Time management is the act or process of planning and exercising conscious control over the amount of time spent on specific activities, especially to increase effectiveness, efficiency or productivity. It is a meta-activity with the goal to maximize the overall benefit of a set of other activities within the boundary condition of a limited amount of time.
There are only so many hours in a day or week so it is critically important that you maximise the use of that time and in a way that is effective as opposed to being engaged in activity that simply makes you look busy without actually ever getting anything done. Most effective time-management practices are just common sense.
- The ‘To Do’ list*.
I am a great believer of the ‘To Do’ list as it helps to quantify what needs to get done and it also helps you to prioritise the relevance and importance of tasks.
- Review your workload on a regular basis
i.e. every day or even several times a day. Is there one task that always ends up at the bottom of the pile? If you find that you’re avoiding it, can someone else do it? Consider delegating whole projects that you don’t need to be involved in or allocate a specific time of the day when you only do your admin work — e.g. between 08.30 and 10.00 for example.
- Remember the Pareto Principle
— i.e. 80 per cent of your work contributes to less than 20 per cent of its value. Focus on the most crucial/important 20 per cent of your workload and your overall performance will still be strong.
Do urgent and important tasks first — not the easy ones! Efficiency and effectiveness are not the same thing. Effective people focus on the important tasks.
- Create habits.
Try to undertake tasks at the same time and in the same location each day in order to form habits.
- Set realistic deadlines for your tasks.
Look at your ‘To Do’ list and estimate the amount of time needed to complete each task but don’t be over optimistic. Be realistic in what you can achieve in a given day or week so that you don’t feel overwhelmed right from the start.
- Allow time for interruptions.
If you’ve set yourself the goal of finishing a certain task by a certain time, only deal with urgent queries during that particular time frame.
- Structure your workload.
Avoid the habit of commencing a task; doing a bit and then putting it back on the ‘pile’. Deal with tasks one at a time and finish each before moving on to the next.
- Don’t let your Outlook ‘inbox’ dictate your workload.
If you receive 100 emails per day then this equates to 100 potential interruptions per day! Don’t check your inbox every time an email arrives. Switch off ‘instant alerts’ and get into the habit of just checking your emails every couple of hours in order to avoid constant distractions.
- Keep multi-tasking to a minimum
Starting a number of jobs simultaneously means most of them won’t get your undivided attention. Think of multitasking as dealing with more than one task during the day and not at the same time. That way, you focus on the project in hand.
- Avoid procrastination.
The best time to do something is usually now. Taking action generates the impetus for further action. Organise your work to meet deadlines and reward yourself for achieving goals.
- Handle each piece of paper that crosses your desk only once:
File it; action it or bin it!
Advantages* of using a ‘To Do’ list:
- Focuses your mind on important objectives
- You are less likely to forget to undertake tasks
- Writing a list helps to organise your thoughts
- It helps to show the bigger picture
- You don’t need to hold everything in your head
- It saves time
- It helps you focus on priorities; the most important and the most urgent
- You are less likely to become side-tracked
- You enjoy the reward of ticking of completed tasks
- You feel more in control
- You have an instant record of what you’ve already done
- You always have something to work on