Time management, whether you’re looking for a new role or simply want to progress in your current one, is one of the most valuable skills you can cultivate. There may only be 24 hours in a day, but if you plan your time effectively and make the most of your work hours then you should be able to enjoy your downtime a lot more, as well as having more of it.
It’s fair to say that we could all do with a brush up on basic career skills from time to time and one of the key proficiencies to master in any workplace is that of time management. Here are our top tips to stay focused and manage your workload efficiently.
Where is your time going?
The first step in re-adjusting your schedule is to take a look at how you’re currently spending your time. Make a list of the tasks you did in a day, even the smaller ones like clearing out your emails. Then note how much time it took you. Are you spending an appropriate amount of time on each task? Can anything be cut out?
Look at your behaviour
Now you know where you’re spending the majority of your time, it’s time to analyse why certain tasks are taking so long and decide whether this can be improved upon. Is a certain task taking longer than it should because you don’t want to do it? Or is it a prioritisation issue? For example, take a look at whether your day is being taken up with lots of smaller, last-minute tasks which are preventing you from working on longer-term projects?
Manage your communications
More time than you think is wasted through inefficient communication – from unclear instructions that need clarification to playing “telephone tennis” with someone who is always out of the office.
Manage this by keeping your email inbox tidy so you don’t miss anything, with folders for different jobs. If you have to phone someone don’t stay on hold for 10 minutes each time – leave a clear message stating the urgency and follow up with an email where possible or find out when would be a good time to call back.
With multiple projects on the go, it is easy to let things get on top of you. Deciding on the urgency and importance of each task will help you to meet your deadlines. However, you must remain flexible so that when other urgent jobs come in they don’t throw you off balance.
Important vs. urgent
To help you prioritise, go through each task and decide if it is important, urgent, both or neither. American President Dwight Eisenhower used this system to organise his workload. If a task is both important and urgent you should do it immediately, if it is neither you should put it on the back burner. If it is urgent but not important you can delegate it to somebody else and if it’s important but not urgent you can schedule it for slightly later.
Don’t fear delegation
Sometimes you will need to make some room in your schedule and this might mean passing on tasks to others.
Sometimes it seems as though, by the time you’ve explained the task and done a detailed handover, you might as well have done the job yourself. But, the time spent teaching another person will soon be made up, freeing your time for tasks that need your attention.
Organise your workspace
It’s been said that a tidy desk equals a tidy mind, so make sure that your working environment is as organised as it can be. Less clutter means fewer distractions and fewer distractions mean more productivity.
Just say no to distractions
From text messages to social media to work colleagues, if you’re going to get your work done to schedule you’re going to need to resist all forms of distractions. Learn to say no to non-important tasks, conference calls, emails, gossip sessions, etc.
Try not to have your email programme open all day unless you’re expecting something urgent – instead try to check your emails at regular intervals during the day and deal with them when you see them.
And no matter what, try to ignore notifications from Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.
Being prepared for meetings or catch-ups is the key to using this time effectively. If you haven’t sufficiently prepared then it won’t be productive and may even result in a follow-up meeting being arranged; essentially doubling the time you will have to spend away from your workload and increasing the pressure on you.
Working in panic-mode will not help you to get your tasks done any faster and may even mean that you make mistakes which cost you more time. Keep your head and go about your work in a methodical way, weighing each problem against your available time and resources.
If you feel the workload is overwhelming, think about how you or others can lessen the pressure. Talk to both your line manager and your colleagues if you need help or just want to talk things through.
It is often said that hard work is its own reward, but it is much easier to feel satisfied with your work and remain motivated with real-life incentives. It could be a ten minute break and a cup of coffee when you’ve finished a spreadsheet or planning a holiday once a major project has been completed. Remember the phrase “all work and no play makes jack a dull boy” and try to find an achievable balance.