Control your time instead of letting time control you.
Too much work to do in too little time is too familiar a refrain in both work and life. Despite utilising countless scheduling tools in our laptops, wearables, handhelds and other smart devices, many of us invariably hustle to complete our tasks in a given day. Some of us try to control time through aggressive scheduling, only to end up feeling exhausted with the still-pending commitments by the end of the day.
An individual’s ability or inability to manage his time impacts an organisation’s productivity and morale. That is why Time Management skills are one of the most sought-after in the workforce. At the same time, it remains amongst the rarer skills to find.
While numerous surveys have revealed increased employee productivity due to work from home during the pandemic, the average workday has also increased by 30 minutes globally during the same period. The reduction of time spent on additional activities such as commuting, the coffee room breaks etc., has led to an increase in work-time, instead of the other way round- a paradox of Time Management!
It is crucial to understand the components of effective Time Management to unravel this paradox.
What is Time Management?
Time management is a conscious decision-making process that structures and organises a person’s time towards specific activities that need to be accomplished, adjusting for the changing external and internal environment. Greater productivity and efficiency, less stress and enhanced opportunities to achieve life’s and career goals are some of the enormous benefits of effective Time Management.
The Three skills for Successful Time Management
Three broad skills that separate successful time management from that of a failed one are:
Awareness- Realistic understanding that time is a finite resource, and hence scheduling more volume of tasks won’t help.
Adaptation-Monitoring usage of time while performing activities, including adjusting to unexpected interruptions or changing priorities.
The majority of us make the mistake of attempting to schedule our way to effective Time Management through the use of calendars and other productivity tools, which constitute only one-third of Time Management Skills.
The techniques and tips deployed for Time Management need to encompass all three skills for a successful control over one’s time.
Effective Time Management Techniques
In essence, time management isn’t so much about managing time as it is about managing yourself. The techniques mentioned here will improve the ways you work, help control distractions and enhance concentration levels.
1. Decide the principles, not the tasks. Work will expand to fill the time allotted for its completion as per the renowned Parkinson’s law. No matter how much effort we put in to separate the urgent from important or prioritise our tasks, something unexpected will always come up, and certain tasks for the day will remain incomplete. Instead of growing frustrated with a long to-do list, it would be better to decide the principle for the finite period. E.g. Your principle for the day may be to complete your review presentation, for the week can be to make a sales pitch to ten new prospects, and for the month may be to come up with a five-year vision for your department. Accordingly, you will arrange your To-Do list with activities that will bring you closer to your principles. Tasks not core to these principles will be ranked lower or eliminated from your To-Do list.
2. Allow time for individual contribution. Despite the MS Team or Zoom meetings that fill our Outlook calendars, we find ourselves working late through the night, or worse, on weekends, to finish our work. Ever paused to reflect why? The blue blocks in your calendar often represent the time where others require your presence to accomplish their objectives. While teamwork drives an organisation, there would be invariably some tasks that require your individual attention, focus and decision. Block your time in the calendar to review that important presentation, reflect on the client meetings you had during the week, or think about strategic aspects of a decision. Having your ‘Me-Time’ at work is as important as collaboration time.
3. Keep a realistic and quality-oriented To-Do list. If you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there. Having a to-do list is imperative for you to be on top of your time. At the same time, be realistic and recognise that there is a limit to the time and your energy levels. Cut down the volume of tasks to be done in a day. Let your To-Do list be more about quality and not about quantity.
4. Put a stopwatch on your tasks. If you like something, you can continue with the same activity for the entire day, adversely impacting your ability to finish the other tasks on your plate. Conversely, routine tasks like answering emails can consume your entire day if you let it. Set a time limit for the important and routine tasks in your control, and stick to it.
5. Establish routines for a part of your day. Analyse the historical time taken to complete your tasks and identify the two to three-hour time block when you are your best productive self. Schedule and block your most important activity for the day during that time. Try to keep it your ‘Quiet Time’ on the job, with email and phone notifications switched off and your messenger status displayed as ‘Unavailable’ or ‘Busy’.
6. Organise your Environment. Keep the systems, processes, and tools you use for your work neatly organised to locate the same without thinking when required. While the time spent finding your work diary with minutes from the last team meeting or locating the file in your laptop may seem insignificant in isolation, it adds to the pressure of a busy day.
7. Learn to Say No. It is human nature to overestimate our capabilities and underestimate the time at our disposal. Couple that with the desire to please all, and we often end up biting more than we can chew. Keep an eye on your calendar and examine your principles and priorities for the period before committing to something. If there are constraints to your time, it would be better to say No upfront rather than risk missing your commitments later. ‘Underpromise and Overdeliver’ should be the mantra here.
In this season of personal introspection, it is important to turn away from alluring quick fixes and focus our development efforts to cultivate all the three skills underlying our Time Management Efforts.
When practised over time, the seven techniques will help you control your time and accomplish what you want.
Your time belongs to you- be the master of the same.
Smita D Jain is a Certified Personal Empowerment Life Coach, Executive Coach and NLP Practitioner. Smita’s ‘Empower Yourself’ Coaching Programs enable people to create a career they love, find time to do all that they like and live the life they choose.
Prior to her journey as a coach, Smita had extensive experience of 14 years as a corporate and business strategy professional with Fortune 500 companies. She is also a speaker at various public forums, a published writer, and an Amazon bestselling author.
You can learn more about Smita’s ‘Empower Yourself’ Coaching Programs by visiting https://www.lifecoachsmitadjain.com/