 hours we all get to be productive and achieve more. The highest achievers are efficient time managers. Using time management techniques will help you improve your ability to function more effectively – even when time is tight and pressures are high.
But first, when we talk of time management, what exactly do we mean?
What Is Time Management?
Time management refers to the process of organizing and planning your time – allocating how long you spend on specific activities.
Though it may seem counter-productive to spend valuable time learning about time management rather than spending it on the overwhelming work you have, the benefits of learning time management are significant.
Benefits of Time Management
Setting up a structured schedule and following it up to achieve desired results reduces anxiety. By checking off items on your list of tasks to be done, you can quickly assess whether or not you’re making tangible progress. This keeps worrying about whether you’re getting things done out of the picture as you become less stressed.
Efficient time management creates more time for you to spend in your daily lives. Effective time management gives you the ability to allocate it better and free up wastes that you can spend on hobbies or other personal pursuits.
Efficient time management will reduce the amount of time wasted, and that is a skill that can create opportunities for you. Employers nowadays jump on those who can efficiently manage time, as they’d be profitable in their organization/ corporate structure.
Greater likelihood of achieving meaningful life and career goals.
Good time management skills allow you to achieve goals and objectives better and, more importantly, do so in a shorter length of time. It is, therefore, an essential skill for achieving your personal and career goals in the seemingly short time we have. This will also go to build your reputation as an effective manager.
On the flip side, failing to manage your time effectively can have glaring and undesirable repercussions:
- Missed deadlines
- Inefficient workflow.
- Poor work quality.
- A stalled career as a result of a poor professional reputation.
- Greater stress levels.
It is essential to dedicate time to learn about time management and the techniques you can use to manage time better effectively.
Time Management Tips
Time management is inextricably linked to success in life, and here are some strategies you can apply to become a more effective time manager.
Create a time audit
Time management starts by identifying where you’re spending your time. Often, what you think is taking up your time isn’t always what is doing so. It is easy to misjudge how long it takes you to get tasks done.
For example, you may think writing an email takes up just 5 minutes of your time, and you allocate just 5 minutes in the belief that it is just a short 300-word email and shouldn’t take long to write. But the reality is, you’re overestimating your speed and underestimating other related, smaller tasks that go in to ensure the tasks go to completion; smaller tasks like proof-reading, monitoring language choice and locating email addresses. These smaller tasks unaccounted for can raise the time of completion of the email-writing task from the planned 5 minutes to well over 20 minutes – that’s 500% more time than you initially planned.
Now, imagine you had this same problem for many other tasks in your day. What was a well-balanced workload from the start of the day will soon spiral into a stress-filled and unproductive to-do list as the day goes on.
Effective time management requires that you have a realistic idea of what you can accomplish and genuinely take up your time. That’s why a time audit is essential.
One easy way to achieve a time audit is to use time-tracking applications to keep an eye on everything you do for a week. At the end of the week, critically analyze the reports on how you spent your time and see where you’re ineffective. This will allow you to become a better time manager as you take necessary corrective steps in the right direction towards effective time management.
Set achievable goals and prioritize your tasks
Taking on too much to do in a short and unrealistic time frame will lead to inefficiency, no matter how apt you are at time management. Having too much on your plate will make you less efficient and stressed out, and the remedy is prioritizing.
If you feel like you’re taking on way more than is feasible in a day, then you can try using the 4 Ds of time management: Do, Defer, Delegate and Delete. This helps you prioritize by having you put your tasks into one of 4 groups:
Do: For tasks that are important and urgent.
Defer: For tasks that are important but not urgent.
Delegate: For tasks that are urgent but not important.
Delete: For tasks that are neither urgent nor important.
Following this approach will help you determine what tasks you should prioritize and what tasks you should defer, delegate, or delete.
Also, when setting your goals, you should ensure they are SMART: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely.
Create a daily plan or to-do list
Having a daily planner or to-do list is another significant step towards effective time management. You can do this either in the wee hours of your workday or at the close of the day in view of the following day.
In creating a to-do list, be sure to keep it simple. No one likes to keep seeing a half-checked list day after day, as it can be disheartening. It is better to over deliver because you are under-promised than to overshoot and fall short of expectations, which applies to your personal productivity.
When creating items in your to-do list, word them as though they were already completed rather than as yet to be accomplished tasks. For example, instead of “Submit project report to management,” rewording to “Project report to management submitted” would boost your motivation when you tick off the task as accomplished from your to-do list.
Plan your week on Sunday
As the next time management strategy, starting your week with a plan will help you focus on your top priorities. It also helps you transition from the carefree weekend mindset to a productive Monday morning “work brain.”
