In today’s busy environment most of us are constantly bombarded with calls on our time. Work, emails, tweets, beeping mobiles, telephone, family, children, spouses, and friends. Sometimes it feels like we are running to stand still and not actually making any headway.
You need more hours in the day! Well, you can’t have that, but you can optimise the time you do have.
My short cynical version of a time management course is;-
- Make a list of things you need to do
- Prioritise them
- Do them in order of priority
But it is not always that simple.
You need to evaluate why things are on your list in the first place-do they need to be done, or have you always done them out of habit?
Do you need to do them or could someone else do them?
What order of priority should they be done in?
And then there are the new tasks and interruptions that clog up your time while you are trying to work through the prioritised list. Where do they belong on the list?
You have to assess each one as they come in, or periodically, and ONLY deal with the immediate things that cannot wait.
Many peoples’ earliest experience of time management is planning and organising a revision timetable.
All of the principles we will discuss are suitable for exam preparation as well as work and life in general.
Good time management skills
Characteristics and habits of people with good time management skills are;-
- Setting goals
- Breaking down tasks
- Using Lists
- Persevering when things get difficult
- Organising your work and meeting deadlines
- Avoiding procrastination
Good time managers set clearly defined goals for themselves.
Remember goals should be SMART- specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time bound.
To define your goals, you first need to examine your present situation, decide where you want to get to (your goal), and what action you need to take to get there.
You may want to consider a contingency plan as well.
You should also review progress towards goals and revise plans as appropriate.
Breaking down tasks
Break difficult tasks down into their components, so that you can tackle them one at a time. Plan the steps out and complete one task before you go on to the next.
Review progress towards your goals, and revise plans as required.
To give yourself encouragement, allow yourself a little reward when you complete a component of a large task.
Evaluating the task list
Before you even begin to prioritise, review the evaluation we talked about earlier;-
Do the tasks on the list need to be done at all?
Is there a more effective way to do them?
Do you need to be the person who does them?
This is where you can potentially save the most time. Cull the list ruthlessly, and evaluate all the new tasks that crop up before you add them to your list.
This is where the skill is.To be effective, you need to decide which tasks are most urgent, and which the most important, and prioritise accordingly.
Note that Urgent and Important are not necessarily the same thing! The ability to assess and differentiate, and allocate priorities, is the key to effective time management.
You should be devoting most time to the most important tasks, not concentrating on the simple ones.
It is also important not to allow trivial interruptions to your work.
Using Lists and reminders
These days most people have a diary and note facility on their smartphone so you don’t even need to carry pen and paper! If you don’t have a smartphone, buy a pocket diary and mini pen and carry it with you.
At the basic level use your diary to record the things you need to do, including appointments and deadlines.
A daily list of tasks is a key element in action planning. You will update and consult this several times a day as you add every new task to your list.
Place each new task on the appropriate day if you can.
Sometimes though, it is quicker to just do a small task immediately than add it to your list, and allocate a priority. Again this is a question of skill and judgement.
Prioritise items on the list and categorise them into important/not important and urgent/non-urgent.
It may be helpful to allocate an estimate of time required for your tasks.
Devise a simple system. For example urgent tasks can be highlighted with an asterisk, and important tasks with a star. Priority can be simply numbering them 1, 2, 3.
So you would deal with the urgent tasks in numerical order, and then tackle the important tasks in numerical order.
Keep the list updated, crossing off completed tasks and adding new tasks.
If you work in a dynamic environment you may find you need to re-assess priorities as things change.
If you are in an environment where things change all the time – e.g. a TV channel or newsroom, there is a certain skill in knowing how long to leave an urgent task after you are asked to do it, in case it changes again!
This is finely balanced, as you need to be reactive, but sometimes you can be too reactive and end up changing tack all the time. In these cases you learn to finish whatever you are doing before changing tack. If you are not in such an extreme environment, it is still worth assessing how fast to react to new “emergencies “!
This is the skill of time management!!
Advantages of using a prioritised list
It focuses your mind on important objectives, and you are able to concentrate on the task, not distracted by worrying about the other things on your list, because you are dealing with them in order of importance. This avoids that feeling of panic when you can’t think straight, make mistakes, and get nowhere fast.
You know you won’t forget to do tasks so you can “unclog “your brain, and order your thoughts. They are on the list. Relax, you will get to them in due time.
It helps show the bigger picture, puts things in context so you can allocate priorities
It saves time, because you are less likely to be distracted. Just add new things to your list and get to them in due course.
You can keep a record of tasks completed, you feel more in control, and that you have achieved something.
You will encounter problems and setbacks, but persevere and learn to take a positive attitude towards them.
Mistakes are how we learn, so assess what went wrong, why it went wrong, could you have prevented or mitigated it?
The most important thing is not who made the mistake but how can the problem be fixed? Or what is the best course of action now?
Why the mistake was made is more relevant – lack of training, insufficient information, poor judgement?
Damage limitation is always useful.
So take the time to think through the situation .Then learn the lesson, and move on. This is the most effective use of your time !
It has been said that if you have never made a mistake you haven’t pushed the boundaries far enough
Organising your time
First of all review your normal routine to identify areas of your life where you are wasting time or not being productive, and try to reduce these.
For example, do you continually have to shop for things you have run out of? Make a list as you identify low stock of anything, and collect those items next time you are at the shops, so that your trips are reduced, saving you time.
Log your activities for a week or so and you will soon see where the wasted time is.
Develop a regular routine. Keep your work space organised and tidy so that you can work efficiently.
Dedicate a planning time, at least once a week or even once a day depending on the type of work you are doing. You should have a daily list to focus you on today’s tasks, review the rest of the week, and allocate tasks to the coming days.
Plan work so that you meet deadlines in good time, so if there is a problem you don’t miss a deadline.
If you have a difficult task to complete, start by drafting out the plan first .When you next look at it, things will have begun to fall into place.
If other people are misusing your time you may need to be assertive with them. Politely explain you do not have the time to do whatever they ask because you are pushed for time.
Perhaps you can share some tasks with others, or even delegate them.
Usually people put things off because they don’t know where to start. Or maybe they are just lazy!! This is about self-discipline and focus. Using time management principles will in itself help you to avoid procrastination.
Or maybe you put off making decisions. Just gather the information you need, assess the facts and make a decision. Any decision is better than no decision.
Another tactic is to consider the worst thing that can happen, and plan what you would do in that situation. That will help clarify your thoughts.
A key principle of time management is to manage your own and others expectations. This reduces stress for you and others.
It is far better to say at the outset that you cannot deliver a project on the date it has been asked for without rescheduling other tasks, than to rush the project, and your other work, and not deliver your best work.
If a new deadline cannot be agreed at the outset at least you have made it clear that you will produce what you can in the time, but it may not be to the standard everyone would like.
You then have to deliver what you have at the agreed time, even if you know it is not your best work. If you don’t, then other projects will be harmed, and the issue of you having too much to do will not be dealt with.
By adopting the principles of time management you should have been able to identify ways in which you can manage your time more efficiently and effectively and have some techniques to allow you to do this.
Effective Time management is a learnt skill, and it takes a little time to fine tune and develop the judgement and skills necessary, but an organised approach will help you manage your time more effectively.