Time. There’s never enough of it. As a manager, you can lose up to three hours every day to unforeseen interruptions and people management challenges.
This means that effectively managing the time you do have available becomes critical to your personal productivity and wider business contribution.
The majority of us are most productive earlier in the day, working hardest between 9 a.m. and 12 p.m. This means how you prioritize and schedule your tasks is crucial if you want to end the day feeling accomplished rather than overwhelmed.
This article will explore why good time management is so critical and outline our top six strategies for improving your time management skills.
Why is good time management important?
There are several reasons why good time management is important, including higher overall productivity.
If you manage your time effectively, tasks are completed on time and to the expected level of quality. This means that any work depending on those tasks isn’t delayed, work doesn’t need to be returned for improvements, and productivity remains high.
Good time management can also reduce stress. While some people thrive if they’re rushing to meet a deadline, that can be pretty anxiety-inducing for many of us.
And even those who prefer the intensity of an impending deadline can burn out if tasks are always completed under stress.
Finally, good time management also builds professional credibility. By effectively managing your time, you meet deadlines and get done what you say you will when you say you will.
People come to rely on you and seek you out for more challenging tasks that contribute to increased responsibility and career progression.
Given these benefits, it’s no wonder you’re interested in improving your time management skills. Let’s look at the top six strategies.
1. SMART goals
While goal setting can’t increase the amount of time you have, it can make sure you maximize it.
SMART goals help boost employee motivation as it’s clear how the work you’re doing fits into the overall company mission. This is important, as low motivation can increase the time it takes us to complete tasks, impacting productivity.
All available time becomes focused on the future goal and creating value for the organization rather than mindlessly working toward something that may or may not generate a positive outcome.
How to set a SMART goal
A SMART goal has five key components. The goal must be:
- Specific. A specific goal clearly states what objective needs to be accomplished.
- Measurable. The goal needs to be quantified, so it’s obvious when it’s achieved.
- Attainable. You have the skills, experience, and resources required to achieve the goal.
- Relevant. The goal is relevant to the overall company mission or strategy.
- Timely. The goal is time-bound, so it’s clear when it needs to be achieved by.
For example, let’s consider a small business who want to focus on growing their sales. They’ve decided their website is an excellent way to increase sales leads but know the user experience isn’t great.
A great example of a SMART goal for this business might be something like:
Increase the number of qualified sales leads we gain through our website by 20% over the next four months. We will do that by improving our website user experience by reorganizing the site navigation to make it more intuitive.
2. Eisenhower matrix
With our endless to-do lists, it’s easy to get caught up in ‘busy’ work rather than prioritize work you know is making the most significant contribution toward your goal.
Dwight D. Eisenhower knew a thing or two about being busy. As a senior military leader and 34th president of the United States, he was concerned with maximizing the time he had available by focusing on tasks that created the most value.
He created a simple 2×2 matrix that helped him organize his work by order of importance and urgency.
Using this matrix, he was able to see the full scope of the work he had to complete. He could then prioritize those tasks that would deliver the most benefit and delegate other lower-value work.
How to use the Eisenhower matrix
To use the Eisenhower matrix, first write a list of all the work you have on your plate.
Then decide how important each task is on a scale of 1–4, with 4 being the most important.
Your most important tasks are those where you can clearly see the link between their completion and your longer-term goals.
Then, categorize tasks depending on their level of urgency. Tasks due tomorrow may be the most urgent, for example, whereas those due by the end of the month may be less urgent.
When any tasks come in, make sure to clarify the deadline for the work. After all, your definition of urgent might be different than the person giving you the work.
Finally, plot the tasks on the matrix. You should be able to clearly see high-priority tasks that need to be completed first, tasks that can be tackled more slowly, and those that should be delegated.
You may also find some tasks that don’t actually add value and can be dropped from your to-do list.
As new work comes in, reprioritize your tasks, so you’re always tackling the highest priorities first.
3. Eat that frog
Procrastination is the thief of time.
There’s a famous quote attributed to Mark Twain that states, “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.”
