A couple weeks ago, I wrote about how to strike a good work-life balance, and a major part of that is effective time management. It’s important to understand that we can never manage time—there will always be 24 hours each day for you to accomplish everything you need to do. The real management technique comes from how you use those hours available to you. Different methods work for different people, but here are some of my favorite time management techniques:
- Spend a week writing down everything that you do to get an accurate depiction of how you are currently allocating your time.
- Figure out the most important (and least important) things that you need to do. Anything that makes the most important list should be given a time block. Use your phone, an appointment book, a calendar, a sheet of paper, or whatever works for you. USGS put out an awesome grid to help with this.
- Take time each morning to plan your day, and don’t start working on something until you complete your daily plan. If this isn’t feasible for your mornings, do it right before you go to bed each night so that you know what to be prepared for once you wake up.
- As new tasks come in throughout the day, place them on a separate list or in a separate folder. Other than those things that need urgent attention, block off a time at the end of each day to go through these new tasks. Often, these might be simple email responses or returning a phone call. But if you let them continuously interrupt your day (even though they only take a few minutes) you’ll find you haven’t accomplished everything that you needed to get done.
- You’ll never be able to get rid of your interruptions them, but you can control how much time you dedicate to them. You can plan them into your schedule by adding extra time to the front or back end of each of your tasks or you can set “office hours” on your calendar to let your colleagues know when you’re available to talk (and thus encouraging them not to keep dropping in).
- Consider a “do not disturb” sign.
- Don’t multitask. When you focus on completing the activity in front of you, you’ll get more done.
- Turn off audible and visual alerts like the ones tied to your email and your phone ringer (if you can). Just because the phone is ringing or a new email came in doesn’t mean you have to lose focus and respond immediately (unless, of course, it’s vital). Getting back on track after stopping for one of these distractions takes time.
- Say no to projects and activities (when it won’t cost you your job, that is) that you know you don’t have time for. If you feel like you need to accept a project from boss, be honest about your current schedule and set a deadline that is reasonable.
- Even if you have 30 minutes, get something done. Don’t waste 30 minutes because you feel like it’s too short a time to be productive.
- If you’re someone who has access to and spends too much time on Facebook, Reddit, Twitter, or even your personal email, consider using a site blocker. This website has a list of tools that will temporarily deactivate your access to whatever websites you use to procrastinate.
- Give each task a time limit. This does two things: It prevents each task from taking up too much of your time and it also will help you work on tasks that you dread. Get a timer if you need one (or use one online).
- Give yourself deadlines even for open-ended projects. This forces you to allocate time toward each project that is important to you.
- Quit being a perfectionist. You will never be able to finish everything exactly how you want to, and fretting over minor details is a huge time waster.
- Delegate when possible.
- Complete related tasks together to help yourself get into a rhythm.
- Stop checking your email so often and ignore it completely when you’re really pressed for time.
- If you find that you’re procrastinating, figure out why and then develop a method to overcome that issue.
- Take brief workday breaks and longer vacation breaks. There is a litany of research that shows that we all need mental breaks to improve productivity (and reduce stress).
- Figure out who and what drains your time unnecessarily. Limit these items as much as possible.
- Factor in extra time for each project. Things generally take longer than we think they will.
- Take the time before embarking on a new task or project to fully understand what you are supposed to do, how you intend to do it, and what you expect to get out of it. This will help you stay focused on the outcome.
- Create a better physical work environment. This might sound like something else that is going to consume your time, but if you can take a few moments to ensure that your workspace makes you productive (i.e. distractions are removed, the tools you use most often are easily accessible, etc.) you’ll benefit in the long run.
- Follow the 80/20 rule. This is the argument that 80% of our results come from 20% of our effort, and vice versa. That said, if you find that you’re spending 80% of your time and getting very little return, do what you can to eliminate that activity or find a better way to get to your end product.
- Find a motivational trigger. We all have tasks that we work on slowly because they are boring or we aren’t motivated to complete them. So instead, look for a motivating factor in everything you do (even if it’s just getting a coffee after you finish the last few pages of your report).
- Discipline yourself to stick to your scheduled tasks, and hold yourself accountable for your productivity.
What are your best tips for time management?
Nice article. Something I do with on going projects (like scanning) is to set a time for 15 or 30 minutes each day to work on an ongoing item. Progress gets made a little at a time this way. I have found that even if I set aside 30 minutes once a week, it helps.
#14 can be better said as “Avoid the endless pursuit of needless perfection.” As a perfectionist, I’ve followed that mantra for my entire career … know what level of perfection is required to do the job to the best of your ability and what is just fluff. That will help you draw the line and still ensure work is of high-quality. Don’t let time management become an excuse for sub-par work.
I keep a pencil and sheet of paper at my bedside. If I wake up with a thought, I jot it down. Because I am able to get it out of my head, I am able to fall back to sleep. I find that I wake up less and less because of this practice.