We all have only 24 hours in a day, 7 days in a week... yadda, yadda, yadda. Here's a no-nonsense guide to time management - the process that will help you to keep balance even when you are extremely busy (which is probably most of the time) - along with a concise tips section to show you how to make a more effective schedule (who has time to read an entire article?).
What is time management?
Time management is a fairly straightforward concept. It's the process of arranging and controlling how you spend your time in or out of work.
Why is it necessary?
By controlling your time you can cut out non-essential activities and achieve more, thus enhancing your career and getting more out of life.
It can also make your job more enjoyable and rewarding, as time management teaches you to be more productive and to say no to impossible workloads.
Time management is a highly important matter for most professionals as demands are placed upon any hard-working person with responsibility - demands that strain one's diary and one's character. If you are sometimes too busy, if you have deadlines that are impossible to meet, if you are disorganized and just can't seem to find the time to sort out your inbox, then time management can help you.
How to manage your time
Start by recording how you spend your time currently. Simply use a planner or diary to note down your activities throughout the day in order to monitor where your time is going. At the end of the week, set aside some time to review your schedule. Now, how much time was wasted? This is where you need to be strict. Consciously cutting out unproductive conversations, numerous tea/coffee breaks, or any of the other little time wasters in your schedule takes some will power but it is worth it. Of course, you still need human contact and a cup of joe every now and again, but being aware of how much time your are spending on those things will help you to control your activities.
Appointments: Unnecessary appointments may also have wasted your time. How many regular meetings do you have with colleagues? Again, you should be strict here, but how many of those were actually necessary or productive? Controlling your appointments is a vital step in time management.
Colleagues: Well-meaning colleagues can be a further source of wasted time. In the spirit of camaraderie, you should want to help your colleagues if there is a problem that needs your attention. If the task is not something directly related to your position, then perhaps refer them to someone who would be in a better position to help. Water cooler gossip is another source of time wastage. Pointless, or even friendly, conversations can easily fill your schedule if you don't employ strict time management.
Workload: Take another look at your schedule. How much time is spent on work that someone else could/should be doing? Menial tasks, such as photocopying, stamping letters, or filing work, are often duties of clerical or secretarial staff. Even if you have been doing these tasks for years, training or requesting that someone else takes on this duty (where appropriate) will save you much time in the long run (although you may have to spend some time to monitor and teach someone how to do it at first).
Managers: It's unfortunate that sometimes one's superiors contribute to wasted time. Within the proper bounds of respect and good humour, helping your manager to see how they are unnecessarily taking up your time can help to ease the strain on your schedule. Poorly defined tasks and unclear communication is a key source of time wastage. If your manager doesn't define duties clearly then you will end up going back to them with questions. Try to get clarity from the start.
Being prepared: Being well prepared for essential meetings and appointments will help you to save time. How many times have you attended meetings without a clear idea of what it is about, or without having read the necessary documentation beforehand? It's probably a safe bet that those very same meetings were unproductive (which probably led to a follow up meeting). If, on the other hand, you take the time to prepare for each scheduled appointment then it will be a success. Decisions can be made and actions assigned only if you have clear thoughts on the issue and are aware of what's going on.
Deadlines: Of all the things that are knocking your balance, deadlines are probably having the biggest effect. And it is probably the most difficult thing for you to change. Organising your projects in terms of priority and not just the closeness of the deadline will help you to keep a balance.
What if the deadline is just downright impossible, though? In that case, you should reason with your superiors to get the deadline extended. Failing that, forcefully requesting more resources to achieve the task will make the deadline more practical. You could also consider getting the Deliverable altered so as to be more achievable, even if the due date doesn't change. Your only remaining weapon is just to make it clear from the start that the deadline is impossible, although as a dedicated worker you will of course put your all into it.
Communications: Being organized in terms of communications is also vital. Paperwork can easily get out of hand. A simple and effective system is necessary here. You only need two folders for paperwork - the ‘to do' folder, and the ‘to file' folder. Anything else can be thrown away. Taking immediate action when you receive paperwork is vital to being organized. Sort your paperwork into the appropriate folder and schedule time to deal with the folders regularly.
Emails can be equally cumbersome. Studies have shown that keeping email programs open is actually disruptive to efficiency. Rather, you should check emails regularly (five or six times a day) and deal with the incoming emails appropriately. Having separate folders in your inbox for different types of emails will keep you organized.
Telephone calls can easily waste your time. Rather than waiting on hold, it is wise to find out an appropriate time to call someone, or even request that they call you. You could even schedule a specific time to call someone to avoid the problems of missed calls. You should also make sure that secretarial staff are aware of how to deal with calls. They should know when to refer the calls to your colleagues, and when it is appropriate to take a message rather than put the call through to you.
Is managing your time really worth the hassle? Resoundingly, yes, it is. On a day-to-day level, it will make your routine more practical and organized. It will make your long-term view clearer, as you know that you are in control of upcoming projects and tasks. For your career, it will help you achieve your goals quicker.
It even has health benefits. It's scientifically proven that we get highly stressed when we don't achieve tasks and goals that we wanted to reach. Stress, in turn, is detrimental to sleep, digestion and mental activities. On the other hand, a balanced workload and controlled use of time will negate stress and make you more capable.
- Make a record - how are you spending your time? What can be cut out? Also, always write down your ‘to do' list and organize it according to priority.
- Managing communications - make effective telephone calls (don't stay on hold, leave clear messages etc.), keep a tidy inbox with multiple folders for different types of emails, don't let yourself be disturbed by colleagues if inappropriate.
- Managing meetings - attend only meetings that it is necessary or advantageous to attend. Make sure you are prepared for it so that it achieves something (otherwise a follow-up meeting becomes a requisite - another timewaster).
- Be organized - a tidy desk, a tidy to do list, and a tidy email inbox show a tidy and organized mind and person.
- Prioritize - even if you have multiple projects on the go and numerous tasks to achieve, a clearly defined list of priorities will keep you on top of things and will help you to meet deadlines.
- Delegate tasks - don't be afraid to pass duties onto other capable people. The time spent teaching someone else to do one of your tasks is soon made up for.
- Say no - sometimes well-meaning colleagues, or people outside of your company, make demands on your time unnecessarily (meetings, conferences, solving other people's problems etc.). A polite ‘no' will help you to keep control of your time.
- Maintain a record - a diary or planner will help you to keep an eye on where your time is going. If it is being spent badly, you can change things. Making a written note of how you spend your time is one of the key steps. Don't miss it out.