For the moment, let’s assume Mr. Twain wasn’t actually advocating eating live frogs.
The underlying message of this quote is that if you tackle your most challenging work early, the rest of the day will feel comparatively easy.
How to schedule “frog” tasks
We all have times that we feel most productive. If we’re lucky, we can work flexibly and schedule challenging tasks for the times when we feel most able to tackle them.
For many of us, getting a tricky task out of the way first thing builds motivation and sets us up for a good day. But, if you work a regular 9–5 and you know you focus best in the afternoon, don’t be afraid to schedule more challenging tasks then.
Just make sure the rest of your workload doesn’t overwhelm you earlier in the day and prevent you from getting to your most important task.
4. Time blocking
This leads us nicely on to the technique of time blocking. Also known as the Pomodoro technique, this involves organizing your work into short, focused sessions, followed by a small break.
It can be useful if you get easily distracted, as you only need to concentrate for relatively short periods of time before you have a break.
It can also be helpful if you feel overwhelmed by work or daunted by a specific task.
Breaking it down and committing to just working on a small part of it for 25 minutes can sometimes be all that’s required to overcome the mental hurdle.
How to make time blocking work for you
On a daily basis, review your calendar and task list.
Some people prefer to do this at the end of the day so they can get straight into work in the morning. Others prefer to set aside some time at the beginning of the day in case new priorities pop up first thing.
Decide what tasks you want to tackle. Then, segment your time in blocks of 25 minutes, with a five-minute break after each block to make 30 minutes in total.
After four sets of 30 minutes, schedule a long break of 15–30 minutes.
In reality, the 25:5 ratio may not work for you. If that’s the case, don’t be afraid to find a time frame that does.
The underlying principle remains the same. Complete short sessions of uninterrupted work, followed by a short break to relax before refocusing on the job in hand.
5. Activity batching
Activity batching is similar to time blocking, but it focuses on grouping similar activities into one batch. For example, a social media manager utilizing activity batching might plan a week’s worth of Instagram posts in one go.
It helps you build a rhythm as you tackle similar tasks all at once. It’s also great for using resources effectively.
For example, if you need a specific piece of equipment for a particular task, completing ten of those tasks at once is likely more efficient than completing the same thing on ten different occasions.
Activity batching also prevents multitasking, which can decrease productivity.
How to use activity batching
Activity batching is great for work that includes repeatable tasks and for people who like to get into a ‘flow state.’
It’s less useful for highly varied work or people who like mixing up tasks during the day and can get quickly back to the task at hand after distractions.
If you want to try it, examine your workweek and look for frequently repeated tasks.
Batch those tasks together and schedule a time in your calendar where you’ll complete the whole batch in one go. Pay specific attention to tasks that need the same resources.
You can combine this with the Pomodoro technique and make this one of your short, focused sessions and then take a break before beginning work on something new.
6. Time tracking
Time tracking helps you identify exactly how your time is being spent. And it allows you to look honestly at how long tasks take to complete.
Parkinson’s Law says that work expands to fill the time available for it, which means setting appropriate time limits for tasks may help you manage your time better.
Time tracking helps you more clearly estimate how long tasks should take and set appropriate limits.
How to use time tracking to reduce task duration
We all know that knowledge is power.
By monitoring the time spent on tasks, you can identify what eats up most of your time. This enables you to look at tasks that appear to take too long for the value they generate.
For those tasks, you can try hacking Parkinson’s Law by reducing the time you set aside for the task to see if you can lower its duration. Or you might try one of the other techniques we’ve shared above, such as batching similar tasks to increase efficiency.
Improve your time management to boost personal productivity
In this article, we’ve offered six proven strategies for developing effective time management skills.
But, that in itself can’t help with the people problems you likely face at work every day. Developing the skills of your team can reduce the amount they look to you for guidance.
Our practical, bite-sized High Output Management course can help improve how you manage and develop your people and help you claw back some of that precious time. Why not check it out today at www.paretolabs.com?
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