It is essential you plan for your week on Sunday to be more effective at time management. Planning before the first workday of the week will increase your chances of success as you would have broken down your weekly goals into smaller daily tasks. By doing so, you’ll be able to see what you need to do every day at a glance.
To better position yourself for success, set low-priority tasks from the latter days of the week, like Friday, and at low energy times too. Remember, your energy and creativity levels aren’t the same throughout the week. As such, program creative and demanding tasks on Tuesday and Wednesday and meetings for Thursday when overall work energy starts to decline. Invest your Fridays and Mondays for planning and networking. This will make you more efficient at time management.
Take on the most critical task of the day early in the morning
For the vast majority of people, the first few hours of work are the most productive. Strangely enough, you focus a lot better when your brain hasn’t fully awoken, and you should use this to your advantage as you strive to become better at time management.
Your productivity decreases through the course of the day. So, accomplish your most important and demanding tasks first thing in the morning. Take on the most mentally demanding tasks first thing as you wake up.
Use the 80-20 Rule.
The 80-20 rule, conceived by Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto, also known as the Pareto Principle, reveals that 80% of an outcome generally comes from only 20% of its inputs.
To become better at time management, leverage this knowledge and discover what activities are a part of that 20 percent.
If, for example, as an agency worker, you invest just30 minutes a day in sending emails to attract clients, then one hour daily to maintain a social media account that draws in fewer customers than the email service you maintain, it is clear you should drift attention to your emailing efforts if you want to maximize your efforts and get more clients.
You can always conduct a time audit or employee time tracking tools if you’re not sure of the activities that sit in your 20%. Al, this will go to make you much better at time management.
Take advantage of golden hours or prime biological time
There is a time of the day you’re most productive to each individual, what we’ll refer to as your golden hours or prime time. Knowing this will help you optimize your workload and make you more proficient at time management.
An easy way to find your golden hours or prime biological time is to segment your workday into 3-5 time slots. Closely monitor your productivity throughout the week at every time slot. At the week’s end, compare the timeslots and rank them according to productivity. The most consistent time slot in which you were most productive falls within your golden hours.
With this knowledge, you’ll be able to plan your week better, engaging in more complex or highly involved tasks during your golden hours for greater productivity.
Make use of the Swiss cheese method
Large tasks can often make you feel overwhelmed, causing you to procrastinate or affect your ability to focus, as you seem not to know where to begin.
The next tip to effective time management is using the Swiss cheese method, coined by Alan Lakein. The swiss cheese method shows that the best way to approach such large tasks is to break them down into smaller tasks or time chunks. By completing a single, small task or a 15-minute time block, you’ll make a large project less daunting and more likely to be completed on time.
Put a time limit on tasks
Parkinson’s law shows that tasks expand to fill the time they’re given. If you apportion a task two hours rather than one, you’d realize that the amount of work needed to accomplish the task will expand to fill the whole two hours.
Therefore, another essential strategy towards effective time management is setting time limits for your tasks. Using time audits and time tracking, identify tasks that took longer than expected to accomplish. Set time limits to such tasks. This will enable you to be more focused and efficient at accomplishing the task. You will also be constrained to complete the task in the specified period, thereby preventing the task from expanding, as in the case when duties are not well-defined or controlled.
If you still realize you’re exceeding time limits, then you should probably examine your workflow and determine if you should assign more time to such tasks in the future. You could also eliminate little time-wasters like unscheduled breaks.
Record impromptu tasks too
In time management, it is an irrefutable fact that irrespective of how much you plan, unexpected tasks will always pop up during the day. You should also note these impromptu tasks beside your scheduled to-do list and tick them off as you accomplish them. By the day’s end, review your achievements, and don’t be afraid to pat yourself on the back. This review period will increase your confidence and boost your morale in time management as you plan the following week’s tasks.
Be one day early
As we talk about time management, we can’t go by without addressing the aspect of working under pressure. Now, most people think they work best when they’re under the intense pressure of a deadline. They will, by this notion, put off work until the day before it is due. However, this isn’t the case for most. It is commonplace for projects to take more than previously planned, making it challenging to complete projects on time. As such, waiting for the last minute will make you a poor time manager, as the designated time may be insufficient to complete the tasks, thus setting you in a position to pull off an impossible feat.
So, set an earlier deadline for yourself than stipulated deadlines and work towards it. Always try to be a day ahead of time, and you’d become better at time management.
Be careful of replying to messages right away
You shouldn’t be quick at replying to emails or messages at the very instant they arrive if you intend to become great at time management. Attend to calls, emails, and clack messages in bulk during your downtime. Turn off unimportant notifications when working on high-focus tasks to avoid distractions and interruptions.
