Time management is a skill we learned in school, but many people forget it as they get older and more “experienced.” We become creatures of habit, and bad habits creep in among the good ones. If you find time flying by without accomplishing all that you should, you need to identify how you’re wasting minutes and re-establish good time-management skills.
Regain control of your time and improve your productivity with these tips:
1. Begin with a time diary, recording exactly how you spend your time now. You will be surprised to find how much time you’ve been wasting. But don’t feel guilty. Be delighted with “found” time that you can put to better use.
2. Use your waiting time productively. We all spend a great deal of time waiting for appointments, the start of meetings, on hold on the phone and even for television commercials to end. Have some task available to fill these idle minutes. They add up to an impressive portion of each day.
3. Manage your email. Like a desk cluttered with paper that keeps getting shuffled around to no useful purpose, an email inbox can become a time pit. Create folders and move email to them as it arrives. Some email may contain reference material; print it out. Move time-sensitive items to an “action” folder. Add appointments to your calendar, and delete what does not require action.
At the same time, don’t let email dictate your daily schedule. Devote three or four times of the day to answering your email rather than constantly interrupting tasks to read every message sent to your inbox. Most people have at least two email accounts, so email has the potential to be a big time suck.
4. Avoid multitasking. It may look cool to juggle a phone call while working on a spreadsheet, but both actions will be done less efficiently. Focus on one task at a time, and you will find that jobs get done faster and better.
5. Work on the most important thing first. Give yourself at least an hour first thing in the morning to work on the most important item on your to-do list. Then you will finish it more quickly when you return. It won’t distract you while doing different tasks throughout the day.
6. Know when you work best. Some folks are morning people, while others take a while to wake up and get in the groove. Know your most productive hours of the day and schedule your challenging work during those hours.
7. Make it easy to get started. Finishing a project is usually easy; it’s getting started that’s often hard. Divide a large project into small chunks, and make the first one the smallest. Once you break the ice, you will find the work begins to flow smoothly and efficiently.
8. Organize your to-do list every day. If you don’t know what you’re going to do, it’s pretty hard to get it done. The best time to organize the day’s work is at the end of the previous day, when you can see what you’ve accomplished and what remains to be done. Many people work best under deadline, so give yourself internal due dates to get things done.
9. Avoid interruptions. When you’re in work mode, put the phone on “do not disturb.” Close your email program. Close your office door if you have one. If not, post a do-not-disturb sign at the entrance to your cubicle. Don’t let people steal your most productive time. If you concentrate better while listening to music, put on your headphones to signal co-workers that you don’t want to be interrupted.
10. Learn to say no to unessential tasks. Until you have completed your top priorities, don’t take on less important matters as a favor to others.
11. Use time management tools such as Day-Timers, calendar programs and the alarms built-in to your cell phone. Give yourself reminders to stop what you’re doing and move on to the next task.
12. Delegate. Review your task list and see if you can delegate some items to other people. Also look for unessential tasks that you can easily assign to another employee.