Time Management – 10 Top Tips to Get You in Control
Do you manage your time well? Many of us, if we’re completely honest, don’t do very well at this. We often find ourselves feeling overwhelmed or overloaded, staying late at work or taking work home with us just to try to keep up.
Time is our most precious resource – it is a finite thing. What time we have used we cannot get back. Time management is the key to management overall, get a grip on your time and you will find you manage tasks, people and situations much better.
Here are ten key ways you can get your time under control today:
- Keep a To-Do List
When used well, to-do lists can help you remember what you’ve got to do and help you decide how much time you need to do each task. On your list, prioritise tasks in terms of how necessary they are. Rank them from 1-3, with 1 being essential to business, 2 being important and 3 being nice to do but can wait. If you have large tasks on your list, such as ‘write monthly report’, make sure you break them down into small, manageable chunks.
- Set Personal Goals
You need goals and a vision of where you’d like to be, otherwise you won’t use your time and other resources effectively. Try to imagine where you would like to be in 6 months, 1 year, 5 years and 10 years then start planning how to get there. One of the best goal setting strategies is the SMART method. This stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-constrained. Make your personal goals your priority.
It can be hard to learn how to prioritise your work. This is especially the case if you work in a busy environment where there are lots of things happening – things just ‘crop up’ to distract you from what you are doing. One way to manage prioritisation is to draw up an urgent/important matrix. This will help you to decide what really needs doing straight away and what is just something that is demanding to be done. It will help you avoid staying in ‘fire fighting’ mode when everything seems urgent when it is not.
- Manage Distractions
Many things can crop up throughout the day to distract you from your important work – emails, colleagues stopping by for a chat, your mobile phone going off at your desk for example. Learn to manage your distractions and you could save up to two hours a day on average that you could put to better use. Consider checking your emails only at certain times of day; try telling colleagues when they are distracting you, keep your phone locked away in a drawer and switch it off while you are busy. You don’t have to be just subject to circumstance, take control.
- Avoid Procrastination
If you’re putting off tasks that you really ought to be doing now, you are procrastinating. There are many reasons why people procrastinate. One key reason is that we look at the task, think it’s a lot of work and put it off till later. Manage this by telling yourself that you’ll start on the task now and just do ten minutes. After the ten minutes is up, see if you can manage another ten. Or, say, break off for a few minutes and come back to it. It comes back to the familiar principle of breaking down tasks into manageable chunks.
- Don’t Take on Too Much
Many of us find it hard to say “no” to people. We all want to be considered agreeable to work with, so we tend to say “yes” when we’re asked to do things. Doing this too often can lead to stress, tiredness, poor morale and poor performance. Learn to say “no” to taking on the task whilst saying “yes” to the person. It is a subtle art, but worth considering.
For example, a colleague may ask you to do their (large) pile of photocopying for them because, well, you’re already at the copier and it won’t take you that long. Learn to affirm that person whilst declining to do their work. In this instance, maybe you could say, “Thanks Robert, you’re a great guy to work with but I really need to get my own work done before I take on anybody else’s.” This way, you’re not being negative; you’re just practising self-discipline and prioritising the work you already have. This doesn’t mean you can’t ‘muck-in’ in a crisis. It means people will learn to respect your boundaries and think more seriously before they ask you to do too much.
- Learn not to be so ‘Busy’
Being busy can be quite seductive. People can get hooked on the buzz of working close to deadlines, letting queries pile up, having lots of paperwork on their desk. Unfortunately, this doesn’t make you more effective. On the contrary, it can lead to inefficiency and stress for you and those around you. Learn to manage your time well instead: pace yourself, don’t rush at everything, keep things at a manageable level. You will find work more enjoyable if you feel you are on top of things rather than things being on top of you.
- Avoid Multitasking
Multitasking has been in and out of vogue in the world of work. There have been times when we have been proud to boast that we can multi-task. The truth is, it can take 20-40% longer to complete your work if you do things this way. You need to concentrate on maintaining your priorities and completing your list of tasks one at a time. It’s better for your stress levels, too.
- Take Regular Breaks
Everybody’s brain needs down time. Even when we have deadlines, it’s important to take regular breaks. This gives us time to refresh our minds and come back to our tasks with greater creativity and focus. If you find it hard to take breaks, set a timer on your computer to tell you when to have 10 minutes away from your desk. This isn’t wasted time. You can use it to get a hot drink, have a short walk or go to a quiet space and reflect or meditate. Do what works for you in your breaks and you’ll come back to your tasks with renewed enthusiasm.
- Schedule Tasks Effectively
We all have rhythms we work to. Some of us are ‘morning people’ and have the most energy to give to our work in the hours from 9-12am. If this is you, learn to prioritise more demanding tasks for the morning, when you are at your peak. You can schedule less demanding tasks like answering emails and phone calls for the afternoon when your energy is lower. Get to know yourself and when you are at your best and adjust your patterns accordingly.
I hope you’ve found at least some of these tips encouraging. Make sure you get on and apply them soon – don’t hesitate and don’t procrastinate. Use your time well and you’ll find your work more enjoyable. You’ll also find it easier to achieve a healthier work/life balance when you are in control.
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