Learning how to manage time wisely at work is an important skill to develop for your personal and professional success. Time management is the process of planning and balancing responsibilities and tasks throughout the day which helps individuals prioritize and ensure that activities of high importance are accomplished on time. Listed below are ten (10) helpful tips and techniques for time management.
1. Create a plan, to-do list, or set of work-steps.
By setting priorities via a plan, to-do list, or documented work steps, distractions can be limited and goals can be defined. Determine what activities are priorities, allocate realistic amounts of time to each, and set deadlines. Evidence suggests that those who set deadlines are more likely to follow through and complete tasks.
2. Develop a system of work prioritization.
To manage time well, everything cannot be considered top priority. You must consider the nature of the task, the person who delegated it, the deadline requested, and the need at hand.
In order to do this, the "Urgency Model" is an ideal system of work prioritization that many professionals find helpful in categorizing tasks and determining priorities. Essentially, you classify tasks into one of four categories:
- Urgent and important: tasks that must be done, are urgent, high consequences if not performed
- Not urgent, but important: tasks that should be done, are important, but not urgent
- Urgent, but not important: tasks that can be postponed without major consequences
- Not urgent and not important: tasks that are not necessary, if ignored would not yield significant consequences
3. Schedule demanding, unpleasant, or important tasks first.
Work on the hardest or most urgent tasks first. By scheduling the hardest, most unpleasant, or most important tasks during your most productive hours (which are customarily at the beginning of the day), there is a higher chance of finishing the tasks and completing them in an efficient manner.
4. Cluster similar tasks together.
Look for and track patterns in your tasks and schedule them in blocks of time. Clustering similar tasks together which have something in common or are interdependent is a useful way of managing time. For example:
- Filing paperwork
- Listening to and answering voicemails
- Responding to emails
Likewise, consider grouping small, quick tasks for smaller allotments of time. Keep an ongoing list of these tasks on your desk.
Delegating responsibilities is a smart and effective way to reduce stress and increase productivity. If you have direct reports, or manage others indirectly, take advantage of tasks you can delegate. Organize your tasks in the following way:
- Tasks you must do
- Tasks you can do but that others can help
- Tasks others can do but you can help
- Tasks others can do
Also remember the general rule of delegation: if someone can perform a task at least 80% as well as you, it is usually ideal to delegate.
6. It's okay to say "no."
Many professionals have trouble saying "no," but it's essential to managing time effectively.
Committing to too many projects can affect the quality of work. It is important to value one's time and realize that it is sometimes okay to say "no" to additional work that is not a priority, or to accept the work at a less busy time. Know your key responsibilities, focus on your top priorities, and learn to say "no" when added responsibilities could reduce your effectiveness or work quality.
Another good rule of thumb is saying "no" to one responsibility (or delegating it if you can) before taking on another responsibility. This ensures that you won't get too overloaded and will keep your responsibilities balanced.
7. Minimize and prepare for distractions and time-wasters.
Distractions and time-wasters are a given. Common distractions and time-wasters at work include email, phone calls, "drop-in" meetings, socializing, social media, smart phones, and the internet. To reduce the time spent on these distractions, schedule times and breaks for these activities.
In addition, schedule some flexible time during the day and overestimate how long tasks or projects might take. It is better to have too much time rather than not enough time. By providing a buffer, there is less chance of over-scheduling.
8. Improve your concentration.
Concentration and focus can improve by taking steps to improve the work environment and your mindset. Keep a clean, clear, and organized desk or office and make your work space as comfortable as possible. Clear your desk at the end of each day.
Additionally, you can improve your mindset by not multi-tasking, focusing on one task at a time, and switching between high attention and low attention tasks. Keeping yourself healthy and getting enough rest can also help improve concentration and focus.
9. Treat the end of the day as your deadline.
Don't get in the habit of staying late at work or bringing work home with you. Treat the end of the workday as if it were your deadline for your to-do list. This will force you to set reasonable expectations for yourself everyday and accomplish everything you intended.
10. Track your time.
For at least one week, track how you spend your time. Note your tasks and activities, and how much time you spent on them. Analyze how your time was used, specifically which work took the most time/the least time, etc. and where time was wasted.
This exercise is extremely useful and eye-opening because it tends to illuminate where you are spending your work time in unproductive ways.
By developing these time management skills and using these tips, hopefully you can get more value out of your work time, improve your productivity and performance, and have more time to spend on the things that really matter to you outside of work.