If a question „ Do you have a spare moment” makes you angry or terrified and gives you goosebumps, and the mere thought of going through the unread messages in your inbox raises your stress level, perhaps it is the right time for you to learn the 5 tips of effective time management.
You can’t control the time, but you can control your own attitude to it
The key to effective time management is to understand that whatever you do today, you are going to have exactly the same amount of time available tomorrow. No more and no less. The only thing you can do is to find a way to work faster and more efficiently and reduce the related stress levels. It is not easy and requires a lot of self-discipline and persistence, but is definitely worth your while. The visible effect will not only be increased productivity at work but also a lower stress level and a balance between your professional career and your personal life.
1. Diagnose the problem and pick your tool accordingly
Managing yourself during time is such a broad topic. All of us have our own work style and deal with our own “time thieves”, such as long phone calls or ineffective meetings. It is extremely important to determine what it is that makes us waste time and pick the right tools to fight it. So, watch out for all the bad habits that make your work pile up even though you are giving your 100%.
2. What is your „MIT”?
Independently on where you work and what you do exactly, you must define your MIT, which is the Most Important Task. In other words, the task that has the highest priority level and brings the most benefit and satisfaction. We should define our MITs every day and build our agenda accordingly. Let’s not forget though, that MIT is not an objective but a task that brings you closer to reaching the desired results. When we set our “number one” task it will be difficult to ignore it or put it off till the end of the day. In this way, perhaps we will not be able to finish everything we have planned for today, but at least the top priority tasks will get done.
Another important thing is to schedule the right time for MIT. Usually, the most productive time of the day is in the morning. It is said to be the best time to carry out tasks requiring concentration or creativity. The remaining rest of the day can be spent on meetings, phone calls or writing emails. And it is uplifting and encouraging to know that we’re done with the most important issues by 11 AM.
3. Forget the „To Do” list
At some point, we all feel the urge to classify our tasks and put them in order. What we normally do then is to create the so-called “To Do” lists or jot everything down on Post-it notes. Unfortunately, in most cases, such a technique is bound to fail. First of all, such lists don’t say when you should do a certain task, they tend to be too long or too general and, most importantly, they don’t prioritize the tasks.
Some of the items on the lists will take us only a couple of minutes, others might take an hour or longer. Looking at the list, we tend to pick tasks that seem the fastest to do, and not necessarily the most important. Moreover, long “To Do” lists increase our stress levels and in consequence make us feel nervous and out-of-control.
What works much better than those lists, is a detailed planner allowing you to schedule every hour of the day. In this way, you can plan all of your tasks, your goals, and even your breaks and stick to it. If a certain task is too long, you can divide it into doable parts.
Keep in mind that your planner does not have to be a paper one. If you are not used to carrying anything around, perhaps you should consider finding a nice planner app.
4. Don’t fool yourself, you’ll never have enough time to do it all
Once you have carefully written down all the tasks in your planner, the next step is to complete it according to the 60/20/20 rule, which states that you must consider some buffer times in your plan. No matter how hard we try, we will never be able to plan every single minute of our day. Last-minute meetings, urgent reports, phone calls from your clients – you can’t predict it all.
According to the 60/20/20 rule, we should allot 60% of our time to the predicted tasks, 20% for the unpredicted ones and the remaining 20% for spontaneous, creative activities. Of course, those numbers are merely referential and they can be adjusted according to our personal needs or work style. After all, effective time management is not supposed to be a burden, but help.
5. Clean your inbox
According to Harvard Business Review, employees spend around 24% of their time writing or responding to emails. An average person will check their email about 70 times a day, in some cases even as often as 350! No wonder we feel so anxious about it.
That is why it is so important to learn how to manage your email and not succumb to thousands of unread messages. For a tidier inbox, try to archive the emails that are already read or no longer necessary. Don’t overdo it with the number of folders, though, as it may get tricky to retrieve an important message once you need it.
In case you don’t use any email management tool, such as Inbox Zero, you can apply a simple division system, such as the 4D method: Do it, Delegate, Defer or Delete. Another thing to consider is creating rules to sort the incoming mail and send messages straight to the predesignated folders. Check your email only at previously set times and when you do, spend 20 minutes on replying to the most important messages. Last but not least, keep your emails short and easy to understand.
Don’t be afraid of experimenting! Remember that finding an effective time management tool is very personal. Even though there are many methods to try out, what works for you, may not necessarily prove useful for your colleagues. Each person has a different personality, work style or position in the company. That’s why it is important to experiment. Start by paying closer attention to how you work and ask yourself a few questions: What do I spend most of my work time on? What is my top-priority task? Am I using my planner correctly?
Try out new solutions or ideas and sooner or later you will surely find the one that fits you perfectly. Who knows, maybe you’ll even become the next time management “guru” :)