Great news! Time management is one of those disciplines that can have an immediate and positive effect on your effectiveness and your efficiency. Effective time management can help you get more out of life and you don’t have to sacrifice (much) to get the benefits.
All it takes is a different approach to what you are already doing. You don’t have to read any books or spend hours reorganizing your life … for the most part. Time management is a matter of tweaking your life; a little here, a little there, a refreshing of your environment, and a new perspective when it comes to your attitude.
By simply adopting the tips listed below, you’ll find yourself actually getting things done faster and more effectively while also having more time to spare.
Before we get to the tips, let’s spend a few moments looking at why you should adopt these time management tips in the first place.
First Off, Time is Your Friend
Too many people speak of time as an enemy, a relentless thief stealing our lives from us.
I find it helpful to approach time from a more positive perspective. To start with try not to see time as a “thing”. Rather, view it as an environment like a mountain or a forest. When you see it as such, it is not something to be wary of or to fear. It is something to be traversed, to be crossed.
Just as if you were going to cross a mountain, your success would depend on the route you choose and the preparations you make. If you don’t plan your route and do not equip yourself properly for the crossing, the mountain will appear to be your enemy. It will seem to exploit your weaknesses and punish you for your mistakes.
However, if you prepare properly and choose a safe, well-thought-out route, you will make the crossing safely and successfully. So it is with time. Proper preparation makes success far more likely. And time management is all about preparing properly.
As for time itself, my advice is not to view time as an enemy. If anything, see it as a friend, an opportunity. You almost always have enough time if you make it count.
Benefits of Time Management
Like many things, time management can make a huge difference to your effectiveness and to your quality of life in general if applied consistently over time. It’s all about establishing a routine and sticking to it. Although you can see fast results, it’s no quick fix and the best outcomes will take time.
If you can find a time management regime that works for you, it will benefit you in numerous ways. Let’s look at a few of the benefits of time management.
First off, time management can help alleviate stress. This is due to the fact that by addressing everything you need to do in a timely matter, you significantly reduce the chance that a deadline or challenge is going to creep up on you.
You will obviously still encounter the odd sudden crisis – nothing can help you anticipate the unforeseen – but if you apply a practical time management strategy, you will actually be able to deal with such events more effectively as you will have more time to deal with them.
Effective time management results in more time for work-life balance; more free time, more family time, more social time, and more time for exercise and sport.
Helps You Be More Effective
Time management is not only about freeing up time, it’s about getting the best results from the time you do spend working.
Makes Achieving Goals Easier
Goal achievement and time management go hand-in-hand. You can see more about this in the list of tips, below. Organizing your time allows you to have the time to plan your life, allowing you to see where you are and to plot a path to where you want to be.
Consequences of Not Managing Time
On the flip-side, failing to manage your time can have a detrimental effect on your performance.
Let’s take a look at a few examples of this.
Failure to manage time can lead to a lack of situational awareness in your business and your life leading to knee-jerk reactions to situations that catch you off-guard and an inability to assign resources where they are best suited.
You are more likely to waste time on the inconsequential minutiae of a task that will have no real impact on its effectiveness if you have no time management strategy.
You are also more susceptible to spending more time doing things like surfing the Internet or chatting to friends.
Without a solid time management strategy, you are prone to missing things, overlooking deadlines and not recognizing impending problems. This leads to you spending a lot of your time in a “reaction mode” instead of a “productive mode”. Consequently, you will spend a lot of time “fighting fires” instead of making headway.
Negative Effect Upon Reputation
Relating to the previous point, as you drop the ball more and more, your reputation as a reliable professional will start to suffer and this will have a knock-on effect. It may even impact your self-confidence and your ability to perform tasks assigned to you.
There are many who claim that time management is a waste of time, and maybe it doesn’t work for them.
However, there are far more people who swear by the positive changes that sustained time management principles have had on their lives. Whichever camp you fall in, let’s take a look at our series of time management tips.
The 10+ Time Management Tips
Tip #1: Do a Time Audit
Yes, this point requires some effort, but it can be impactful and help optimize your time management strategy.
The idea is to list what you do each day of your average week along with how much time you spend doing each task. The more detail you can include the better. It’s important to be honest; if you spend three hours a day on Facebook, write that down. Your audit needs to be a “warts-and-all” expose of your current time regime.
Do this for a week and then review the results. You may be surprised at what you discover.
If you are like most people you will start to see where you are wasting time. Wasted time is not the time spent doing nothing. That would be free time.
Instead, wasted time is time that you were not doing what you thought you were doing or what you were supposed to be doing. It’s taking half an hour to write an e-mail that should take ten minutes. It’s spending twenty minutes trying out different fonts on your presentation document when you know the one you started with was good enough.
Since time is money, wasted time is wasted money.
Tip #2: Make a Plan
Now that you can see where you spend your time, plan out an optimal month, ideally on a calendar layout (31 blocks laid out in four rows of seven, with each block representing a day of the month). List the things you need to do each day, week, or month along with the time you think it will take to complete that task.
For example, if you need to take your kids to school and pick them up every day, put those down with the time it takes. if you go to the gym or for a run every day, you need to include that.
