At the year draws to a close, we think about the past year and make resolutions about what we will do in the new year. Here’s one you might consider: better time management.
I work with clients to develop time management skills. Finding enough time in a day to do the things we would like to do in and outside our work, achieving that optimal work-life balance, is a challenge that many people face.
Some are naturally more inclined than others towards the orderly use of time. They prefer tightly set agendas, schedules, closure. Others prefer to live and work with more spontaneity, less restriction on the way they use their time. For all, time is limited, so that the ideal goal is to find the right balance. Anyone who works at it, no matter what their personal preference, can improve time management and productivity
Here are tips to help you improve time management. Try them out and pick the ones that work best for you.
- Get organized.
Organizing time involves two main facets, planning your work projects or leisure time activities, and prioritizing those tasks and activities. Some people like to prepare lists and others to use an organizer (hard copy) or online software, for example, the iCal application included on my Mac, which includes a “to do” list and facilitates planning a schedule by days, weeks, or months.
I am not a list-person and don’t use the iCal program, but you may find iCal or a similar program useful. I jot down important action items on my schedule book, and occasionally send myself an email as a reminder. I keep that “list” of priorities alive and running in my head. What works for me may not work for you. Experiment.
To prioritize doesn’t mean that you put off less important tasks forever. If you never give some time to the items at the bottom of your list, they’ll never get off the list. Dedicate time every day tackling those lower priority items.
For example, you may spend time early in the morning responding to routine emails. Not to answer them within a reasonable time creates a bad impression in the mind of the sender. On the other hand, responding to an email the minute you are alerted that an email comes in or snapping to attention whenever your cell phone rings is counter-productive. Strike the right balance.
Also, take major tasks and break them down into manageable chunks. Those big projects will become less daunting and more subject to effective time management.
- Don’t procrastinate.
It’s easy for anyone to procrastinate and to rationalize the reasons for postponing the tackling of an important task, never getting to those less important items on your list. Such procrastination causes stress, particularly as deadlines approach. The tension may cause an “adrenaline” surge of energy to propel you to action and compete your work on time, but usually procrastination is just a stress-builder, and stress can cause sickness, mental and physical.
If you tend to procrastinate getting started on an important task, try launching into the work for a time that you negotiate with yourself, even if just for a half hour. For example, commit to prepare an outline or make a few notes, rather than putting off the project until it becomes too late. You may find that once you finally get started the work proceeds smoothly and you extend the time you said you would spend.
- “Kill two birds with one stone.”
Multi-task. It’s among the most important strategies to achieve effective time management and boost your productivity.
This personal example illustrates multi-tasking to achieve improved work-life balance.
Physical exercise is a critical part of wellness, and I set a goal to work out 5 times a week. I also work a full day managing my company. I manage limited time by looking for ways to “kill two birds with one stone.” I treadmill while watching TV and instead of taking the bus to my gym I run there, giving me the aerobics I want. Great ideas have popped up when I am jogging.
Some tasks, though, merit your undivided attention and shouldn’t be multi-tasked. In your planning and prioritization, identify the work deserving your complete dedication.
- Eschew distractions.
Good time managers focus. They aren’t strayed from a priority by unproductive distractions. You needn’t turn into a zombie and neglect the basic amenities in an organization, the usual greetings, the polite behavior expected of a teammate. Just don’t fritter valuable time or find excuses to put off priorities.
If you try do everything yourself when you can “farm out” tasks to subordinates on your team, you are not managing your time effectively. Learning to delegate frees you up to concentrate on what’s most important and empower others. Learn to let go, sharing ownership. Keep a watchful eye and a helpful hand while entrusting ownership of part of a project to your teammates. It is a development step in your management.
- Learn to say “no.”
Learn to say “no” to unreasonable requests that chew up valuable time. Someone interrupts your work flow with a request that can be dealt with at a later time or makes a request that places an unreasonable burden on you. Say “no” politely yet firmly or negotiate meeting the request at a more suitable time. It’s nice to extend a helping hand to a colleague but not to the extent that you are continuously picking up the slack of others at the expense of your own priorities.
- Have guts.
Suppose it is the boss who makes an unreasonable request or assigns you useless or redundant work. We have all had bosses who assigned the same task to different people. You most always be diplomatic in these situations, but needn’t simply comply with the request because it comes from the boss. Negotiate extension on an unrealistic deadline or show how to cut redundant, unnecessary work. If the tasks are routine, ask yourself whether they can be mechanized or assigned to clerks in your organization. It’s not a matter of proving that you can do everything. It’s a matter of focusing on the work where you can add the most value. Offloading tasks to capable assistants can increase their motivation and take the pressure off you.
- Set realistic goals.
Set challenging targets for yourself but avoid setting unrealistic goals that stretch you too far. You will only wind up missing the goal, causing frustration.
- Don’t “bite off more than you can chew.”
If you get involved in too many activities and become overloaded you will break smooth time management and eventually drop the ball. You know yourself better than anyone. In managing your time, choose the activities you take on carefully, mindful of your priorities and your time limitations.
- Never make a promise you can’t keep.
This includes promises to others and promises to yourself. If you say you are going to do it, do it. If you aren’t sure, don’t commit. To make a promise you can’t keep disappoints the person you promised and leaves you stressed.
Things rarely go exactly as planned. Unforeseen contingencies occur despite the best of planning. Life events, never predictable with complete certainty, change the game plan. Adapt a flexible style so that you can adjust your strategy when circumstances warrant a change. Persistence is a virtue but refusal to change when circumstances patently justify it is stubbornness. Being flexible doesn’t mean wavering or changing your plan every other day. It entails the wisdom of knowing when the plan you timetabled is simply no longer realistic.
- Keep a journal.
Try keeping an electronic or hard copy learning journal of the approach you take to time management, jotting down a few notes of what works and what doesn’t, the challenges you faced, and how you dealt with them. You needn’t make this a rigid requirement that in itself becomes a needless drain on your time. Just let the journal record milestones that make you more mindful of time and record your progress.
- Chill out.
Once in a while, hang up the tight time management and just chill, particularly in leisure time. Be disciplined at work, relax outside of work, where the use of your time productively won’t be evaluated. Sure, plan, but occasionally throw the list to the wind and spend the day free from a rigidly defined schedule. This chill time can be the refreshing space you need to gear up for a faster, agenda-driven pace in your office.
I multi-tasked blogging this article, writing, listening to the sound track from Les Miserables, and sipping on a Starbucks holiday blend!
All the best,
Warren J. Devalier
©2014 Warren J. Devalier