From being a baby through to late adulthood, various demands and expectations are placed on each of us. Sometimes you might feel that there is too little time in which to do too much. For some, each day spreads before them as a vast vacuum. Nothing is happening, and there is no one there to engage with. For others, the day is so full. There are so many things that have to be done, but there is an energy and excitement about these experiences. When we are all allocated with the same amount of time everyday, we need to be careful of how we use it. There's no such a thing as 'perfect time management' but we can manage our time to perfectly suit us.
Here are some tips for you to try when the feeling of 'I'm stuck' and 'nothing gets done' moment comes. Bear in mind, there's no perfect solutions for managing time.
Audit your time.
Have you ever reached the end of the day and wondered where the time went? Have you ever felt like you were being so busy and working on things all day but when it’s time to go home, you wonder what you actually did? What is taking away your time when you feel you don't have enough of it? To audit your time will help you to find out where you are actually spending your time as often there is a discrepancy between what you think is taking up your time and what actually is. Say for example you need to write a 500 word report. You might think 'That's easy. It should only take 30 minutes'. However, it's likely you overestimated your speed and underestimated those smaller but related tasks you need to do to achieve your goal: word choices, proof reading, reference checking and even a phone call from someone can all add to the task's time. With all those additions, that 30-minute report could actually take you 2 hours which is 4 times of the time you initially planned.
Now look at your multiple tasks on your plate. What was a balanced workload to avoid the tasks you set first turning into a stressful and unachievable to-do list as the day goes on? What was a practical time allocation to each task you got on your list? You do need to have a realistic idea of what you're able to accomplish and what is truly taking up your time. Using a time tracking application or alarm to monitor your daily activities and analyzing the data at the end of the week to evaluate the time you spent on different tasks. The more you practice, the more accurate you will get to know about your time allocation.
Set SMART goals.
This is to know what your goals are and what results you are trying to achieve.
- Specific (simple, clear, significant).
The more specific your goals are, the more you will feel truly motivated and focused to achieve them. Always ask yourself: What do I want to achieve? Why is this goal important? Who will be involved? Where is it located? Which limits or resources will be needed?
- Measurable (meaningful, motivating, trackable).
The more measurable your goals are, the easier you can track the progress and stay focused. Being able to assess the progress allows you to feel motivated and excited to meet your deadlines and getting closers to achieving your goals.
- Achievable (agreed, attainable, realistic).
Setting your goals to be realistic and attainable is key to achieve them successfully. Remember that your goals should stretch your abilities but still need to remain possible, in which you might be able to identify previously overlooked resources or opportunities to bring you closer to achieve them.
- Relevant (reasonable, realistic and resourced, results-based).
Ensure your goals matter to you and align with your other relevant goals. It is important to retain control over your goals. A relevant goal can answer 'Yes' to these questions: Does it seem worthwhile? Is this the right time to do it? Does it match other needs? Am I the right person to reach this goal? Is it applicable and practical in the big socio-economic environment?
- Time bound (time-based, time limited, time/cost limited, timely, time-sensitive).
Each goal you set needs a target date so that you have a deadline to push you forward and work towards. It also helps to prevent everyday tasks from taking priority over your longer-term goals. Ask yourself: When? What can I do three months from now? What can I do three weeks from now? What can I do today?
Prioritize your tasks.
Knowing how to prioritize your tasks is just as important as auditing your time and setting SMART goals. To put your tasks into one of the 4 categories will help you manage your limited time more effectively and stay focused on what matters most to you. Those 4 categories are:
- Do: Tasks that are important and urgent.
Simply put, act now! Work on tasks that only take a few minutes to complete. Quickly accomplishing a series of smaller tasks builds momentum for working on larger projects. For example: returning a quick phone call, answering an email, printing out reports.
- Defer (Delay): Tasks that are important but not urgent.
Temporarily pause a task that doesn't need to be handled/dealt with right away, and schedule when you have the availability, For example: new request from a colleague, new project idea.
- Delegate: Tasks that are urgent but not important.
