Go ahead and ask people you work with what their biggest stressor is and they will say: “There aren’t enough hours in the day!”
I can relate. Can’t you?
I used to fall into bed utterly exhausted but my mind was still reeling. Finally, I learned how to control my time instead of letting it control me. Here’s how I did it.
Identify Time Robbers – Keep a Log
It stands to reason that If you know why or how you waste time, you can start to do something about it. Keep a week long log of what you do and how much time you spend doing it. You may discover one or more of the following culprits:
- Inability to say no – Did you stretch yourself too thin by saying yes to too many committees and projects?
- Procrastination – Did you leave a task until the deadline?
- Disorganization – Did you waste time looking for that missing dead file or for tools that should have been on hand?
- Attitude – Did you avoid undertaking a task you were dreading?
- Problems with setting priorities – Did you do low-priority tasks, such as filing papers, instead of preparing for next week’s projects?
A Time Management Plan
1. Establish a to do list and learn to set priorities on things like goals, tasks, meeting agenda items, interruptions. (Note that there are free online to do lists that you can use to get organized and see the end of this article for the link to one.)
2. Start with “A-priority” tasks; is it the best use of your time?
3. Fight procrastination; do it now if it’s important.
4. Subdivide large, tough tasks into smaller, easily accomplished parts. Cutting a huge task into smaller chunks so it seems less insurmountable will lift your spirits and increase your energy level. Once you’ve decided what your “A” priority tasks are and you’ve subdivided projects into manageable chunks, spend seven minutes on an “A” priority task. Then switch for eleven minutes to one of the chunks of a larger task. By scheduling time for both, you’ll make sure that what needs to be done now gets done now.
5. Establish a quiet hour, even though it requires will power and may not always work. Find a hideaway. A library or the office of a co-worker who’s traveling. Whether it’s taking a brisk walk through the hallways or deep breaths at your desk, be sure you stick to your date with yourself. If someone asks you to do something at that time, say, “I’d love to, but I have something scheduled. Let’s pick another time.”
6. Learn to say “no” when you’ve got something important to do. If you have too much on your plate, just say no. While this may seem obvious, it is one of the most difficult things to learn. And keep in mind — if you attempt to outrun the Energizer Bunny, you risk, at best, not completing tasks to your standards, or at worst, burnout.
7. Learn to delegate. This frees up time, and imbues others with a sense of responsibility.
8. Accumulate similar tasks and do them all at one time.
9. Minimize routine tasks; spend only the time they deserve on them.
- Shorten low-value interruptions;
- Throw away junk mail and other low-value paperwork;
- Delegate, shorten or defer indefinitely the C-priority tasks.
10. Avoid perfectionism. Remember the 80/20 Pareto Principle maldistribution rule.
11. Avoid over-commitment. Be realistic about what you can do in the time you have.
12. Don’t over-schedule. Allow some flexible time for crisis management and interruptions.
13. Set time limits. For example, some decisions shouldn’t take more than three minutes to make. Know how to recognize these.
14. Concentrate on what you are doing.
15. Use big blocks of time for big jobs.
16. Do difficult things quickly; doing them slowly doesn’t make them easier.
17. Try to handle paper only once.
18. Think the job through before acting.
19. Finish as you go; get it right the first time.
20. Never agree to completing a last minute Friday afternoon request.
- End your “real work” a half-hour early on Friday. Most folks don’t want to interact with you late on Friday anyway. If you need that half-hour to finish your work, start next week by planning to finish a half-hour earlier.
- Use that half-hour to organize everything on your desk. Put things away. Lay out things that still need attending to. Mark what needs to be done. Make a to-do list, if that’s your way.
- Make a plan for next week–at the least, decide what you will tackle first on Monday and what your three most important goals will be.
- Do an office check. Are the things you use most closest to where you use them? If not, move them, so that they will be. Are the files you access most on your computer only one click away? If not, move them so that they will be.
- Order the Monday tasks by putting what you can get done fastest first. Do this for two reasons. It will start your week with a quick sense of accomplishment, and you’ll be able to pass on what you finished–that means that when you move on to task two, someone else can be starting on what was your task one.