So said Benjamin Franklin, a man who knew a lot about many things. Each second is a disposable commodity – once it’s gone, it’s gone. You can’t bank the time you don’t use for another day. It is the ultimate limited resource.
We all know that, of course, so why do we procrastinate? Psychologists will tell us it’s because of our self-control and motivation. These may be hampered by a lack of energy or urgency. Or they are overshadowed with negativity, such as worry or exhaustion. Often though, it’s just a case of needing to get organised.
There’s no doubt that most people’s lives have got busier over the last decade. The immediacy demanded in both our home and working lives adds a pressure that just wasn’t there before the advent of email and smartphones. And if you are a manager, executive, or work for yourself, time management can become an even greater challenge; you not only have to manage your own time but juggle that of your team members too. What’s more, the pressure never seems higher than in the lead up to Christmas.
If you can find a way to organise your tasks and use your time effectively, you will achieve more each day. This, in turn, can be better for your mental health and job satisfaction.
Here’s our tips to better time management:
Schedule your time
Whether you use an electronic or paper scheduler, if you allocate time to tasks, there is more chance you’ll get them done. Some people schedule weeks or even months ahead, but if this feels difficult, start with a simple todo list. We’d suggest you split this by work and personal. And each day, have an absolute maximum of ten things. Any tasks that are not completed get carried forward to the next day.
Break tasks down
If you are dealing with a large project, e.g. launching a new website, or renovating a house, you need to break down the overall task into smaller, achievable ones. So the first stage of launching a website might be to agree the objectives of the site. That’s one task. Spend some time at the start working out the individual stages and scheduling them over a realistic time scale. You should review regularly, to ensure you are on track.
Get your priorities right
Jobs may be urgent. Or they may be important. Sometimes they will be both. Learn how to differentiate and tackle the keys tasks first. If water is pouring through your ceiling, arranging a plumber is important and urgent! If you have a dripping tap, it’s important to sort out but not urgent enough to drop everything and resolve right now.
Plan in some distractions
Have you ever thought you’d have a quick look at Facebook and two hours later you’re still there? Everyone gets distracted – and actually, you need to be distracted to be productive. Regular breaks where you do something different help you to work better. But rather than flit about, schedule in breaks. Block out time to read a book, walk the dog, take a coffee break. And then you can return to the job in hand with renewed focus.
Setting deadlines is a great way to focus your mind on getting a job done. Even if it’s a personal task with no boss waiting for a result, give yourself a deadline, and it’s more likely to happen. If the deadline is unmovable, work backwards from it to schedule everything that needs to be done within the available time. Some people find that giving themselves a reward works well. This could be as simple as “if I get this blog written by 11 am I’ll have a cup of tea” to “once I’ve successfully launched the new website, I’ll take a week off.”
Take advantage of technology
There are so many tools and apps that can help you. At a basic level, there’s your calendar where you can set deadlines and reminders, through to ‘to do’ apps and more complex time logging and productivity tools. Remember, sometimes it’s the simple tools that are the most help. If you use an app that requires an hour’s worth of input before it’s any use, it might be rather self- defeating.
Learn the power of ‘no’
Many people just say ‘yes’ immediately to any request. Learning to say ‘no’ can be hard because, as humans, we don’t like to upset people. But there are ways of doing it without it causing offence. Always check your todo list before agreeing to take on extra work. If your boss lands an extra job on you, make sure you discuss the deadline. Saying you have urgent work to deal with but you could look at the new project next month may be perfectly acceptable. Or negotiate to postpone something else you’ve been asked to do, to accommodate the new request.
When you’re clear about what needs doing and have a plan for doing it, you’ll find you are increasingly focused and achieve more in less time. It does take practice but the more you manage your time, the easier it becomes.
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