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Finding time that works for you

Sometimes it can feel like there just aren’t enough hours in the day. Balancing work, life and a million other responsibilities can quickly become overwhelming when you’re rushing from A to B trying to reduce the size of your to-do list without any real plan. But the good news is that you can tackle that to-do list with a lot less effort if you have a little understanding of time management. A great place to start is at work. If you are able to nail your time management at work, where you’re already likely to have some structure and tools in place to help you, then you have a great chance in transferring those processes and that mindset into your everyday life. So, what steps can we take to identify, adopt and then integrate time management?
Written on 08/04/22

The understanding

There are a plethora of apps, articles, books and hacks to help you to effectively manage your time. However, in reality most people used and devour these and still end up time-poor. The issue is that people expect these tools to work for them out of the box. These tools actually require you to be in tune with yourself before they’ll work for you.

Get an understanding of your current approach to time management (if any) and, more importantly, where you’re falling short. You can use online assessment tools, seek feedback from your peers or your boss, or set your own benchmarks to measure your current time management effectiveness against.

Also remember that everyone is different. We all have our own preferences and personality traits, and therefore what works for one person may not work for the next. Are you a forgetful person who needs to set reminders? Are you somebody visual who needs to colour code things to break them down into manageable chunks? Once you have evaluated yourself more, you can work out what approaches will work best for you. And perhaps most importantly, narrow down exactly where you need to improve. What is lacking and what skillset or approach do you need to adopt to improve your overall time management? Once you know this – focus on nailing that one thing.

A good place to start is to break your day up into time slots and be honest about what time of day you’re most productive. Try to get your most intensive work done in these times.

The theory

There are three pillars to time management:

  1. Planning: What you are going to do achieve in a set time aka your strategy (this is the easy part) 

  2. Process: How you are you going to achieve it, i.e., the structure (the harder part)

  3. Perseverance: How are you ensuring you stay on track to completion (the hardest part)

A lot of people tend to fail at time management because they underestimate the importance of step one. By planning properly and arranging your work in a logical way, you can save yourself a lot of time… Time management actually takes time. You have to plan to plan! 

New tasks or processes that you don’t know well will inevitably take longer and are harder to predict timeframes for. So, learn to prioritise.

And just because something is urgent does not mean it is important, and vice versa. Tasks that are urgent AND important should be done first. And schedule time every day to do your most important tasks – a focus period where you turn off notifications to ensure that what needs to get done really does get done.

Most people don’t need help with time management but time control – really this is all about discipline – Time control is doing what you planned to do. Being busy and being productive are two different things.

The tools

The fact is, no matter how much great time management software exists, you really have three main tools at your disposal at work. And understanding that these have three very different purposes, but can all work together, is key.
Your tool kit:

•    Your planner: You need somewhere to keep physical notes. Developing this habit is invaluable. 
•    Your inbox: If you treat your inbox like a to do list (through the clean inbox system) you’ll never be unclear on what’s needed.
•    Your calendar: Visibility of your strategy (both long and short term) is critical for both yourself and your team. 

Getting to grips with effectively managing these three tools you use every day will be the foundation to successful time management. If you don’t utilise these fundamentals, any other tools you bring on board will already be building on a foundation of failure.

The process

A habit is something you do autonomously. A routine is a route you follow to get things done. And routines become habit with repetition.

So what’s the routine?

Every morning the first thing you should do is think about time management. Come in, sit down, follow this plan:

  1. Open your planner and look at your action items from the day before. Anything that has been missed should be replanned.
  2. Open your calendar and see what’s happening today, make an honest assessment of whether this is still a good plan.
  3. Consider your overall workload – what is going to take the most time today? 
  4. Once you’re happy with your plan for the day write out all the actions items you need to complete for the day.
  5. Once you’re schedule is fixed and you have a plan, then it’s time to open your emails and start work. 

Pointers: 

  • Form good habits early – habits are actions repeated. 
  • Mondays are a great time to evaluate. Use your Monday morning to put in place a loose plan for the week. 
  • Admin takes time. Reviewing data, clearing emails, updating statuses etc. If you don’t plan for it, it won’t happen. 
  • Be realistic. There are very few tasks that take less than 30 minutes. It’s better to have spare time than not enough.
  • Don’t stick to it just because you put it in the schedule. Things change. What’s important is doing important things.
  • Your commute is a great time to clear out messages and emails but so is after you’ve done your time management.
  • Planning way ahead is fine. Sit down at the start of the quarter to plan the months ahead. Great! 

The most important thing to understand is that this is not designed to be a comprehensive list of all the actions you can take. The point is, you need to figure this out for yourself as you, the individual.

Understand where you’re falling short and what works for you. Use that to identify how you’ll tackle your time management. Keep the core toolset to a minimum and leverage  the tools to build upon a foundation of processes that, in turn, will enable you to develop them into a more complex toolset that works for you. And with a bit of commitment and faith in your new process, you might just buy yourself some time.

 

Article by JCW