Determine desired results before meetings
As much as meetings are an essential part of every work environment, they are also a well-known time sink. Sometimes, those meetings, whether in person or via remote platforms, can go on longer than planned, and that is a real-time killer. Therefore, to ensure productive and timely meetings, establish the desired purpose and outcome of meetings before holding them. This will keep meetings objective and result-tailored.
Draw up an agenda for your meeting, and communicate with all participants well before the meeting. You will waste less time in the meeting and get back to work quicker, making you more productive and efficient at time management.
Schedule breaks between tasks
In our quest to become better at time management, we must understand that the human brain goes through primary rest-activity cycles (BRAC) during waking and resting hours of the day. The brain alternates between higher and lower alertness every 90 minutes. Therefore, after an intensive work session for more than 90 minutes, we begin to burn through our emergency reserve straw of energy to keep going.
Thus, it helps to schedule a break every 90 minutes to keep your focus to a maximum, thereby enhancing productivity during the workday. This is an excellent strategy for effective time management.
Make the most of waiting times
Waiting is an inevitable part of life. We wait in lines; airport terminals, train stations, waiting rooms, etc. these waiting times are a great window of opportunity to catch up on missed calls and messages. You can also take on activities like meditation, stretch/exercise, and answering emails on your phone. You could even catch up on reading a book in hand or on an e-reader. And the book doesn’t have to be related to work. In general, reading boosts concentration and improves brain connectivity.
Use apps to block out distractions
The “do not disturb” feature exists for a reason and is a great time management tool to keep you focused on computers and phones. There are tools out there that could block out distracting websites as you work, as well as social media feeds when you’re taking on an intellectually intensive task.
Minimize your open windows
When working on the computer, it can be easy to work with many open windows on the desktop. As such, focus your attention by working on just a single monitor at a time and keep just the essential window(s) open. If it becomes necessary, you could even go offline to stay focused on the task at hand.
Organize your emails
We work a lot with emails in a digital age, and having a cluttered inbox can be a time sink. One practical way to speed up email communication and waste less time on exchanges is to stratify and organize your inbox carefully. To do this, you could:
- Archive emails that might contain vital info but don’t require an immediate response.
- Use actionable labels like URGENT, PENDING, NEEDS ACTION.
- Use filters to automatically assign labels to incoming mail based on specific criteria like the sender’s name or some other information/keyword they contain. You could use this to label all newsletters by setting up a filter for every email that contains the word ‘Unsubscribe,’ common to all newsletters.
- Enable Canned Responses and create reply templates from emails that you’ve sent more than twice. Simply having a general outline of messages before you start will speed up the process considerably.
When it comes to time management, one of the biggest hindrances is multitasking, as it dramatically diminishes productivity. Those who multitask are less likely to avert distractions than their focusing counterparts. Multitasking can also negatively affect your cognitive ability.
To combat multitasking, be disciplined to take up a single task, set a timer, and work on just that single task until you either complete it, or the timer goes off. This will help you stay focused and improve your quality standard as you become better at time management.
To become better at time management, then apportion time to exercise regularly. Exercise has a considerable impact on your productivity. You could achieve up to a 72% improvement in time management and workload completion by adding workday exercise to your routines. And the sessions don’t always have to be extended. Short and intense workout sessions will do the trick as well as longer sessions. Find what works for you and set aside quality time for short workout sessions to boost your productivity.
A critical principle of time management is setting aside ample time to rest. Sleep is an essential aspect of human life, and the quality of sleep you get daily can significantly affect your productivity. Tired people procrastinate more and easily get distracted more.
Sacrificing sleep to get more work done hampers your productivity and cognitive ability both in the short and long run. As such, commit to at least eight hours of sleep every night, even when the deadline is fast approaching, and you’d be more productive at what you do.
Learn to say no
Time is small and precious. So, don’t waste the little time you have in ventures that do no good in advancing your goals and mission. Learn to say “no” to tasks and events that distract you from your priorities. Instead of automatically accepting invitations and offers, it’s better to say, “I’ll check my schedule and get back to you.’” This simple phrase will buy you time to assess offers better and make intelligent decisions.
23: Have a great time—no matter what
As you strive towards more effective time management, it is imperative that you not get obsessed with checking off items on your to-do list. We all need a work/life balance, and finishing up your list of tasks to be done today isn’t work sustaining a burnout tomorrow.
So, work steadily and enjoy yourself. Try to have a great time and find delight in what you do daily.
So, there you have it. With these time management tips, you will be more productive as you start taking control of your time. Here’s another article about managing your time.