Benjamin Franklin once said, “Remember that time is money.” The question is, are you focusing as much on getting all you can out of your time as your money? If not, here are ten must-have time management skills that you should develop to get better returns from your most important investment (your time).
What is time management?
Let’s start at the beginning. You must have heard of time management if you haven’t been living under a rock for the last few decades, but you may not know what it is and how it can help you.
Time management is the use of auditing, planning, and organization techniques to structure your time so that you can complete tasks effectively and efficiently within prescribed blocks of time, increasing productivity and reducing the chances of failure due to insufficient time to complete required tasks.
Why is time management important?
Time is our most valuable resource. Each of us has a “time account”, similar to a bank account (in this case an investment account), except that you cannot make deposits. In this analogy, it’s your parents who make the deposit for you when you are born. They give you life and therefore time. Since it’s an investment account, you cannot make withdrawals either. However, while you have a positive balance you get to do whatever you want.
That said, the fees on this account are steep. For the privilege of being able to walk around, to live, laugh, love and sit around in your underwear watching Netflix and cramming Cheetos into your mouth, Life (the bank) leverages the fee of 24 hours every single day. There are no refunds, no disputes, and no complaints department. It’s a rotten deal, but it’s what we have to work with.
Okay, with that cumbersome analogy out if the way, in light of the fact that our time account has a finite (and ever-diminishing) balance in it, don’t you think it wise to try to squeeze as much life out of every day, every hour, every second we can?
That’s the idea behind time management. You organize your time to get more done in the time you have so you can give yourself more time to do what you want to do. It’s not rocket science, and if you commit yourself to time management skills, you will see positive results.
The time management skills
Like pretty much everything in life, time management is something that can be learned and improved over time. It is a skill. In fact is is a basket of skills that contribute to you optimizing your work and for your life in general.
So, after all that, here are the 10 most important work related time management skills.
Skill #1: Organization
Organization is one of the most important time management skills. That’s because being organized underpins everything else relating to time management.
Organization involves being able to create order from confusion, to create and streamline systems that allow you to break tasks up into logical, manageable sections so that they can be completed quickly and effectively.
This is crucial if you want to make sure you are getting all of your work done before it is due, even where you are busy with multiple projects simultaneously.
Organization also involves creating a clean, inspiring, and ordered work environment. That means removing clutter from your workspace, filing your paperwork and organizing online files logically in such a way that they are easy to find and retrieve, and arranging the tools you need for your work so they are easy to access.
Prioritization slots neatly below organization and is a sub-skill of the latter.
When faced with a battery of tasks, it is essential to order your responsibilities from most to least important and then tackle each (or part of each) in turn so that urgent tasks are completed first and less important ones are left until later.
Tasks can be labeled critical, essential, important and incidental according to how they should be prioritized.
- 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.
When doing your daily and weekly planning, you will make sure your critical tasks are handled first, followed by the essential ones and so on until your allocated time slots are filled.
A popular time management technique is using the 4D approach, which proposes using the following classification matrix to determine how to prioritize your tasks.
- 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.
This can be a useful filter for your tasks.
Delegation can be crucial for effective time management if you have the capacity to do it. Delegation can be the transfer of the responsibility for completing a task to a subordinate, a virtual assistant or a freelance specialist.
However, delegation can be a nightmare if not approached in the correct way, as assigning your tasks to someone who does not understand what is expected of them, does not have the skill to complete the task, or is overloaded with work can be disastrous and result in you having to waste time trying to fix the mistakes they make and/or complete the tasks yourself.
If you are thinking of delegating tasks, you should create a delegation plan before you need to actually delegate any work.
The most important part of this plan should be a detailed and systems-based description of what is required for the completion of each task, which can then be handed over to the person to whom the task is delegated.
Your delegation plan should also include a questionnaire of some sort (a test for lack of a better word) that can be given to the person you want to delegate the work to, to ensure that they have the skills and experience to complete the tasks you will be assigning them. This can be of particular importance when delegating to virtual assistants or freelance specialists.
