Trying to become more effective time managers is something we all strive for, no matter which line of work we're in. Whether we're looking for more free time, opportunities for growth, or just the satisfaction of squeezing every second out of every hour, becoming more efficient is a worthy pursuit. But why is it that most of us can't quite get it right?
It all comes down to making the same mistakes on a consistent basis without even knowing we're doing anything wrong. We're willing to wager that you're making at least a few of the following – eradicate just a couple and you'll see an instant upswing in your results.
1. You're Missing a To-Do List
The key to getting things done is breaking down projects into small chunks you can tackle without exasperating at the task at hand. It not only helps you get things done step by step, but it also sets up reminders for what you'd otherwise forget. Whether it's an old school paper variety or a modern app, you should always have a to-do list, no matter what line of work you're in. You can eradicate all of the mistakes that follow, but if you don't add a to-do list to your arsenal you're on the fast lane to nowhere.
2. Not Using the Right Tools and Apps
Modern technology isn't there for you to take selfies, tweet about what you had for breakfast, or checking out your friend's latest baby pictures. Instead, it can make our lives much easier through the use of nifty tools and apps that slash our workload. By trying out just a few time management tools and apps you should see an improvement in your output almost immediately.
We recommend going for a project management tool (Asana, Basecamp) to manage the big picture, a to-do list to tick off individual items (Remember the Milk, Wunderlist), and a timer (Toggl, Pomodoro) to track how much time you spend on each.
Be careful, however. It's easy to overload yourself with an app for everything you do and you may find yourself updating these tools more often than you spend doing actual work. Try and limit it to just a handful that fit your purpose and forget about the rest for a while. You can always revisit new releases or get rid of unwanted applications later on.
3. You Leave the Tasks You Hate Till Last
We love putting things off, especially tasks we don't enjoy completing. Whether it's organising your files, making an important phone call, or answering your emails, you'll do anything to avoid doing that. But deep down you know it's just having an adverse effect on your performance.
Mornings are the best time to tackle those annoying tasks you just hate doing. Remember, you'll have to get through them at some point – why not get them out of the way first thing? You'll then have the rest of the day to let your creative juices do their magic and do what you actually enjoy doing.
4. Not Getting Enough Rest or Sleep
You're working all hours. You never take a lunch break. Spare time? You don't need it. Yet somehow, you can't get things done. If that sounds familiar, you're due a well-deserved break. Sometimes you need someone to tell you to step away from the keyboard and have a rest. If you're running low on sleep and high on caffeine, your mind and body won't be running on full capacity. You need to ensure you get the rest required to do a good day's work. Start winding down an hour or two before you're due your beauty sleep and ensure you get at least seven hours per night.
5. Lacking Consistency and Routine
Humans tend to work best when they have a consistent routine and a plan to follow. Showing up to the office without having some idea of what's to come is a recipe for an ineffective day and a sure write-off. You should always have some sort of routine, even on those flexible days where your tasks aren't set in stone. We're not saying you should plan every minute of your life, but try and build in some sort of pattern. For example:
Even if you work flexi-time, try and turn up at the office at roughly the same time every day.
Start things off by having a look at your planned to-do list. See which items need handling straight away and organize your plans accordingly.
Take regular breaks at pre-defined times.
6. You're Always Multitasking
Many people pride themselves on being able to take a phone call while working on a report at the same time. Switching between tasks at a moment's notice is something worth boasting about, right? Wrong. Multitasking may make you look busier and more stressed, but it's not making you more productive. In order to be truly effective, particularly when it comes to complex projects, you need to be 100% focused on what you're doing.
Giving bits of attention to items on your to-do list will only leave you with subpar work and a long day. If your multitasking has become deeply engrained in your average routine, start small. Set a timer for half an hour and don't stop working on a single item till the bell goes off. Try and do this for a week and compare notes with your previous self – we can almost guarantee that your newfound tactic will be more effective.
7. Not Showing Distractions the Door
If you're working 12-hour days and not getting anything done, you're probably letting distractions seep into your routine. Efficient time management requires utmost focus and attention – distractions such as phone calls, checking your favourite website, or catching up with friends on Google Hangouts takes up a lot of time.
If you suspect that distractions are taking over, try using an application such as TimeStats. It'll give you exactly how much time you're spending on websites that should be left for your free time. The results may bring a dosage of shame alongside them. Don't forget to shut down your smartphone, allowing only the important calls to come in. Set up an auto-responder on your email account to let customers know you won't be back till later. It's time to put your head down and focus.
8. Lacking Discipline to Finish What You've Started
When you set yourself a task, make sure you stick with it till completion. Most of us are happy making ridiculously detailed plans, only to fail at the first hurdle. If this sounds a little too much like you, you need to work on your discipline. Don't worry – it's normal to keep struggling with procrastination and not performing at 100% capacity each and every minute of the day. However, you need to keep making progress. Try small jobs first and build up to larger tasks. But once you make a deal with yourself, don't break it.
9. Not Focusing on the Big Picture
Finally, these tips aren't worth anything if you're not focusing on the big picture. What are your long-term goals? Why is efficient time management so important to what you're trying to achieve? Setting goals that you can strive for over time will make it much easier to focus on tasks that seem insignificant. When you know that every little step helps you achieve your big goal, you'll no longer trivialise the small stuff.
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