Author: Simon Buehring
The blessed few seem to glide through their working day, ticking off their daily tasks and contentedly dealing with all the interruptions that come their way. These were the kids who always handed in their science homework a day ahead of schedule, and never forgot their calculator for maths.
Most of us aren’t like this. Most of us have to work at our time management skills, training ourselves to organise, prioritise and get stuff done.
What’s wrong with bad time-management?
Time-management skills are essential for anybody who wants to succeed in the modern workplace.
Gone are the days when you could calculate lunchtime by the position of the sun and plod along behind your oxen without a ringing mobile, a bulging in-box and a spider’s web of a calendar.
If you don’t learn to manage your time effectively then you risk forgetting meetings, deadlines and responsibilities, over-committing yourself, rushing work and dying young of too much stress.
What causes bad time-management?
Two extreme opposites lie behind bad time-management: over-committing and procrastination.
Some people just love to have too much to do. They might complain occasionally (or regularly) that they never have time to relax, or that everybody expects too much of them, or that they are never fully-appreciated, but the truth is that they cannot survive without a diary full of jobs to do and events to organise.
If you are one of these people, then you might be jeopardising your effectiveness by giving in to the challenge and adrenaline of taking on more than one person can possibly achieve. Stepping back once in a while and reviewing what you have to do and how you ended up promising to do it can work wonders for your time-management.
Others are prone to procrastination. If this is you, then you’ll recognise the symptoms straight away: dawdling over e-mails, making yet another cup of tea (which, twenty minutes later will require a bathroom run), always aware of the elephantine deadline that is looming close, but which you don’t have to deal with ... just yet.
The problem with procrastination is that, sooner or later, the deadlines catch up, work has to be rushed, and nobody is happy with the end result. Learning to prioritise your tasks and to stick to your schedule will improve your performance and your job satisfaction.
What can you do about it?
• Make a list of all the things you’ve got to do.
Do include everything: the 30-page report you’ve been hoping would go away; buying ham for your husband’s lunch; taking your dog to the dentist; finishing off the database you started last month.
Do not make this list on the back of an old envelope. Invest in a diary or a notebook. Scraps of paper will only end up in the bin.
• Prioritise your tasks.
Put fire-fighting and foundational tasks at the top of your list. Delegate the distractions. Eliminate time-wasting.
For long-term scheduline, you definitely need a calendar. You can use a computer-based organiser, a wall calendar, or a personal diary. You can buy a leather-bound diary with gold edging, you can invest in a simple wall-chart, or you can even make a calendar yourself.
Whatever you choose, what you need is a way to divide the year, the month, the week and the day into manageable portions of time. In each time-slot, you must allocate yourself a task.
Bear in mind the importance and urgency of each task and the time taken for successful completion. Under-estimating how much time you need will lead to unnecessary stress, while over-estimation will leave you twiddling your thumbs.
• Reward system.
If you are a procrastinator, then sometimes you’ll need a motivation boost. Make yourself a star-chart, promise yourself a chocolate biscuit or a trip to the cinema or even sometime as simple as a short tea break for the completion of major tasks.
The most important skill that the over-committer will ever learn is delegation. Allow your colleagues to share the workload. Be generous enough to let somebody else try their hand at producing a plan or a presentation or a spreadsheet.
If you try to do everything yourself, then others will end up either resenting you or taking you for granted. Improve the performance of yourself and everybody else in your office by sharing around the tasks!
And finally –
Taking the time to review your goals and appointments will ease stress and make the time you spend working far more effective. At the end of each day, allow yourself a couple of minutes to think about what you have achieved in the past few hours. The satisfaction of meeting your goals will be the best stimulus to continued time-management.
About the Author
Simon Buehring works for KnowledgeTrain which offers Time Management Courses in the UK and overseas. He can be contacted via the building a team website.