Personal and work time management can be a real struggle if you don’t know where to start. Without effective time management strategies, it is all too easy to get lost in a blur of work and home life.
Personally, I spent years unwittingly fighting against myself. When I first pushed into the real adult world, there hadn’t really been any classes available to me on how manage my time effectively. Honestly, I was just winging it and trying to learn from my mistakes along the way. Fortunately, over the years I have had the opportunity to work with some really amazing people, and I even eventually listened to some of their advice. Growing and learning are still something that I am actively participating in, and I wanted to take the time to share some of the most effective time management strategies I’ve come across. To help those who are struggling to get a solid grip on time management, and may not know where to start, I’ve put together this guide.
Time is a non-renewable resource. This is something that I really want you to take away from reading this. We are only able to pack a certain amount of good work into a given amount of time. If you are like most people, you begin to get overloaded and feel bogged down with work and life. Often, the workload can be shifted to allow you more time to complete your tasks in a more effective and efficient way. When you feel overloaded, it’s very important that you speak up! Instead of getting stressed out, improve your career by meeting all your personal and career goals in a manageable way. Don’t forget that although your career and job are very important, there will always be jobs and projects. You also need to schedule time with family and friends, and for self-care to stay balanced and happy in life.
So that all sounded great, right? You’re probably already familiar with the concept that you could do those things better, and that you need to have a good work/life balance to keep your sanity in check. However, without the right tools, achieving that can seem like an impossible dream. Effective time management is about setting a plan ahead of time, and sticking to it to maximize the work achieved, and the quality of it. This requires discipline and often delegating, automating, or putting aside non-essential tasks.
1) Make a list:
The first, and arguably one of the most effective time management strategies (that pretty much everyone should use), is to write a list of all the things you have to do, or carry out on a regular basis. Plan your day, week, month or your allotted project time, and make it count by making a list of the tasks you need to achieve in each given time period. Working on a shorter space of time, such as the day ahead is more effective. Using this strategy, you will be able to focus more clearly on the task at hand, instead of stressing yourself out about what will be left undone.
If you sit down and write your plan down in the morning, or the night before for around 10 minutes, you can then ensure you meet your goals for the day. If you use project management or time management software, it allows you to make your lists digitally and incorporate them easily into the rest of your overall time managing strategy.
2) Set and prioritize your goals:
Set yourself clear, concise goals for both the immediate future, and the long term. You need to factor in what you want to achieve over the short and long haul, and incorporate these into your daily lists. This ensures you accomplish the short-term goals and work towards the longer goals as well. Having clear goals in place is truly the cornerstone of all effective time management strategies.
Weed out the non-essentials. Ask yourself: “What are the most important items I want to achieve on my list for today?” Highlight these tasks on your list to ensure you accomplish the tasks that are absolutely necessary. This helps you focus on your main priorities.
Smaller, or less meaningful tasks can be set aside for slow days, or if you have more time available after meeting your most important goals. Some tasks can be delegated, some should be automated, and others you might realize are not even required. A great tool for determining priorities, and deciding what to focus on is the Eisenhower Matrix. The Eisenhower matrix is a method used to sort tasks and goals into Urgent Important, Not Urgent Important, Urgent Not Important, and Not Urgent Not Important. Once you have followed the process, it becomes easy to see what you should be focusing your time on, and what distractions and interruptions are getting in your way.
“If you want to live a happy life, tie it to a goal, not to people or things.”
3) Schedule your tasks:
Using a calendar or day planner has long been considered the most effective way, but any chart that allows you to assign specific periods of time for each task will work as well. There are many tools readily available such as Trello, Google Calendar, Remember the Milk, JIRA and many more. I personally use a combination of Jira and Google Calendar to manage and schedule my tasks quickly. Having the ability to quickly create issues, assign them, estimate the time it will take to complete them, and give them a high to low priority flag makes it possible for me to effectively manage my time, and the time of my team.
Make sure you allow for breaks, interruptions and small emergencies to give you enough time to meet your essential goals for the day. If possible, start with your most important task and work down to the least important tasks. In this way, much of the stress is relieved as your urgent / important goals are reached early, and you can continue to the next task with minimal time being wasted. Planning to do just a little more than you think you can finish in a day is okay if you do your tasks that way, if you remember to carry over what you couldn’t finish into the next.
4) Just get on with it:
Procrastination is a major time waster. It is so easy to get carried away doing other things! Having an effective work day is in large part like keeping a tight budget. Many times, you will find yourself at the end of the day with nothing finished if you don’t have a set goal in mind. If you tell each hour what to do, it won’t slip away from you so easily.
To accomplish tasks means that you must make the lists and get the ball rolling. Unless something happens that truly causes the task to become impossible to complete, (which at that point, means you schedule it for another time as soon as possible,) you just stick with your list, and there is nothing to stop you from achieving your goals. Usually the tasks that nag at the back of our minds don’t take that long to finish. Typically, we just don’t want to deal with them (you know, like paying bills, or fixing the fence), but they go by in a snap once we get around to starting them. My best advice is to dig your heels in, grit your teeth and knock it out. Even if you fail, I guarantee you will feel better for have trying than if you sat around and did nothing.
“Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today.”
5) Manage distractions:
Calls, visitors, emails and other interruptions during your work day can rob you of valuable time. Often, the time spent answering the calls, dealing with unimportant emails or attending to unscheduled visitors can result in several important goals for the day not being achieved. To help keep yourself from getting carried away, set your phone to voicemail, and only keep your email and social media checking to a few minutes at a time, and block off specific times for it on your schedule.
Ensure visitors are by appointment only. To avoid disruptions during the day, this might mean that coworkers or other people you normally deal with will need to be made aware of your time management practices. Post your schedule. This also assures people that you will respond, albeit in a specific time frame every day. If a lot of your work centers around email, perhaps schedule a morning, lunch and late afternoon email check into your schedule for the day. This allows you to add important items into your list for the day in the morning, or for the next day if received late afternoon. The less you are distracted by calls, messages and emails, the more work you can get done uninterrupted.
6) Time your tasks:
If you are unsure how long a task would take to complete, time the task when you do it. This will really help you have a realistic time frame for the task in your schedule. There are several project management and time management tools like Time Doctor that can assist you with measuring the time per task accurately.
A great strategy I’ve used to better understand how long things were taking me, and what I was really doing with my time, was to keep an accurate calendar. adjust the start and stop times of events I had planned to match how long it really took me as soon as I completed them.
This will give you a reasonable idea of the time needed for when you next need to do the same or a similar task. Your own personal mindset and energy level is also something you need to assess for achieving the most out of any time period. Note when your energy levels are highest and your mind set is at its most positive. Use those time periods in future for the creative tasks or those that require the most focus.
7) Take a break:
Though it may seem counter intuitive, the absolute best way to get something done faster or better is to stop working on it every once in a while. We are human. Living, breathing creatures, and our brains need a little breather from time to time! To improve your productivity, you need to take a break from your tasks at regular intervals during the day.
A highly recommended and effective technique is to take a 5-minute break every half hour. Get up from your desk, stretch, walk around, play with your dog if you work from home. Allow yourself to re-focus and you will see that it really improves efficiency. You should also take a decent break for every 4 hours worked. (Coffee or tea anyone?) Taking a break actually improves your progress, as you feel refreshed and energized when you get back to focusing on the tasks.
Some studies have shown that individuals who are able to take a 30 minute power nap or even a 6 minute “Micro-nap” (See the research at Harvard Health http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/sleep-helps-learning-memory-201202154265) tend to solve problems more quickly, perform better in memory tasks, and have better overall mental and physical health.
I know it can be really difficult to walk away from a problem that is driving you crazy, but sometimes that is exactly what you must do. Rest for a little while, and come back with fresh eyes. Sometimes it means postponing the task and switching to work on something less stressful for a while, it can have a hugely positive impact.
8) Tools and Automation/Delegation:
Planning tools and automation/delegation are the support structure that will eventually allow you to scale your productivity beyond your own limitations. Reduce inefficiency by having a way to quickly log tasks and problems as needed. Having a good digital and physical filing system for easy document retrieval is crucial as well. Other storage systems that are organized and easily accessible can save hours that would have been spent searching for items or information. Most companies are moving to paperless solutions now, and documents can be stored digitally and backed up. Note taking software, and ticket tracking software are also a huge help.
Ultimately, once you have de-cluttered your task load, you may find that there are tasks that take a great deal of time, but always seem to follow the same patterns. Tasks like these are common, and often important to ensuring the quality of work that you can produce. If you have tasks like these, it may be a good idea to consider having custom process automation software developed for your problem.
Process automation software makes it easier to perform complex tasks that require documentation or data entry, and often make it possible to delegate tasks more easily.
Often there are tasks that are better done by others, or can be passed to an assistant to complete. Make sure you delegate where necessary to allow you to focus on the tasks you need to accomplish. Some project management software like JIRA/Trello can help you manage a team and large task loads more easily as well. Automate tasks where possible to decrease time spent on repetitive tasks.
Summary of Effective Time Management Strategies:
Effective use of technology can be an excellent way to put most of the above into practice, easily and effectively. Synchronizing calendars and appointments, automating your time-consuming processes with custom software, delegating tasks, and easy access to documents, emails and other important information are all ways you can take back time you will otherwise lose. Simpler and faster also means less stress and less time wasted.
I hope these 8 effective time management strategies help you to reach your goals. I know they have helped me over the years to achieve more than I could have otherwise. Many of these lessons I learned by trial and error, which is why I decided to write this list so that you could be that much further ahead than I was when I started out.
And of course, if you ever need help managing your project, or developing an automated solution for your process problems, my team is here to help anytime! Don’t forget to schedule your free consultation if you need our help.