Wish you had more hours in the day? Always feel like you’re catching up, too much to do and too many priorities from other people? If so, then you’re no different from many employees globally who experience this frustration on a day to day basis. But realistically, do you have the power to do anything about it?
The ability to set goals, plan and prioritise your day and manage the expectations of others is a skill that ultimately will make you more effective, reduce your stress levels and give you a better work/life balance. But is this really possible when people are just so busy all the time?
The key to taking back control of your time is discipline – Discipline in making a choice that you are going to do something about it. It isn’t about planning every minute of every day, this will only frustrate you further as unexpected crises occur and you’re thrown off your plan yet again. The discipline lies in taking a step back, and making a conscious choice that you are going to take back control of your time.
Being creative to find and introduce different ways of prioritising your activity is a good place to start. If you need a starting point, see the ‘Pareto Principle’ (80:20 Rule), to assess what efforts and activities are most productive, and which are not.
There are a number of small yet effective changes that you can make to your day-to-day activity that once combined, will contribute significantly to your time and priority management. These include:
- Taking control of how you manage e-mails and phone calls. Don’t let them manage you – manage them. Try to check your messages at planned times, and try to avoid continuous notification of incoming emails. You may have to explain why you are doing this to people who communicate with you, but if phrased as a positive i.e. to enable you to prioritise and manage your time more efficiently, most people will see this as acceptable
- The use of modern technology such as smartphones and other online distractions can be major time stealers. Question the degree to which you are managing all this, rather than it be managing you
- Allocate time when you cannot be disturbed. This will enable you to get the really important pieces of work done. A suggestion for this is to have some visual representation at your desk that indicates that you are not available, for example, a flag on your desk signifies that you are not to be disturbed
- Challenge your own tendency to say ‘yes’ without scrutinising the request – start asking and probing what’s involved – find out what the real expectations and needs are
- To take a broader approach and properly assess how you currently spend your time, keep a time log for a week. You may be surprised at what you find!
- Before you go home, spend the final 15 minutes of every day planning for the next day.
- Use a diary, and an activity planner to schedule when to do things, and time-slots for things you know will need doing or responding to
- You must plan time slots for unplanned activities – you may not know exactly what you’ll need to do, but if you plan the time to do it, then other important things will not get pushed out of the way when the demand arises
- Handle each piece of paper only once.
- Avoid starting too many jobs at the same time. It’s usually not very efficient. Understand your capabilities to multi-task. Usually it is better to finish jobs before starting new ones. This is an easy decision to explain to others. “Ok, I’ll deal with this new job when I have finished the ones I am currently working on”
- Delegate as much as possible to others. If you have one, give 25% of your responsibility to your successor. You don’t need to be a manager to delegate. Just asking nicely is sometimes all that’s required to turn one of your difficult tasks into an easy one for somebody else better able to do it
- Always question deadlines to establish the true situation – people asking you to do things will often say ‘now’ when ‘later today’ or ‘tomorrow’ would be perfectly acceptable. Appeal to the other person’s own sense of time management: it’s impossible for anyone to do a good job without the opportunity to plan and prioritise
- Where appropriate negotiate deadlines and deliverables that are imposed on/expected of you
- Break big tasks down into stages and plan time-slots for them
Commitment is a major aspect of successful time management, so choose at least one of the above time management tips and commit to putting them into effect. You will make a commitment more likely to happen if you attach a timescale, some way to measure that it has actually been done, and its results, and also tell others of your commitment.