If there are tasks that could be taken charge by someone else, then reassign them. Don't mistake delegation for running away from your responsibilities. It is actually an important function of time management. Just make sure the person/people you delegate the task to have the skill set, capacity, ability and time to get the task done within your timeframe. For example: weigh tasks that benefit from your specific expertise vs. those tasks that deliver the same outcome regardless of who is doing it.
- Delete (Drop): Tasks that are neither urgent nor important.
Filter through your task list and remove unnecessary tasks from your schedule and move on. Also, learn how to say no to certain tasks by reviewing your existing list before agreeing to take on extra work. For example: unnecessary emails, unproductive meetings.
Manage your energy and focus.
As we mentioned in the beginning, there is no perfect time management. We are all allocated with 24 hours a day and we all need to be careful how we use them. However, time management is more about managing your focus and energy within that 24-hour time constraint. Let's call it, productivity. One of the productivity experts once made a brilliant point on productivity. She stands by the fact that you don’t have to 'fill every minute of your day with tasks'. Try to learn 'what levels of productivity you (and your team) operate with', then schedule tasks according to your peak performance hours. That is to say, please take advantage of your golden hours and biological prime time. Do not waste your golden hours in routine meetings or doing your chores. Save those things for when you know you are going to have lower energy. Fence off your biological prime time for your highest value, highest impact and highest return work. Try some time tracking apps or even a journal to help you identify your golden hours and boost your productivity.
Let flexibility into your life. There's always more to do.
Make sure you leave time windows between your different tasks and give yourself some breathing room while ticking off tasks on your list. For example, 15 minutes after lunch, 15 minutes before leaving work and so on. That way, you will have time to deal with unpredictable events or tasks that are not on your list. Otherwise, you would have to push back your schedule or rearrange tasks. Always calculate your opportunity costs to see which task you’ll have to trade in for managing the emergency. Let flexibility into your schedule to deal with situations stress-free, without trading off any valuable time.
We’ve mentioned before that it’s important to manage your focus and energy, not your time. Bear in mind that work is never going to be finished. There are always new tasks, new fixes, new expectations and new goals. This can result in you racking up to 12 hours in the office doing work every day. Our modern society glorifies workaholism, neglecting the fact that it opens door to mistakes. Overworking is not the way to save time, it actually makes us slower, harder to focus, and more prone to burnout. In the long run, it does more harm than good. Put work away on time and do something else that can make you feel refreshed and relaxed. Keeping a healthy work-life balance can boost your productivity in a positive way.
In a word, there's no perfect time management technique. Try to explore your own ways to manage your time effectively to kick your goals. Remember, practice makes perfect!
Don' forget to leave your comments or share your tips on how you manage your time!
References and useful links:
Harms, Louise., 2010, Understanding human development : a multidimensional approach, Oxford University Press South Melbourne, Vic
32 Time Management Tips To Work Less and Play More: https://toggl.com/track/time-management-tips/?gclid=Cj0KCQjwgtWDBhDZARIsADEKwgOdi8fSdRndfu2-6RKeAJMGY3J2UGUvIyiZ7w56c8r-QGJvB_KAfwoaAmrDEALw_wcB
Best Time Management Techniques for IT Companies: https://www.resolutets.com/best-time-management-techniques-for-it-companies/
Take control of your time with a time audit: https://www.lucidchart.com/blog/how-to-do-a-time-audit#:~:text=Simply%20put%2C%20a%20time%20audit,want%20to%20spend%20your%20time.
Smart Goals. How to make your goals achievable: https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/smart-goals.htm
How to set SMART Goals and Prioritize Accordingly: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/how-set-smart-goals-prioritize-accordingly-adam-rapp
The 4 Ds of Time Management: https://www.productplan.com/glossary/4-ds-of-time-management/
As far as productivity is concerned, not all time is created equally: https://medium.com/running-2-keep-up/as-far-as-productivity-is-concerned-not-all-time-is-created-equally-e35ee99f5117