You also need to include the time that you should spend working each in an average month. Estimate how much time you need to work per day and include that in each workday block.
Then create a framework for your working week, with each day divided into eight to ten fifty-minute slots, depending on the length of your average workday. Write down the things you need to do each day assigning each task to one or more of the hourly slots.
You want to leave time for lunch as well as some time for rest and dealing with unforeseen crises. More about this later.
Tip #3:Get Organized
Organization is critical for efficiency and efficiency is essential for effectiveness. To quote Benjamin Franklin,
For every minute spent organizing, an hour is earned.
Let’s take a quick look at how we can organize ourselves.
Organize your Environment
It makes sense to organize your surroundings, particularly your desk and office, to streamline your workflow. Arranging your tools and resources in a logical way so that they can be easily found and retrieved will obviously cut down on the time taken to sift through drawers or stacks of files looking for misplaced items.
Take a few hours to organize your work environment so that there is no clutter. If you work with documents, set up areas where your paperwork can be deposited according to urgency and their stage in the process they need to go through. This might be as simple as an “in” and ‘”out” tray, or it could involve more steps.
Set up a notice board for notes, important reminders and your to-do list. Have a notepad and pen close at hand and easily accessible to jot down notes on the fly.
If you are like most people nowadays, you do a fair amount of work on your computer. Don’t forget to extend your streamlining campaign to your computer too by reorganizing your digital files to be logically arranged. This will make it easier to find documents.
I would also suggest getting rid of distractions by removing quick access links to social media unless you need to interact with people on those sites regularly. By making social media and games harder to access, it will go some way to deterring you from spending too much time on them.
Creating systems may seem like overkill, but setting up and documenting a sequence of steps to follow for each process in your business is a fantastic investment of time. Not only can it help streamline your workflow, thereby reducing the chances you miss something, but it is also makes delegating responsibilities and tasks to others – a key element of time management – far easier.
An awesome guide to creating systems for your business is STSTEMology by David Jenyns.
Create a Weekly/Daily Schedule
An essential part of time management is partitioning your days into blocks of time which can then be allocated to specific tasks or types of tasks such as correspondence, meetings, research, work, admin or wellness/exercise.
We have already dealt briefly with these time slots in tip number two, above. Each slot should be a similar length of time. I find that half an hour is a good duration for a slot, but that’s just me. It would seem that most people divide their days into hour-long slots.
These slots can be orientated around things that have to be done each day, such as commuting, cooking, taking and fetching children, and so on.
Plan Your Week and Your Days
Use Sunday evening (or first thing on Monday morning, if you have to) to draw up your schedule for the coming week. Then assign important activities to the days according to the time you have and the urgency of each task, so you are sure you will get your important tasks done. This way you get a long view of your responsibilities and making them easier to manage. This long view allows you to expect certain results at the end of each week, which will allow you to adjust your schedule to optimize your performance and work-life balance.
Then, at the beginning of each day, take ten or fifteen minutes to review what you had planned for that day and adjust the plan according to your current situation.Download the FREE Daily Schedule PDF
Create a to-Do List
To-do lists can be very important productivity tools, as long as they don’t get too long.
The secret to to-do lists is not simply making a list of things to do, but taking a more strategic approach. This involves reviewing your to-do list at the beginning of each day and rearranging it according to the following;
- Group your tasks that are similar in some way so you can do them together instead of going back and forth. For example, if one to-do item is to check your email for a quote from a supplier and another is to write and send an unrelated quote to a client, write out the quote to your client first before opening your email software. Then, when you do check your email, you can complete both tasks; checking for the supplier’s message to you and sending your quote to your client. It might only save a minute or two, but it all helps.
- Rate to-do items out of 5 on an importance scale and prioritize the most important ones.
- Mark small tasks that can be quickly completed and finish them up when you have a few minutes between other tasks. I call these small tasks “slot-fillers” as you can do them between larger tasks, where a more substantial job takes less time than you thought it would and you have ten or fifteen minutes in hand. These smaller tasks can clutter up your to-do list but with a system in place to identify and take care of them quickly, you can go a long way to decluttering your list.
Tip #4: Set Goals
Setting (and achieving) goals is an important part of time management. They go together like ham and cheese or gin and tonic (or sardines and condensed milk).
To get the most out of your time management regime, you should be setting goals each month and then breaking each monthly goal into four weekly goals. Each of those weekly goals will be a step towards achieving the monthly goal.
Start at the beginning of the month creating your monthly goals and each of your weekly goals. It might look something like this.
|Week 1 Goal||Earn $800|
|Week 2 Goal||Earn $1000|
|Week 3 Goal||Earn $1200|
|Week 4 Goal||Earn $1500|
|Monthly Goal||Earn $3500|
Once you have your weekly goals identified, determine what actions you need to take during each week and list them. Then assign them to the time slots you have set up in your schedule.
Using goal achievement systems such as the GREATER2 or SMART frameworks, you can increase the chances of reaching your goals and increasing your effectiveness.