Finally, you should identify people to whom you can delegate your tasks early on. If possible, select several potential delegatees so when the time comes to delegate tasks, you don’t have to run around trying to get find people who aren’t going to let you down.
If you are even considering delegating your tasks, it is essential to be prepared. If you are and a situation crops up where you need to delegate, it is a case of simply contacting the prospective delegatees and handing over the task descriptions and instructions. No mess, no fuss.
Being able to make decisions quickly and accurately is an essential part of effective time management. Vacillating over what to do and wasting time fretting over what path to choose can waste a lot of time.
Although you can go into a lot of detail about how to make important decisions quickly and carefully so that positive outcomes are likely, I’ll go over the important steps to be followed here.
- Identify critical considerations to be taken into account.
- Evaluate options and establish priorities for the outcome.
- Anticipate outcomes and evaluate potential results.
- Mitigate risk and threats.
- Be able to extrapolate data from quantitative sources.
Like all skills, decision making improves with practice. You may worry about making mistakes in the beginning – and you most probably will, from time-to-time, but with experience comes expertise.
Skill #5:Goal setting
Setting goals goes hand-in-hand with effective time management and each is required to successfully accomplish the other.
In the case of time management, goal setting can be an indispensable toolset for the effective completion of tasks.
Using the GREATER2 or SMART frameworks, you can set a goal that is clear and achievable, and then prioritize your tasks to reach it, using your time management skills to ensure that you move effectively towards your goal.
Learning to multi-task can be very helpful for enhancing your time management skill set.
This draws on your ability to organize and track your progress on different tasks, whether you are working on them yourself or you are delegating them. This can be achieved through pen and paper or digital check and to-do lists as well as effective systems that you can develop to enhance your multi-tasking.
Of importance here is the ability to focus exclusively on one task or sub-task at a time and complete it before moving onto the next one. Failure to compartmentalize your tasks effectively will lead to distraction and confusion.
Skill #7:Problem solving
Problem-solving is another skill that contributes to effective time management. Having a robust set of problem-solving techniques cuts down on the time-wasting and vacillation encountered when confronting an unforeseen issue or complication.
Skill #8:Strategic thinking
Time management is, by its very nature, strategic. It involves taking the long view and putting plans into place to avert problems on the path to effective task completion. Strategic thinking allows you to take calculated actions and reduces the risk of having to react to unforeseen events or threats.
It goes without saying that being able to maintain a well-organized, up-to-date schedule is extremely valuable from a time management point of view.
Being able to design a daily, weekly and monthly time framework that enables you to complete your tasks efficiently and yet is flexible enough to adapt to unforeseen changes is crucial if you hope to become an effective time manager.
Skill #10: Stress management
Bad time management and the resultant chaos and failures – or mere threat thereof – can induce a huge amount of stress.
It, therefore, makes sense to do what you can to prevent this stress if at all possible. You can do this through stress management techniques.
One strategy to limit stress is the so-called 4A technique;
- Avoid stress by planning ahead – precisely what time management is all about.
- Alter, or change your situation to reduce or escape the stress-inducing factors in your life.
- Accept. Sometimes, you just have to accept the stress and find ways to deal with it.
- Adapt, by changing your way of thinking to make the stress less disruptive.
There is a lot more to stress management than the four points mentioned above, and it’s worth looking into if your feel you are under stress. However, effective time management is one of the best proactive steps you can take to reducing your stress. Try it and you will see for yourself.
As you can see from the ten skills listed above, time management is a broad and multi-faceted discipline that involves understanding and embracing a breadth of disciplines.
The good news is that these skills overlap with many other “soft skills” and as you begin to understand and become familiar with them, the more they will have a positive impact on other aspects of your life.
Now is the time to embrace these time management skills and make the most of the time you have.