Time management. We hear this phrase consistently in our professional careers, from applications and interviews to team project meetings. There are webinars and seminars and conference breakout sessions promising to improve your time management, but does it really require all that work?
Managing your time does require more than just deciding to work on one task over another. It’s about identifying the priority level of each task on your to-do list and organizing your days, weeks, and even months to accomplish everything you need to do well.
Improving your time management doesn’t require classes and talks and seminars, just a little insight and discipline.
The benefits of effective time management
There are many added benefits to effectively managing your time well, aside from the obvious goal of completing work tasks by the deadline and pleasing your boss.
Move further: More time to focus on growth areas at work instead of day-to-day tasks
Worry less: More things done means lower stress levels
Improved accuracy: Managing your time well means making fewer mistakes and the burden of redoing work
Climb higher: Possibilities for promotions and pay raises with more efficient work
6 time management strategies to remove the friction from your work life
1. Make your to-do list the day before
Just 10–12 minutes spent planning your day can save you hours of wasted and ineffective time throughout the workday.
We’ll start with a simple exercise.
Take time at the end of every day to create a to-do list for the following day that lists all the tasks you need to accomplish and an estimated amount of time to complete them.
At the end of the workday, when your mind is warm and exercised, it’s easier to see what needs to be done the next day—rather than waiting until 8:00 the next morning, when you’re more likely to forget that email you got at 4:30 the day before. (You'll also thank yourself on Monday morning when you come into work with your week already mapped out.)
With your day already mapped out, you can walk in and get right to work, and if the boss throws a curveball at you, you’ll be better prepared to flex and prioritize.
2. Identify the highest-value priorities
To prioritize your to-do list, choose the three to five things that must get done in order to call that day a success.
Stephen Covey’s Time Management Matrix differentiates between tasks that are ‘important’ and those that are ‘urgent’ and provides a tool to decide what should be at the top of the to-do list and what should be eliminated altogether.
3. Don’t multitask
When we have a great deal of responsibilities on our plate it may seem like multitasking is the best option to get everything done in time. Wrong.
According to research, 98 percent of people decrease productivity for tasks they try to complete at the same time. Picking out your most pressing tasks and completing them one at a time remains the best way to complete everything in a timely manner and yields the most efficient results.
The time-blocking method is a method that uses dedicated blocks of time for specific tasks.
4. Limit interruptions
It takes an average of 25 minutes to fully jump back into a task once you’ve been interrupted. Distractions throughout the day are inevitable, but there are steps to take to eliminate small disturbances:
Constantly checking emails creates one of the biggest distractions in the workplace. Turn of notifications and designate set times every day to check-in and address anything important instead of constantly hitting refresh.
When it’s time to focus, use headphones or go sit in a private or quiet area of the office to diffuse office chatter and to tune out distractions.
Turn off or silence your cell phone when you’re working on important projects to eliminate added stress from home responsibilities and to steer away from the temptation of social media or texting your friends about weekend plans.
5. Don’t overcommit
When you’re a go-getter and eager to prove yourself in your job, it’s hard to turn down tasks or pass them along to others. But remember that the more you take on, the less effective you will be with your responsibilities.
Not only should you be realistic with the number tasks you bite off for the day or week or even month, you should also be reasonable with what you commit to doing in the first place. If you feel like your list of responsibilities is growing unmanageable, have a conversation with your supervisor about what can be accomplished well given your task list and time limit. Most likely your boss will understand and find another employee or work with you to rearrange deadlines.
If the option is available, you can also delegate smaller tasks to colleagues or employees who report to you to help unburden yourself and manage your time better.
6. Make good use of down time
We all have down time between our major responsibilities: during commutes, at lunch, in the waiting room for an appointment, or the ten minutes between meetings. While these times can be great to just relax and give your brain a break, they can also be great for checking small, easy-to-do items off your to-do list.
You can plan your day or organize your calendar for the week. This time can also be used to accomplish personal goals such as learning a new skill or reading a few pages from that book you’ve been trying to finish for months. If you have a long commute, try audiobooks or podcasts to learn something new or develop a new skill.