Tip# 5: Prioritize
It can sometimes feel overwhelming when faced with a multitude of tasks clamoring for your attention. I liken this to juggling snakes.
However, by simply prioritizing, they can be arranged into a manageable series of tasks that will see the most overwhelming ones taken care of first, removing the stress of dealing with such a workload.
Which Comes First, Early Wins or Big Rocks?
When prioritizing, there are two approaches – getting early wins or dealing with the big rocks.
The early wins approach involves identifying several small, easy-to finish tasks at the start of each day and completing them quickly. This will give you a sense of achievement and spur you on to taking on bigger and more difficult tasks.
The big rocks approach involves identifying the most important, critical tasks – the ones that are going to cause you the most stress – and doing them first. The term “big rocks” refers to the approach to time management asespoused by Jeremy Wright in his article on alistapart.com.
As to which one is better, it all depends on the way you approach your daily schedule. If you are not sure which one would suit you better, why not try both and see which suits your personality and work ethic.
Delay What isn’t Essential Now
Another key component of effective time management is delaying what is not critical or important at the current time. You need to be able to go through your to-do list or your goal plan and determine what needs to be done right now, what needs to be done soon, and what you can leave for later.
Assign Importance to Tasks
You then assign the label of critical, essential, important and incidental to the tasks you need to do.
- Critical – These are tasks you must do as soon as possible and should be added to your daily schedule for immediate attention.
- Essential – Tasks you must do because they will become critical soon or they are repetitive tasks that should be done regularly such as social media marketing, invoicing, and checking website analytics.
- Important – Tasks that will benefit you or your business if done but either have a distant deadline or do not need to be done at all. This may involve tasks like developing your business systems or networking.
- Incidental – Tasks that are optional and usually have little bearing on the day-to-day running of your business, but may have a positive effect on your performance over the long term. This may include things like education and training.
To get ahead of your tasks, you should load your daily schedule with at least one or two critical tasks so you can do them as soon as possible. However, be careful not to take on too much and spread them out over a few days if you can.
Remember to also try to include at least one essential task daily. If you don’t, they will pile up and add to your critical workload.
Try to leave some time for essential and even one or two important tasks each week.
Incidental tasks can be done when you have attended to your critical and essential tasks. They shouldn’t be neglected but should be afforded less time than your important tasks.
Tip #6: Focus on One Task at a Time
When tackling your tasks, it is important to focus on one at a time.
Compartmentalize them in your mind so that you do not get distracted and finish each task before taking on the next one.
Do not make the mistake of doing 80 or 90% of a task and telling yourself you will come back later to complete it. There is a good chance you’ll end up getting distracted by other tasks and before you know it, you’ll have a whole bunch of almost finished tasks vying for your attention.
Tip #7: Set Time Limits
When you assign a task to a time slot, make sure you work on it for the allotted time only. Do not shift the other tasks you have back unless you have to.
To ensure that you can get your tasks done in the time set aside for them, you need to make sure that you accurately estimate how much time you will need.
You should also make sure that you are properly prepared when starting on the task.
Tip # 8: Take Rest
One thing many of us are guilty of doing is failing to rest during the day. We promise ourselves that we will take breaks but many of us fail to do so, getting caught up in, and overwhelmed by, our activities.
Rest is an important part of your schedule and you should set aside at least half an hour each day to do nothing except take a nap or a walk. It should be non-negotiable and should only be canceled in exceptional circumstances.
Relaxation helps refresh your mind and reinvigorates you. It is also a time that allows you to think about your situation and to come up with solutions to problems and new ideas to try out.
Tip #9: Only Do What You Have To
A lot of time is wasted trying to achieve perfect results where a result of 95% would be good enough. It’s important not to get caught up in the idea that perfection is required for every task.
This does not mean that you can be sloppy or negligent. It just means that you don’t have to try to avoid any and all mistakes when it isn’t absolutely necessary.
We can also look at using the so-called “4 Ds” strategy from the field of project management to determine what we actually need to do. The 4 Ds are;
- Do – this is self-explanatory.
- Defer/Delay – delay what you don’t have to do now. We discussed this strategy in our discussion of prioritization, above.
- Delegate – You can delegate your tasks where you can.
- Delete – You can get rid of those you don’t have to do. This is especially useful when you feel overwhelmed or your to-do list is getting too long to be useful.
Tip #10: Set Limits
Don’t try to do too much each day. Spread out your tasks if you can and take on only 2 to 3 critical and essential to-do items per day.
Bonus Tip: Leave Time to Fight Fires
No one can plan for every eventuality and unforeseen crises and disrupting situations will inevitably crop up. Good time managers anticipate this and so build flexibility into their schedules. If you can, set aside some time each day that you can use to “fight fires”.
If nothing untoward happens, you can use the time to deal with critical or important tasks – or just take some time to relax.
Time management, much like goal setting, is one of those often overlooked disciplines that can supercharge your efficiency if you do it right. Using a set of simple, logical steps, anyone can optimize their time to become more efficient and more effective at what they do.
If you are not already using time management techniques, why not start using some of the tips above. You’ll be surprised at the results, I am sure.