How often do you find yourself saying, I don’t have time? Maybe you have too many things in your hands that you really want to get done. Or maybe, you are saying it out loud to avoid having more things find their way to you so that you can focus on your current task. Well, it turns out that managing your time is something everyone struggles with. If you are feeling overwhelmed or stressed out at work, you are probably not alone.
Managing your time effectively and efficiently is essential to work-life balance and avoiding excessive stress or mental fatigue. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to effective time management, and we are not going to ask you to become a robot in the quest for optimal productivity. The first step to being in control of your time is to reflect on your working style, the nature of your work, and even your personality. Do you like keeping to schedules or have a pretty structured job like in accounts? Or do you find highly organised environments suffocating and prefer more flexibility to work on your own pace and timeline?
I mean, that is the reason why I quit the corporate life and became a freelancer. Do not listen to those management gurus who say that the only way to manage your time is to stick to a daily schedule. Managing your day down to the minute with a sticky note system or productivity tracker is just as valid as diving into tasks based on your prioritisation or work preferences. There is more than one way to improve your time management skills, so read on and we will show you how.
Best Time of The Day
Most of us probably have times of day where we work better. Some people are morning larks who get up early and may even go for a run before doing their best at the start of the day. Others are night owls who love to sleep late after a long night at work, because they think more clearly or their creative juices flow better when it is dark and quiet.
Though the night owls are often assumed to be lazy and the morning larks are sometimes seen to be crazy, there is nothing wrong with both parties. You just need to work with who you are and what you got. Do the super important stuff like preparing for a big presentation during your productive times, and the less demanding stuff or daily tasks like sending emails when you are in your down time. No matter when or how you work, stay focused to make the most out of your day. You will then finish what you are doing faster, and find yourself with more time left to do other things to achieve work-life balance.
The Myth of Multitasking
To get on top of your work, it may seem like a good strategy to multitask so that you can complete all the tasks more quickly. However, multitasking is a myth. You will likely be distracted and take a longer time to complete all the tasks than if you were to work on them one at a time. Furthermore, you may even end up with more errors and lower quality of work because you are running around like a headless chicken chasing after a ton of things.
Start with the important and urgent tasks first and move down the list one after another. Once you get into the flow, do what you can to avoid interruptions as they can snowball and take up huge chunks of your time. The extra time it takes for you to refocus is aptly called the disruption cost. It is not unusual to take up to 15 minutes to get back into your peak concentration level again when you are interrupted or switching between tasks. Imagine the amounts of time that would be saved if you could just focus on a single task for an hour or two without interruptions or distractions.
I know it is hard to disconnect from your colleagues, bosses and friends in the form of emails, WhatsApp or social media messages as people are more connected than ever before by technology. However, you do not need to disconnect from people or mobile phones totally while working. Try going somewhere away from your desk just for an hour or two, leaving your mobile phone in airplane mode, or using a screen blocker app so that you can concentrate on a challenging piece of work. This way, you can produce higher quality work and finish the work faster, leaving you more time left to handle the rest on your list of tasks.
Delegate Things That Are Not Your Specialty
No matter what your job is, you will likely be involved in some teamwork or even become the leader of a group. If you attempt to put everything the team or group needs to complete in your task list, you will find your time spread so thinly that your work quality suffers or things do not get done at all. To avoid this pitfall, prioritise your tasks and strategically delegate things that are not your specialty. This will give you more time to spend on crucial tasks or tasks that can only be done by you.
Think critically about why you are delegating the tasks. You should not delegate things just because you do not want to deal with them. If everyone passes on work that they do not enjoy or are not interested in it, a lot of important stuff would not get done. On the other hand, if you bad at the task and your teammate would be a better fit, you should consider handing it over and taking up something else, as the team will accomplish more together if everyone is playing to their strengths.
Take the opportunity to teach your team member a skill when you are delegating a task to him or her. Not only will you demonstrate your leadership, you can also save yourself time later and make your team stronger. Though it may require some time investment initially, you will find that it is worth-it in the end and an effective time management strategy.
Just Say No
If delegation is not possible (perhaps there is nobody to delegate to) and you are having too much on your plate, remember that you can just say no. You will not be able to achieve optimal productivity if you do not learn how to say no. Granted that we have to do what we got to do, especially if it is in the job description, all of us only have 24 hours a day. Hence, we need to spend our time wisely on things that really matter, and not be afraid to let go of some other things.
To help you decide when to say no, think about the time commitment required, how critical the task is, and how well do you think you could do it. If you are not hyped about it and it does not fit well with your schedule and strengths, then offer a polite no thank you. Do not take too long to decide, because whoever asked you probably has a deadline to meet and needs to find someone else for the job. When you say no, try to do it respectfully and directly. Thank them for thinking of you, and maybe even suggest another way in which you can help out.
Many of us fail to realise how easy it is to underestimate the time it takes to do something and overcommit ourselves. If you are struggling to figure out whether you will have time for another new (and interesting) project, an effective strategy is to use a calendar to map out your current deadlines and block-out the time it will take for you to work on your existing projects. That way, you can better visualise your schedule, and make better decisions on whether you should accept that next project to reach your career goals.
Prioritise….Need We Say More?
I know it is hard to prioritise sometimes, especially when you are firefighting a never-ending string of urgent tasks. However, prioritising your responsibilities is critical to effective time management skills. After all, there is only so much time in a day. So cut out the unimportant tasks that you should not be spending time on, and determine the level of importance and urgency for rest before putting them down in your task schedule.
Next, review your to-do list and make sure that you prioritise the essential tasks first. We tend to let the urgent matters dominate our time and energy because they are just so urgent. However, it should be the important and urgent matters that requires our immediate attention. If the matter is urgent but not important, try delegating it to someone else if possible, or work on it after setting aside time for the more important matters.
The key to successful time management, if you still do not get it, is all about prioritisation. Prioritise important work for your best time of the day as it is when you are most productive. Do not multitask so that you can focus and concentrate on the high priority tasks first, one at a time. Delegate tasks that are low on your priority. Prioritise what you should be spending your time on and say no to the other stuff, especially if they are not urgent and not important.
With all that has been said, the best way to make time management work is to find an effective balance between your work and personal life, and not thrive on being busy. It has somehow become a badge of honor to be busy, and some people are just trying to use their time to squeeze in more emails, more meetings, more projects and more deadlines. To be a time management expert, you need to keep your body and mind working smoothly. So take care of yourself, set aside sufficient time for leisure, regular breaks, sleep, exercise, healthy eating, social activities or anything that is important (prioritisation again!) to you. Because only then, will time management truly work for you.
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