Time Management - so much to do, so little time...?
Posted by: suzanne on 01 October 2014
From completing major projects at work to finding the time to get the washing done, how you manage your time can affect almost every aspect of your life. Mastering the skill of good time management can greatly improve the productiveness of your business, whilst also allowing you that crucial guilt-free ‘down-time’ outside of the office.
Broken down into 3 key elements, the tips below should help you get that work/life balance just right!
1 – DOCUMENT YOUR WORKLOAD
In my experience time management is almost impossible without the assistance of organisational tools. Whether you are using project logs and planners or good old to-do lists (see last month’s blog) having a record of your workload is the first and most important step to efficient time management.
A project-specific log or to-do list is particularly useful as it forces you to break your project down into individual tasks which may well help you to discover tasks within the project that you hadn’t immediately considered. It is also a useful way to see clearly the elements of a project which can then be tackled simultaneously (thus saving you time) and elements that are reliant on the completion of others (and thus most likely to impact on your time if things are delayed).
When documenting your workload, be sure to include tasks or elements that rely on information or assistance from other people as this all contributes to the overall time your work will take. Consideration of these elements early on will give you an initial idea of any time you may be able to spare for additional work, or use to complete smaller tasks with more immediate deadlines.
2 – DETERMINE TIMESCALES
Once you have a record of your workload, it is important that you can attribute clear and realistic timescales to it. This is a skill in itself, and is something you will perfect over time, but a couple of key things to remember are:
Try to pre-empt potential delays
Always allow extra time for potential delays or as a buffer when you are approaching something new. Most things will inevitably take longer that you think, and having to extend deadlines isn’t ideal (and is a bad habit to get into!), whereas people will only be appreciative if a task is finished early.
Remember, timescales are there to guide and structure your workload, so adding in some extra leeway will ensure you can be flexible when the inevitable ‘issues’ crop up. For each item on your to do list, try to consider what possible issues could arise that could delay you. You obviously won’t be able to predict everything, but pre-empting possible problems will help you to prevent or overcome them should they arise, without them impacting on your overall deadlines.
Negotiate and communicate
If you are working with (or for) other people, make sure timescales are agreed early on. If you are working to other people’s deadlines, don’t be afraid to negotiate timescales or tell people their timescales are unrealistic – other people may not have a full understanding of how long a particular task will take, so managing their expectations from the beginning will avoid the need to request additional time later on.
Similarly, be open to negotiation from people who will be completing tasks for you. If you know you will need something from someone else, give them plenty of notice about it, don’t wait until you are at a particular stage of your work before letting them know - things may take longer than you think, and you won’t always be aware of someone else’s workload or priorities; your task may not be top of their list! But that is OK, as long as you are clear about that from the beginning so that you can plan ahead. Time spent waiting for returns from other people is not wasted time as it can be well spent on other tasks!
Keep people up to update with any changes in your workload or things that may impact on deadlines, and ask people to keep you updated with theirs. This will save you having to chase them up and avoid any last minute panic if things don’t get to you on time.
Most importantly, don’t be too hard on yourself if you misjudge how long it will take to do something. There will always be an element of the unknown in taking on something new, and you cannot possibly predict every eventuality that may impact on your time – just make sure if things don’t quite go to plan, that you learn from it for next time!
3 – USE YOUR TIME PRODUCTIVELY
This seems quite an obvious thing to say when discussing time management, but it is quite a skill to ensure that the majority of your time is productive!
Make yourself comfortable
Firstly, make sure your work environment is free of distractions or stressors – simple things like making sure the temperature and lighting is right can get you in the right frame of mind for work and help you remain focussed on the task at hand.
Understand what times of day you work best – it may be that you feel most productive in the mornings so reserve this time for concentrating on more challenging work.
Don’t lose focus
Set yourself realistic goals for each day, and if possible give yourself a mix of things to do. Try to intersperse more challenging work with more simple tasks – having a sense of achievement is a great way to stay motivated so making sure you complete one or two minor tasks will keep you motivated to stay on track with larger pieces of work. Also, switching to a smaller task is a great way to refresh your brain when you feel yourself flagging.
However, don’t let the little things cause you to procrastinate with the harder pieces of work – it is very tempting sometimes to put off tackling a larger piece of work by completing smaller tasks that are usually of a lower priority, because they are easier. You will only end up feeling guilty and stressed that it is still hanging over you. And once you get started you will be glad you did! Giving yourself a good few hours focussing on the more challenging stuff, when your concentration is at its best, will allow you to tackle the easier tasks at another time without feeling guilty (travel time and time in between meetings is ideal for tackling smaller things that require less time or concentration!).
Give yourself a break
Remember the rule of diminishing returns – the longer you spend doing something the less you gain proportionate to the time spent. Working for more than a couple of hours at a time can be counterproductive as this is when attention and concentration starts to wane. Every couple of hours have a break from what you are doing, stretch your legs, rest your eyes, grab a drink…whatever helps you refresh your mind.
Similarly, time spent reflecting is valuable time – don’t feel guilty for thinking things over before you take action. This is just as valuable a part of planning as any other and will benefit you in the long run as it will avoid you rushing in and making mistakes.
Remember, time is money…so spend it wisely!
In next month’s blog we will discuss facing your fears… of the telephone!
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- time management,
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