Have you ever wondered how it is that some people seem to have enough time to do everything that they want to, whereas others are always rushing from task to task, and never seem to finish anything?
It cannot just be that some people have less to do. It’s much more likely that they are using their time more effectively in other words, showing good time management skills.
Time management is the ability to use your time productively and effectively. You could also think of it as the art of having time to do everything you need, without feeling stressed about it. It sounds simple, but it is much harder in practice.
Time management skills are essential because few, if any, of us ever have enough time to do everything that is asked of us, or that we want to do.
Time management is defined as using your time productively and effectively — but what about when you are working as productively as possible and still cannot get everything done? It may be better to think about time management as the combination of working productively and prioritising your time.
In other words, people who are good at time management are good at getting on and doing things. They are also, however, better at prioritising and working out what really needs doing and then discarding the other things.
They can do this because they understand the difference between urgent and important.
‘Urgent’ tasks demand your immediate attention, but whether you actually give them that attention may or may not matter.
‘Important’ tasks matter, and not doing them may have serious consequences for you or others.
This distinction between urgent and important is the key to prioritising your time and your workload, whether at work at home or when studying.
“Concentrate all your thoughts upon the work in hand. The sun’s rays don’t burn until brought to a focus.”- Alexander Graham Bell
To get your head in your career, deliver your project successfully and to get a promotion or a pay rise you must learn to consistently focus on the activities that add the most benefit to your projects and your clients. The better you are at maintaining focus and managing your time, the more you will achieve and the easier it will be for you to get better results at work, but it also helps you withstand stress and live a more fulfilling life outside of work.
The following strategies will help you get the right things done in less time.
- Start your day with clear focus — The first work related activities of your day should be to determine what you want to achieve that day and what you absolutely must accomplish. Come clear on this purpose before you check your mails and start responding to the queries and resolving issues. Setting a clear focus for your day might require as little as five minutes, but can save your several hours of wasted time and effort.
- Have a dynamic task list — Capture the task and activities you must do on the list and update it regularly during the day. Revisit that list frequently and add new items as soon as they appear. Make sure your list gives you a quick overview of everything that is urgent and important and remember to include strategic and relationship building activities as well as operational tasks.
- Focus on high-value activities — Before you start something new, identify the activity that would have the most positive effects on your project, your team and your clients if you were to deal with it right now. Resist the temptation to clear smaller unimportant items first. Start with what is most important.
- Minimise interruptions — The more uninterrupted time you get during the day to work on important tasks, the more effective you will be. Identifying the activities then disrupt your work and find a solution. Basically, one of the most essential time management skills is to “not get distracted”. Once you have broken your flow, it can be difficult to re-establish it. Instead, discipline yourself to work onto single-mindedly until it is complete.
- Stop procrastinating — If you have difficulty staying focused or tend to procrastinate, you may benefit from creating an external commitment for yourself. For instance, schedule a meeting in two days time where you will be presenting your work and by which time your action will have to be completed. It is also very effective to complete the most unpleasant task early in the day and to allow yourself smaller rewards once you have completed them.
- Limit multitasking– Many of us multitask and believe we are effective when we do so but evidence suggest that we cannot effectively focus on more than one thing at a time. In order to stop multitasking, try these tips: plan your day in blocks and state specific time aside for meetings, returning calls and for doing detailed planning and analysing work at your desk. Whenever you find yourself multitasking, stop and sit quietly for a minute.
- Review your day — Spend 5 to 10 minutes reviewing your task list every day before you leave the office. Give yourself a pat on the back if you achieved what you wanted. If you think your day’s effort fell short, decide what you will do differently tomorrow in order to accomplish what you need to. Leave the office in high spirits determined to pick up the thread the next day.
Give these essential time management skills a concerted effort, and you will find your days and projects running much more smoothly.