I woke up in a cold sweat a few weeks ago. I remembered that there was a report I was meant to have sent to my client. It was sitting under a pile of other things, forgotten in the hecticness of the day. There was nothing I could do at 3 AM, so it led me to think – I must get better at this time management thing.
After doing a bit of research, it seems “great time management” is a myth. Everyone seems to be chasing that elusive clear desk, or inbox zero and no one seems to have nailed it.
However, almost all of us should be able to achieve good time management skills, and here are some top techniques I’ve started implementing in my life.
Data is the catchphrase of the business world right now, and it should be where you start. Anecdotally, you might think you aren’t so good at time management, but if you track your time, you can figure out what you spend your day doing. Gathering this data is especially important if you are self-employed or the boss. You might have competing priorities from different clients and find it difficult to work out what your priority should be that day. I use a program called TSheets because it is free and you can add in as many tasks (or jobs) as you want. You can also export your days out into a CSV file so you can do neat graphs (if that is your jam).
Distractions are a time-killer
When you are finished tracking all your tasks, you might find that there are hours of your day you can’t entirely account for. Think back, did you spend some time watching cat videos on YouTube? Then some time sharing those on social media? Some of the biggest time-sinks today are the notifications buzzing and flashing at you. One great tip to concentrate on the task at hand is to switch on the Do Not Disturb feature on your phone and to minimise the number of tabs open on your browser.
If you have between one and three priorities, chances are you will achieve those. If you have a list of over 10, you’re going to end up completing one or two. It is a human instinct to feel overwhelmed if you are faced with a mountain of things. Try to figure out what are your actual priorities for today, and work to achieve them first thing. That way you will feel the sense of achievement straight away, and who knows, you’ll probably end up completing more.
I find Covey’s Time Management Grid is a handy tool to help me prioritise. If you have created a mega to-do list, categorise it and start working on Quadrant 1 straight away.
Deadlines and Targets
You should set time limits for each task as well as hard deadlines for each project. Often when you don’t have a targetted finish date, it falls by the wayside. I use Trello as a personal ‘to-do’ list. You can set dates and times for each task, and you can categorise to your heart’s content. I suggest reading up on Kanban methodology. Agile software development teams swear by it, but it has its roots in the industrial revolution. First used in the 1940s by Toyota to optimise its engineering process, it has now become the cornerstone of software development worldwide.
Clean desk, clear mind
It seems like such a cliché, but having an organised system, both virtually and in real-life, will establish a sense of calm to your day. I always make sure my desk is clear and tidy by the end of the day. I created a taxonomy for my files when I only had one client, and as I added more, it became easy to remain organised. You don’t waste time looking for where you saved things before. Learn to use the tools that you have. Tools such as Microsoft Office are more complex than you imagine. Learning to use more advanced features will save you time in the long run. Often, with most programs, if you find you are manually repeating sometime a lot, there will be a way to automate that.
I hope you find these tips helpful, I know since I’ve started implementing them in my life I haven’t woken up in a cold sweat again.