There is so much demand on our time these days, and the proliferation of social media and the instant access brought about by smartphones, instant messaging and texting makes it worse.
The good news is that you can control your time and how you – and others – use it.
Simple time management techniques
1. Set responsibilities, priorities and objectives
Whether your issues are at home or in the office (and sometimes both), it’s important to understand and communicate responsibilities. It’s easier, of course, if you’re the boss – or head of household – and can delegate, but even if you’re part of a team, you can still make sure that everyone understands who is responsible for getting things done.
Say, “OK, here’s how I understand it. Joe will handle the research, Mindy will do the interviews, and Sally is going to write the report. Do I have that right?”
Setting priorities is crucial. Companies that have downsized have fewer bodies to do more work, and employees often find themselves piled with tasks that have to be done by yesterday. To avoid overload, say to your boss, “I have 10 reports to complete, five field visits to organize and three meetings to attend in the next five days. Which of these items is the most important for me to focus on?”
The payoff is twofold: It shows your boss exactly what’s on your plate and puts the monkey on her back to decide which takes priority.
What end result are you trying to achieve? Every time you start to work on a task, ask yourself, “Will doing this get me to where I want to go?”
2. Cut out unnecessary and inappropriate activities
For some people, it’s incessant checking of email. For others, it may be drop-in visitors (I love the whole “Knock, knock! Can I interrupt you?” routine). And still others start off focused on a task – like researching something online – and then get pulled in 15 directions before they realize it.
If email is chewing up your morning, check it first thing in the morning, right after lunch and then again before close of business. And shut it off in between. If someone really, really needs you in the few hours between your “email” times, they’ll call. Trust me.
Drop-ins can be crazy-making. If you’re the boss, tell your staff, “I’m working on our annual budget [or whatever] and need to really focus on the spreadsheet. I’m going to close my door between 9 a.m. and noon so I can focus on that. Please take messages for me until I can get this thing put to bed.”
Of course, if you are expecting an urgent phone call, be sure to let them know that, too.
This works also if you are an employee. Tell your coworkers: “I’m really slammed on this project and won’t have time to chat until later this afternoon. I’ll catch up with you then, OK?”
The most important thing about these tactics is to communicate them BEFORE you get started. People are not mind readers, and they’ll appreciate the head’s up. Plus, you won’t get nasty when someone interrupts in the middle of a delicate task.
3. Plan and schedule the use of your time, daily and weekly
At the beginning of every week (or the end of it, whichever works best for you), set down on paper what you need to accomplish during the week, then break it down into daily tasks.
Yes, I said “paper.” Computers are great, but writing things down help reinforce the message you’re giving to your brain.
4. Make optimum use of your peak-energy time
When is your best time? For many, it’s first thing in the morning. Others are late-starters and do their best work in the late afternoon or evening.
Plan your most demanding tasks for when you are at your most productive…and make sure your team members give you the space and time you need to accomplish your tasks.
5. Delegate or outsource as much as possible
Much easier if you’re the boss, of course, but you can also do it as a team member. It’s called “asking for help.” You might need to do some horse-trading – you’ll help Bill with his piece if he can take this one thing off your desk – but you’ll both end up getting things done more efficiently.
If you’re a business owner and automatically think you can’t afford to pay someone else to do some of your tasks, think again. How much is your time worth? Shuffle off the busy work to someone who makes a heck of a lot less money than you, so you can focus on doing the things that will bring in more revenue.
6. Cut out or cut down distractions
The major distractions have already been noted – emails, phone calls and drop-ins. You might also want to check your environment to see if there’s anything that keeps you from using your time most effectively.
Do you have enough light in your office? Are your supplies plentiful and at hand? Is your work space well organized? Can you find whatever you need, when you need it? Too much rock ‘n’ roll on the iPod? Take care of these things before you begin.
7. Include room for unexpected events
One of the most surprising things about being well-organized and efficient is that it gives you space to be spontaneous. Because you’re getting things done, when something arises at the last minute – good or bad – you’ll be able to deal with it without having a nervous breakdown.
What’s your biggest time challenge? I’d love to hear!