- Efficient time management not only increases productivity, but also reduces stress levels and increases our happiness quotient.
- We share some time management techniques that are a combination of age old (and still effective) methods and latest technological applications, aimed at helping you make the most of your time and helping you become highly productive.
Time waits for none. This age old adage is probably more relevant now than ever.
Between running for meetings and completing other “important” tasks on a given day, do you often find yourself wondering why does a day have only 24 hours? And does the thought of a never ending to-do list stress you out? Also, does it happen that despite your best efforts, critical tasks are still left incomplete at the end of what seems like a long day? If the answer to these questions is yes, then you – like most of us – need to change your time management techniques, because efficient time management not only increases productivity at work, but also reduces stress levels and increases our happiness quotient.
The suggestions that follow are a combination of age old time management techniques and latest technological applications, aimed at helping you make the most of your time and helping you become highly productive.
1. Maintain a calendar and plan your day (and week) in advance
While going to work, if you are unsure of what you want to achieve on that particular day, then you are more likely to miss your targets than achieve them. Hence, it is advisable to spend a few minutes to plan your day and working week in advance.
The quintessential diary/notebook is one way of planning your calendar. And for those that have already embraced or want to embrace technology to plan their calendar, you can consider using Doodle, an online tool which simplifies the process of scheduling events, whether they’re board or team meetings, dinners with friends, reunions, weekend trips, or anything else.
Make sure that you demarcate between on-going tasks and one-time tasks, and update your planner periodically to ensure that it reflects the evolving list of things that need your attention. Creating and maintaining a planner may seem tedious to start with, but once this activity starts giving results (higher productivity and effectiveness), it will become an inevitable part of your life.
2. Prepare a to-do list
One of the ways to ensure that you remain focused on completing the most important tasks on a given day, is to have a list of to-do’s with all the tasks you intend to do in the day.
The to-do list is intended to help you remain organized, by breaking larger tasks into smaller ones, thereby making them more manageable and easier to track and achieve. These tasks may be classified under different heads such as work, home, and personal.
You can consider using WorkFlowy for making and managing your to-do lists. WorkFlowy is an organizational tool that can help you organize to-dos, by making a list of high level ideas and tasks and then breaking them into smaller pieces. You can subdivide lists like this almost infinitely. Apart from managing to-do’s, this tool can be used to collaborate on large team projects, take notes, write research papers, keep a journal, and much more.
3. Prioritize and focus
Once you have prepared the to-do list, the next challenge is to prioritize the tasks and focus on completing them.
You need to ensure that you are focused on important things, and not just urgent things. Some tasks may be urgent but have lower strategic value, and completion of such tasks will give lower returns. It is important that such tasks are not prioritized over important tasks – which you should be reflective of your long-term goals and priorities. You can use a 1-5 coding system for prioritizing tasks – 1 for high priority items, 5 for low priorities, depending whether the task is high-yield and high-priority, or low-value, fill-in.
Most importantly, once you have a prioritized to-do list defined, make sure that you set a realistic timeline to complete it, and stick to it! Within each day, you can focus on the most important and challenging tasks in the morning, when you are fresh and have most energy. You can move towards some of the less important tasks in the second half of the day, when your energy and attention levels are relatively lower. To start with, incentivize timely task completion by rewarding yourself for meeting timelines. Once you fall into the habit of timely completion, such rewards won’t be required.
We all tend to make a common mistake of biting off more than we can chew, i.e. we tend to take on more work than what we can realistically complete, which ultimately leads to stress, frustration and exhaustion. Therefore, it is important to delegate work to peers and subordinates as per their skills and abilities.
Ask yourself a simple question – am I doing something that someone else within the organization could do? If the answer is a yes, then you need to delegate. When another person who is fit to do a job takes over, it is like getting twice the work done in same timeframe.
Also, administrative tasks like photocopying, filing, etc. take lot of time, but do not yield high returns. You may be doing these things yourself right now to save cost, but if training a person on it can save your time in the long run, then it is worth it as the time that you will save can be focused on innovation, skill building, and other value added tasks that will help you grow as professional.
Remember, ‘delegation’ is not running away from responsibilities; rather, it is an important management skill that separates successful leaders from the not-so-successful ones.
5. Learn to say "No"
Most of the times, our inability to say ‘no’ leads to confusion. When instead of saying a ‘no’, we say ‘maybe’ or ‘I will do that’ or ‘let me see’, it sets wrong expectations for others and puts pressure for us. So, make sure that you do no leave a conversation hanging by saying ‘yes’ or ‘maybe’ to something you can’t do. Also, don’t always feel a need to give reasons for refusing a task. A simple ‘no’ is enough in most cases.
Remember, most people appreciate honesty, and will not feel hurt if you set the right expectations at the outset. Instead, the heartburn (and loss) will be much higher – for you and for the other party – if you are unable to deliver and live up to your commitment.
6. Avoid Procrastination
Procrastination affects productivity and may result in loss of time and energy. It occurs when we put off tasks that we should be focusing on right now. It may give a temporary relief, but soon you will start feeling guilty of not having started the task and become more anxious to complete it, which may eventually lead to inability to complete the task on time or in the proper manner.
So, try to take decisions immediately when possible as the best time to do anything is NOW.
7. Prefer sequential-tasking over multitasking
You may feel that that if you multitask, you will gain more efficiency. However, we are usually better off when we focus on one thing at a time. For example, writing e-mails while speaking on the phone may seem like an efficient use of time, but the reality is that we may take up to 20-40 percent more time to finish our tasks when we multitask than if we do it in a sequence. Also, such an e-mail could be full of errors due to lack of attention paid while drafting it.
Therefore, it is better stay focused on one thing at a time, and after the first task is complete, move on to the next task. Multitasking may sound fancy and it sure creates a lot of activity, but it reduces productivity levels and should be avoided to improve time management.
Bottom line, move from multitasking to sequential-tasking.
8. Avoid unnecessary appointments
Controlling appointments can play an important role in time management as unnecessary appointments can lead to wastage of time and energy. Also, we tend to attend meetings without having clarity on the agenda/end objective and without reading the documentation beforehand. These meetings end up being unproductive. Therefore, it is important to avoid unnecessary meetings; and for those that you do attend, make sure that you are well prepared so that those meeting result in concrete next steps and results.
9. Keep distractions under control
We lose about two hours a day to distractions – which is quite a lot time. These distractions can come from emails, colleagues, phone calls from customers. To manage time effectively, you must minimize distractions and manage the interruptions effectively. For example, you may put a busy message on IM chats when you want to concentrate and let people know that they will be disturbing. You can also consider blocking Facebook and other social media platforms if they are not meant to be used for business, and end up being distractions rather than enablers. Instead, you can have dedicated computer terminals/cyber café within the office premises, where employees can spend their break time tending to personal e-mails and visiting social media sites.
10. Take Breaks
Ensure that you take 10-15 minutes break from work after regular intervals, as long sittings increase stress and reduce productivity levels. We may think that we are capable of working 8-10 hours on a stretch, but it is impractical to concentrate and be productive and efficient without relaxing and recharging ourselves.
So take a walk, listen to music or do whatever you like to make sure that your breaks help you recharge. It is, however, helpful if you can plan your breaks to ensure that your colleagues know when you are away and don’t end up expecting anything urgent in that time frame. Also, take some time off from work, plan vacations and spend time with your friends and family. It will refresh you and also increase your productivity.
The above are but some tips on how to improve our time management, and ultimately it is for each one of us to design- and stick to- a plan that meets our needs.