Time - it’s something that’s equal for every person on the planet. Some people seem to get more done with their time, while others never get through their to-do list, are stressed and are constantly late.
If you struggle to get through your to-do list, run around in circles, rarely get tasks done and, after a hard day’s work, still arrive home late, then I’m sure you’re familiar with the frustration this can cause. For many people, this frustration leads to overwhelming stress and the problems continue to get worse.
So how can you manage your time better? Well, here are 10 tips to help you do just that:
1. Focus your time
Focusing your time on the important things in your life rather than just the urgent things can help you spend your time wisely. There are always urgent things to get done – but are they truly important?
It can help to evaluate if what you must do is important as well as urgent, and then try to focus your time on the important tasks which are most urgent first. One way to do this is to use questions to evaluate each of the tasks on your to-do list. Simply go through each task and ask the 5 questions below and mark down the score:
- On a scale from 1-10 (1=least, 10=most) – How important is this task to me?
- On a scale from 1-10 (1=least, 10=most) – How important is this task for others?
- On a scale from 1-10 (1=least, 10=most) – How urgent is this task for me?
- On a scale from 1-10 (1=least, 10=most) – How urgent is this task for others?
- On a scale from 1-10 (1=no consequence, 10=severe) – What is the consequence of not completing this task?
Then add up the scores for each task. You may want to add other questions or just go with your gut instinct of the importance and urgency of the task but having some frame-work to evaluate your tasks will help you focus your time.
2. Prioritise your tasks
Greg McKeown tells us in his book Essentialism that the word ‘priority’ came into the English language in the 1400s and that this word was singular – it meant one thing – THE PRIORITY (the most important thing). It stayed singular for 500 years. In the 1900s, during the Industrial Revolution, it was pluralised and the concept of having multiple ‘priorities’ was born. I remember being in a meeting where one of the items on the agenda was to discuss the top 10 company priorities!
So, if you do have priorities, rank them in order of importance and urgency using the exercise from tip 1 and try focusing your time on the task which has the highest total score first and then move on to the task with the next highest score and so on.
3. One thing at a time
You may like to multi-task, but your brain doesn’t. We’ve all tried it: texting while walking, sending emails during meetings, jumping from one task to another. Today, doing just one thing at a time is often seen as slow. However, studies estimate that switching between tasks can cause a 40% loss in productivity. Multi-tasking can also cause you to introduce errors into whatever you’re working on, especially if one or more of your activities involves a lot of critical thinking. So, avoid multi-tasking and be more productive by doing (and finishing) one thing at a time!
4. Say ‘no’ more
In society, we get asked to do so many things by so many people. We can be inclined to immediately say ‘yes’ and commit to their requests, out of politeness or to be seen to be willing. However, when we say ‘yes’ to something, our to-do list just gets longer.
The key is realising that often we have the choice to say ‘no’. But how can we avoid saying ‘yes’ all the time? It comes down to evaluating the request before committing (remember tip 1).
It can be difficult to do this in a work environment, especially if your manager asks you to commit to a task. In this situation, if you have too many tasks to carry out, try giving the evaluation back to your manager and let them know that by committing to their request you will have to re-prioritise other tasks, one of which could be both important and urgent. Your manager may then realise that their request is not such a good idea or that it is OK for another task to be re-prioritised.
5. Do less
Do less? Yes! I’m talking specifically about social media. I’d like you to be mindful of how often you check your favourite social media platforms. It can be surprising how many hours a day we jump from one platform to another, often in the middle of doing something important and urgent! (remember tip 3).
I use an iPhone and each week it sends me a report on how often I use my phone and what apps I am using. It was an eye-opener once I realised how many hours I had been spending on social media! Since then I’ve tried to limit my time on social media. Try using social media two or three times a day and limit your time.
6. Schedule your week ahead and block your calendar
Reserving time slots in your calendar for the week ahead for the tasks you have prioritised on your to-do list will help ensure you have time to focus on the tasks. Also, reserving some free-time slots in your calendar to accommodate unexpected meeting requests or urgent issues can be a tremendous benefit. I know it is difficult when unexpected events happen but setting aside some free time slots provides you with some flexibility with your availability for the week. If you don’t use the free time, then you can decide which of your priority list items to complete. So, try to schedule your week ahead in this way at the beginning of each week – every week.
7. Remove distractions
Our smart phones and laptops are huge distractions – alerts can chime, pop-ups appear frequently, notifications buzz – so why not try adjusting the app settings in your phone or laptop so that you need to launch the app itself in order for you to receive updates? That, combined with tip 5, will reduce distractions.
However, sometimes the distraction is not technology – it’s another person. For example, you may have a chatty colleague who wants to tell you their life story every day! If this is causing you a problem, then try to work in a different area of the office (at least when you are working on an important task) or adjust your lunch break to a different time than your colleague.
In this step, we are trying to create an environment for you to focus your valuable time and energy.
8. Avoid perfection
I’ve struggled with this one myself; I’ve gone from one extreme to another when rather than not focusing enough time on a task, I’ve spent too much time on it. For example, creating a report where a ‘good enough’ level of quality would have been acceptable, I wasted time on trying to create a ‘perfect’ report. This is about balancing your skills and resources in the time you have.
If you are struggling to get a ‘good enough’ result for the task, re-evaluate the actual requirements you have been given and perhaps talk to your manager or a colleague to see if they can either give you the extra skills and resources you need or tell you ‘good enough’ is truly good enough.
Learning how to delegate is not just about maximising your own productivity – if you are in a management role then one of your responsibilities is to get the highest return on the company’s investment in its people by maximising the productivity of your team.
Your ability to delegate may depend on your circumstances and your role within the business; however, there are some key fundamentals when delegating a task to a colleague:
- Decide what work needs to be done and be clear about the exact result you want from the completion of the task.
- Decide who in your team is best qualified to complete the task successfully and agree the task and result with them.
- Set a deadline for the completion of the task and invite feedback and questions during the process of completing the task.
Delegating effectively can significantly boost your own productivity as well as manage your time much more effectively.
10. Keep a journal
Don’t just keep it, write in it daily – ideally first thing in the morning when you will decide what your vision for the day will be. By this I mean decide what type of day you WILL have, what important-urgent tasks you will work on and what challenges you will resolve. Writing in your journal daily can really help to manage your time more effectively as in the process of writing down your thoughts and what type of positive day you will have, you COMMIT these commands to memory and that will improve your focus through the day.
So, there we are, 10 tips to help you manage your time more effectively. You only have so many hours in the day, so make full use of that time that you have and decide intentionally and purposefully what you will do each day. In the end, it’s all about balance and learning that some days will go better than others, but having a framework to help you manage your time more effectively will help you avoid the feeling of being overwhelmed and out of control.
If you would like more help in this area, then CLICK HERE to learn more about my Time Management Coaching Programme.
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"Lack of direction, not lack of time, is the problem. We all have twenty-four hour days."