Time management is a skill that's not only honed through practice (and making plenty of mistakes along the way), but also about ensuring you try strategies that have proven themselves successful with others. The following tips can help give you a head start towards achieving productivity you otherwise thought impossible.
Start By Planning Your Day
If you're the type of person who's always struggled to get things done, then planning is probably not part of your daily routine. And when you do try to turn things around, you're always tempted to start your day off by sinking your teeth into a task right from the get go. Sorry to break it to you, but that's exactly where you're getting it wrong.
Planning your daily tasks at the beginning of the day is the most efficient way of starting work. It means you get a clear idea of where your priorities lie, how you're going to tackle each problem, and where you might need help from someone else. Skipping the planning stage just translates to a stressed worker wondering why projects are never finished on time.
Set and Meet Deadlines
Time management includes not only ensuring you stay focused and away from distractions, but it's also about meeting your project goals. That's why setting clear deadlines is of utmost importance. Just make sure they're achievable and don't overstretch your resources when it's not necessary.
And also remember that efficient time management doesn't have much room for the constant movement of goal posts. If you've set yourself a target deadline, you must meet it unless the circumstances call for an alternative course of action. Do you find yourself constantly having to shift deadlines? Then it's time to regroup and see where you've gone wrong with your project estimates.
Prioritise Your To-Do List
Not every task is created equal and you should always prioritise your ‘must do' list before starting work. Jot down the items that can't be left for tomorrow and get these out of the way first. Don't deal with small items such as replying to unimportant emails or going through your filing system. While you'll ‘feel' busy, you're actually putting off the real work.
Say No (Even If It's Your Boss)
Whether you're a company director dealing with clients or an employee who has a manager to answer to, we mostly find it difficult to say ‘no'. Even if the expectations are unrealistic. Agreeing to something that you just won't be able to complete or will deliver a subpar result is far worse than rejecting the job right from the start.
Bosses don't always know the ins and outs of your responsibilities and workload. Clients would rather get the truth than broken promises. If you know you won't be able to deliver a high quality project, be firm and say you won't be able to do it.
Even if you're not a manager of someone else directly, it doesn't mean you can't delegate tasks that are best suited to others. We're not saying you should try and dump your workload on someone else but if you need a helping hand, don't be afraid to ask for it.
If you find yourself struggling to get everything done and there's no one else with free time to help you out, consider outsourcing tasks or talking to your manager about how to solve the situation. You may be able to hire part-time or temporary help. Don't see this as a failing on your part, but rather helping the company find appointments where necessary.
Conversations and Email Also Count!
We often get to the end of the working day and wonder where the time has gone. You've been running around like a headless chicken trying to get things done, but hardly anything has been ticked off your to-do list. What gives?
The reason most of us can't quite grasp why so little seems to be achieved is the fact that we don't take the most time-consuming activities into account. If you were to add up how much time we spend chatting, in meetings, and responding to emails, you'd realise just how much time goes into activities that have nothing to do with completing a specific project.
In the future, plan and schedule these activities just as you would any other job. Unless the email is urgent, leave it till your pre-assigned time slot. Meetings should be kept to a strict timeline. And while a bit of office banter is not a bad thing, don't let it take over your day.
Have Some ‘Thought Time'
People often think that thinking is a waste of time and that it just gets in the way of actually getting things done. But sometimes you need a little bit of time to take a step back and get an overview of how things are going. You don't need to do it alone, either.
Get a group together every once in a while just to have a brainstorming session. Exchange ideas, get an update of where everyone is, and ensure everyone is happy with how things are moving. Getting a clear head can get the group new ideas, give a much-deserved timeout from daily tasks, and is just good practice for office morale.
Take Interruptions into Account
While your daily work plan should be meticulously planned, it doesn't mean that interruptions can be avoided. No matter how many precautions you take, you'll always have someone knocking on your door, calling you at an inopportune moment, or you can simply have an ‘off moment' where you procrastinate without meaning to.
Don't fret too much, just take those interruptions into account when doing your time management planning. If your day starts to suffer by too many distractions and interruptions, revisit your work environment and activities to see where you can minimise them. But never think you'll be able to completely eradicate them.
Reward Your Achievements
Us humans are simple creatures. Rewards form a great incentive for getting things done, even if you're the one handing out the goodies. For every task (or group of tasks), give yourself an appropriate reward. It doesn't have to be anything major; as long as you can see a light at the end of the tunnel your focus will be kept laser-sharp.
And don't forget that it works both ways. If you can't stick to the plan you've given yourself, don't end your day with a glass of wine or a relaxing visit to the spa. Instead, go back to the drawing board and see where you can make improvements. Be strict with yourself!
Use Tools and Applications
Technology is there to support your efforts, so make sure you use it. Whether you're working on a laptop, tablet, or even your smartphone, there is a plethora of options out there to make things just that little bit easier.
For example, an app such as Evernote is great for keeping track of your notes and plans. Toggl helps you get a grasp of where your time goes, while Any.Do ensures you keep an active to-do list that you can work off. Use these tools to your advantage, but don't let them take over.
Have Regular Breaks
It may seem a little counterintuitive to the idea of getting things done, but it's important that you give yourself regular breaks. If you struggle with focus, try the Pomodoro Technique, which gives you a break every 25 minutes of solid work. This helps you avoid procrastinating during active periods.
When you've done a nice chunk of work, don't forget to take a decent lunch break to split your day. Go somewhere that's away from all that work – a change of scenery can do wonders when it comes to replenishing your batteries. If you can, go outside and enjoy some fresh air. Exercise may also be a good idea if you can squeeze it in!
Strict ‘Do Not Disturb' Sessions
Some tasks require 100% focus and anything less will have you starting from scratch every time you're interrupted. For those types of jobs, you need to ensure you're kept away from all possible distractions. Turn off your email, tell your colleagues you're unavailable, and don't pick up your phone.
Give important tasks that require all of your brainpower the attention they deserve. Doing this will help get you through them more quickly and you'll also achieve superior results. Let others know why you're working this way; otherwise you'll get the reputation of being the office grouch!
Block Distracting Websites and Apps
When 9 a.m. hits, the fun's over. It's time to get down to business. Unfortunately, being constantly connected to a range of distractions makes it difficult to keep focus on the task at hand. That's why you need to pre-empt your procrastinating self by blocking all forms of distractions before you're tempted to turn to them.
Put away your personal smartphone the minute you hit the office. Set your ringer to go off for important calls only. Your web browser should be kept for business use only – sites such as Facebook and Twitter should be blocked with third-party applications (a quick Google search will give you plenty of options). If you're not strong enough to stay away, don't be ashamed to get a helping hand.
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