We all have 24 hours in a day. Why is it that some people are able to achieve more than others? Of course the answer is good time management. Those who are the highest achievers are those who manage their time exceptionally well. Even when time is tight and pressures are high, you too, can improve your ability to function much more effectively by using good time management techniques. As we have already discussed, in order to do so requires an important shift in focus from activities to results. Remember that being busy is NOT the same as being effective. The point is to work smarter, not harder, in order to get more done in less time. That is what good time management will do for you. It is the process of organizing and planning how long you spend on specific activities.
When you fail to manage your time effectively, you are left with varying consequences that are at best, undesirable and at worst, a disaster. This can cause:
- Higher stress
- Poor quality work
- Missed deadlines
- Poor professional reputation
Along with the recommendation of prioritizing found in Part I, the following are some time management tips that may work well if you have made the commitment to spend your own 24 hours more productively.
Try to minimize the distractions that keep you from getting your urgent and important tasks done. Turn your phones onto silent when you’re busy. Set aside times to return missed calls, and let others know your schedule. Try to avoid excessive small talk on the phone. Research shows that people who stand while on the phone keep their conversations brief, so take calls while standing up.
Close your email when you aren’t using it, especially so you can’t see any notices that you have new email. Flashing email notices are distracting. Schedule a block of time each day to send and respond to email. Don’t let email build up, because it becomes unmanageable and you can become frantic. All spam and irrelevant email should be deleted immediately. If someone else is able to provide a better response than you, forward the email to him or her with a very brief explanation. If at all possible, handle each relevant email only once within your scheduled time, then file it away.
Choose Your Moment
For meetings, if you have called one, use a timed agenda. Always start and end the meetings on time. If you are attending someone else’s meeting, always arrive on time. If the meeting is an “impromptu” one in your office, or a visitor, let people know when you are available for such visits. Schedule blocks of time, but refer to them as appointments and try to limit them to 15 minutes. Don’t be afraid to say no if people arrive at an inconvenient time.
There are times of day when we all function better than at other times. Schedule the difficult tasks for those times. For example if you do your best work in the first hours of the morning, then that should be when you tackle what ever you have on your to-do list that you know is going to give you the most trouble that day.
You might find it useful to keep a list of important but non-urgent small tasks that you can do in that odd ten or fifteen minutes between meetings: would that be the perfect time to send an email confirming your attendance at an upcoming conference or client meeting?
A Place For Everything
If your workspace is neat and tidy, it’s easier to stay on top of what needs to be done. It can also improve both your motivation and your self-esteem. If you use a notice board of some kind, take off anything that doesn’t need action and/or has been dealt with! If it has been taken care of and is finished, file it away and cross it off your list. If your part is finished, but it needs to move on to another person or department, move it on! Now you’ll be able to see at a glance what still needs to be done, and you'll be less likely to miss anything.
Create three piles: Keep, Give Away, and Throw Away.
Keep: if you need to do something with it, or keep it for your records. If it needs some form of action, add it to your task list.
Give away: if it is work that can and should be delegated.
Throw away: (or recycle) for things that are of no possible use to you or anyone else.
This is not what you want to hear. However, people in general are not very good at multi-tasking because it takes our brains time to refocus. That means it is much better to finish one job before you move onto another. If you find that you have to do many different task for whatever reason, try to do similar tasks consecutively, grouping them together when you can.
If there is something that is truly urgent and important, then get on with it! However, if you find that you have been making excuses for not doing something, putting it off repeatedly, ask yourself why. You may be wondering if you should be doing it at all. Perhaps you have a real concern about it being the best option, or about the ethics of the issue. You may find that talking it over with others will turn up a better alternative.
Finally, stay calm and keep things in perspective. The world won’t end if you fail to achieve your last task of the day, especially if you have prioritized sensibly. If you have, you may find that your view has changed substantially and you are much better fit for tomorrow.