How to make time work for you.
The term time management gets thrown around a lot, especially when you get into leadership positions. For a leader, this is another essential skill to understand and learn. This involves how to manage your time, and more importantly, how to discern if you have poor time management or if something else might be the problem. Before we step foot into the world of time management we must first define it. The Oxford Dictionary defines time-management as "the ability to use one's time effectively or productively, especially at work." Personally, I would also include the ability to use time in one's personal and professional life productively. It is important to note that time management can be used at work and within one's hobbies, romantic life, family, social life, etc.
Why do you need to learn about time management?
Ever wonder how certain people seem to get more done than others? They understand that everyone only has 24 hours within a day, and every hour can be planned out effectively. By simply sitting down and planning out your day, you can increase your productivity and decrease wasted time.
By having effective time management, you will never miss a deadline, increasing your reliability. Your reputation will improve as you become known for always completing your tasks on time. An improved reputation can have a knock-on effect of seeing promotions at work or an increase in profits at your business. Another beneficial side effect of good time management is a decrease in stress. Seeing yourself moving forward and understanding that you will always make your deadlines means you worry less about your future and can enjoy your present more fully.
Sounds good, eh? Unfortunately, the reverse is also true. Suppose you fail to manage your time effectively. In that case, you'll have more stress as you pull all-nighters to complete your projects, anticipate conversations with your boss about why you didn't finish a project on time, lose contracts because you couldn't finish the proposal, and the list goes on! You could become known as unreliable and passed up for potential promotion opportunities. Frustration and anger could build up as you fail to see yourself and your team grow in the ways you want!
If you want to increase your productivity, conquer your goals, and improve the quality of your life, it's time to learn how to manage your time, baby! Simply put, time management can be split into two categories, prioritizing what's important and working efficiently.
Prioritizing what's important
Before you can even think about managing your time, you need to figure out what is important. A good starting place to see what is vital is to determine your goals(1). Where do you see yourself or your team going? What do you need to succeed? What are you looking to accomplish? Examine closely your answers and potential courses of action.Any action that advances your goals has higher importance than actions that don't
Once you know what your goal is, examine all the tasks within that goal. Time-sensitive tasks are naturally placed higher on the prioritize list than those that aren't. See if any tasks are linked together, meaning you cannot complete task two until task one is done; this naturally makes task one of higher importance than task two.
5 categories to prioritize your life
Still, struggling with prioritization? An easy way to prioritize is to examine your life and categorize the way you spend your time into five areas: Things you need to do to live; Things you need to do for your business/professional/work goals; Things you want to do for fun; Things you should probably do sometime within the month; Things you should do within the following year.
Things you need to do to live, to survive physically
Cooking, cleaning, paying bills, exercise, eating healthy food, etc...
Things you need to do to accomplish your long term vision of your future
Working on your blog, completing your website, going on a speed date, going to an event to meet people, etc...
Things you do for fun (you only have one life, make sure you love living it!)
Things that make you smile, make you happy, stuff that ensures you enjoy your life.
Things you should probably do sometime within the month (its critical to get done but not time-sensitive)
Keeping up with essential relationships, laundry, having a talk about your future with your significant other, reviewing your priorities, etc...
Things you should do within the following year (its not important now but something to think about)
Renew your passport, renew your license, buy a new car, joining a sports group, etc?...
Once you can see what is essential and what isn't, you can start to streamline your work, baby! First, start by looking at all your tasks and think, "am I the right person for this job or is someone else better suited to the task?". If you are not the right person or someone is better than you, it's time to delegate. Instruct someone else to complete the job on your behalf; this will free you to complete the job you are suited for.
Schedule your breaks!
Many leaders think they are more efficient by simply powering through a project without taking breaks. Psychology Today(2) wrote a fantastic article about this (link below). Not allowing your brain time to rest will result in a decrease in overall performance, learning, and work output. Scheduling a quick 30-minute break to do a different activity will improve your learning and increase your performance, creativity, and attentiveness. This means that if you are stimulating yourself mentally at work, your break should be either physically stimulating or devoid of challenging mental work. Think of walking, cleaning, meditating, eating, and listening to music.
Compound your work
As you achieve your goals, you are going to have many tasks to complete. Take some time before starting each day to understand what is necessary to complete each task and see the similarities. An easy example of this is knowing that you need to get groceries, a gift card for a birthday, a new computer, and drop off some mail at a friend's place. Before you head out of the house, think, "Which of these tasks can I do together?". In this example, you can go to a big box store and pick up a gift card, groceries and look at their laptops all at one location, which means that you only have to stop at two places, your friend's home and at a big box store, instead of hitting four different areas.
A more real-world example is that you are working at your desk and have to print out a report; simultaneously, you are aware that you need a new pen from the supplies, need to use the washroom, and fill up your water bottle. Most people simply do each of these four tasks on different trips, and a person with time management will merely do each of these tasks within one trip saving 10 minutes in the process.
On a subconscious level, you understand time blocking and you are probably doing it right now without even realizing it. Time blocking, in short, is allowing within your schedule time for a specific activity and making sure it happens come hell or high water. If you are time blocking effectively, you are saying no to events, people, and incidents that will in any way interfere with you participating with you completing this activity because what you have booked is that important!
Storytime - I had a client expressing frustration with her personal relationship. She was working towards her master's and working full time, and this meant not a lot of time for her boyfriend. When we sat down, it became clear that her priority was her relationship and making it work with school. During our sessions, she began time blocking date night every single Friday evening. At first, she was worried about her job and not picking up shifts, but when faced with what was more important, her relationship or her job, she realized it was her relationship. From that day forward, she made sure date night happened by saying no to friends, family, work and always making sure she was ready every Friday after 5pm for date night. Within four weeks, her relationship was better than ever, all because she started time blocking.
Multitasking isn't anything new. I know, no surprise. Suppose you've driven and listened to music; you're multitasking. If you've doodled while listening to a presentation, you're multitasking. Times Magazine(3) discusses multitasking in-depth, saying that you can multitask with ease as long as one of your tasks is a "highly practiced" task like walking, eating, or peeling a carrot. The problem arises when you need to analyze, assess, decide, and create, which requires far more brainpower.
When you do more than one task that isn't highly practiced, like texting your phone, listening to music, searching the web, and listening to your friend, you aren't multitasking. Your brain works more like a light switch, and it's either doing a task or it's not. Neuroscientist Jordan Grafman stated, "you're doing more than one thing, but you're ordering them and deciding which one to do at any one time."
In short, this means that you aren't multitasking. You are just single-tasking, and you’re giving each task a split second of attention. Giving your split second of attention means that while yes, you are doing multiple things at once on paper, you probably aren't doing them well in practice.
If you want to be more productive, spend your time only doing one task at a time for 30 minutes to an hour before changing up your task. You'll see both your productivity increase and the quality of your work improve!
The Wrap-up Baby!
By prioritizing your day, you can cut out the unimportant tasks to create a clear picture of what needs to be done and when.
Then by delegating, compounding your work, time blocking, scheduling your breaks, and not multitasking, you will find yourself more productive, and more importantly, with time to spare!
(1) Melnyk, A. (2021, September 7). making the right goal for the right job. SeedingtheLead. https://www.seedingthelead.com/post/making-the-right-goal-for-the-right-job
(2)Selig, M. (2021, April 18). How do work breaks help your brain? 5 surprising answers. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/changepower/201704/how-do-work-breaks-help-your-brain-5-surprising-answers
(3)Wallis, C. W. (2006, March 19). The Multitasking Generation. Time Magazine. http://www.fritzhubbard.org/words/The_Multitasking_Generation.pdf