Time management is a very hot topic these days. With our many roles and responsibilities, our to-do lists get longer and our days seem shorter.
If you run a search for “time management tips” on Google, you’ll find approximately 425,000 results. That’s a lot of tips. Some of them are useful, but some of them can use a little twist.
Here you have 5 common, but not very useful tips to manage your time at work, and what to do instead, to really get things done and be more productive:
- Common time management tip #1: “Plan your day first thing in the morning”
Instead: Start your workday the day before
Most articles about time management and productivity emphasize on how important it is to plan your day before you start working. This is a good idea, but it’s even better if you plan it the day before. Most of us are extremely productive early in the morning.
Instead of using those productive hours to plan your day, use that time to complete your most important tasks, and you’ll have a feeling of accomplishment for the rest of the day. This will also help you create momentum that will keep you going with less effort.
Take the last half hour of your shift and make a list of the 3 to 5 things that you must complete the next day. These are your non-negotiables, those things that you have to get done no matter what. Then, when you start working the next day, you’ll have your plan in front of you. After you have set your “top 3” for the next day, take any extra time to send a few more emails, schedule that meeting, file paperwork, or straighten your desk.
Take action: Analyze your tasks for the next day, and see if you can get ahead by requesting any information you need, asking for approvals, or clarifying any doubts you might have about them.
- Common time management tip #2: “Use every possible chunk of time to complete your tasks”
Instead: Prioritize your tasks and complete the most important first
Another common time management tip is to take advantage of any small window of time you have during the day to complete random tasks in your to-do list. But, if you start doing things without some sort of order, it’s easier to avoid your most dreaded task, without even noticing. Maybe it’s the most difficult, or the one that will eat up most of your time, so you keep ignoring it until it’s too late.
Instead, organize your to-do’s according to their priority. That way, you’ll make sure to complete the most important, or urgent items in your task list, even if you have to put less important tasks on hold for a while.
Take action: Make a list of your tasks, and analyze their level of urgency, and importance. Work on the urgent tasks first, but try not to neglect the important ones. Important tasks can become urgent if left unattended, so make room to work on them regularly.
- Common time management tip #3: “Schedule everything you need to do”
Instead: Learn to estimate the real duration of your tasks
Most people are very optimistic when it comes to estimating the time a task will take. Others are overachievers, and they make the mistake of scheduling 10 things without knowing if they really have the time to complete them. In order to schedule your activities in your calendar and actually getting them done, you need to find out how long they take.
Keep a daily activity log for one or two weeks, and you’ll have enough data to schedule your tasks correctly. A daily activity log is an eye-opening exercise that will give you a much better idea of the things you do during the day, and how long they actually take.
Take action: Set up an alarm on your phone every 15 minutes. You can also use an online timer such as e.ggtimer.com. Write down each activity, and make a mark next to it every time the alarm goes off. Then, add up your marks. If you want to take this technique to the next level, make notes of the time at which you started and finished the task. Try to be focused on what you’re doing to have accurate time estimates.
- Common time management tip #4: “Assign a task to every minute of your day”
Instead: Schedule free time between activities
A productivity hack you regularly find says that “If it’s not scheduled, it will not get done”, which means that every activity should be included in your calendar. However, if you don’t plan “free time” between your to-do’s, it’s very unlikely that your plan goes as it is on paper. Lots of things could happen: you might get caught up on a call, a meeting could take longer than you thought, and so on.
Instead of planning every waking minute of your day, leave slots of time open to account for the unexpected. That way, your schedule will continue as planned, even when you have unforeseen events here or there.
Take action: If it’s difficult for you to leave open spots during the day, because you may feel unproductive, be prepared to “do something” during those periods of time. Carry a book, make a phone call, check your notes from your previous meeting, rearrange your calendar for the rest of the day, or think about any other task that you could complete, if you happen to have a few empty minutes throughout your day.
- Common time management tip #5: “Stay focused on the task at hand”
Instead: Identify and eliminate distractions
There are lots of distractions constantly competing for your attention: a new tab on your browser, social media, emails, even the notifications on your phone. Some of them, such as emails, may be part of your job, and therefore, unavoidable. However, that doesn’t mean they cannot be controlled.
Instead of checking your email every five minutes, block off specific times in your calendar to process your emails once or twice a day. Also, when you need to work on something that requires your undivided attention, set the time in your calendar as “busy”, to discourage phone calls or other interruptions. You could even put up a sign on your door, or move to an empty conference room, if possible.
Take action: Use Rescue Time to have a better idea of where you spend your time online. Then, take action and make a conscious effort to avoid those unnecessary applications and websites while you work.
Time management is all about decisions. It’s about giving your priorities the importance they deserve, and making commitments to yourself.
Time management is also about balancing professional and personal activities, so that you have a fulfilled life. Respect your personal time, and treat it with the same importance you give to your work or studies. An application such as aTimeLogger can help you register and analyze the time you spend on mandatory and leisure activities, and then make any necessary adjustments according to your goals and priorities.
Live intentionally. Put first thing first in every circumstance, and take control of your time, and your life, once and for all.