Whether you are a self-employed freelancer, working remotely from home or simply have a million-and-one things to do before the Christmas holidays, time management is a concept that could help many of us in our various endeavors. A tumultuous 2020 has devastated routine, productivity, progress and more, leaving many of us feeling overwhelmed, stressed and out of sorts. One thing that may help to get you back on track is organizing your time effectively, which doesn’t mean organizing your time in such a way that you can fit more in, rather, making that time more fruitful and productive whilst making room for relaxation.
Harvard Business Review defines time management as: ‘the decision-making process that structures, protects, and adjusts a person’s time to changing environmental conditions. Three particular skills separate time management success from failure:
Awareness: thinking realistically about your time by understanding it is a limited resource.
Arrangement: designing and organizing your goals, plans, schedules, and tasks to effectively use time.
Adaptation: monitoring your use of time while performing activities, including adjusting to interruptions or changing priorities.’
Review where you are spending your time
When starting to improve your time management, you need to begin by looking at where your time goes. Be honest with yourself and accurate with your time, some tasks that you believe are only taking thirty minutes, may actually be taking up a whole lot more. Spend a week monitoring your time, writing down when you are working, breaking, procrastinating and how long you are spending on each task. There are plenty of apps available that can help you track your time, should you find it useful.
Reassess how you view your time
Make sure that the overview of your time is accurate and takes into consideration your personal working preferences. Do you have a time of day that you are most productive? Break up your day to include your peak performance times. Further, also take into consideration how realistically you view time – did you believe a task would take you more or less time than it actually did – can you be more accurate here? Treat your time like it is money, evaluating where you spend the most of it and where it could be better spent. Value tasks on their level of importance – whether they must be done, or you simply would like them to be done. Also consider what affects doing these tasks would have in the long run, to judge their importance. You may have three deadlines this week and put off re-doing your resume – but if you want to find a new job re-working your resume sooner rather than later could be favorable to you. If you are spending too much time on one task be sure to evaluate its importance.
You may need to look at any habits that you have that are affecting your time. If you find a task laborious, do you find yourself scrolling through social media, spending time away from your desk making drinks or snacks etc? Can you counter these bad habits, perhaps by concentrating on the task for 20 minutes at a time, taking a five minute break in between. Or are you constantly burning out and becoming less productive as a result? If so you may need to schedule in time for yourself, making it as non-negotiable as those other tasks.
Create a schedule or time limits
Once you have a better understanding of where your time goes, you are in a better place to control it. Prioritize your tasks – cut down on time spent in areas that don’t need it. Perhaps you are spending more time answering emails than working, if so – limit your email time. Give yourself more time for longer tasks to offset stress and factor in time for breaks. It is also a good idea to add in ‘buffer’s’ between tasks should you run into unforeseen issues or they take longer than expected. By setting time limits or schedules for tasks and sticking to it, you may find you have a better control over your time, and become more disciplined. If you factor in enough time for breaks, even working for short bursts of time, and control your time healthily, you may also find that you keep procrastination at bay. Creating a daily plan may also mean you spend less time on menial tasks as you figure out where to start for the day. As you stick to your schedule you will create effortless habits that should make your life easier.
Make it easy on yourself
Most importantly you need to make your time management schedule suit you. Schedule out blocks of time dedicated to certain tasks, including time to relax. Constantly review your time habits and adjust accordingly, you may need more time allocated in some areas and less than others. If you find tasks too overwhelming, break them down into manageable ‘to-do’s’ within your allotted time or work in bursts. If you already have some habits in place, use the ‘habit stacker’ technique – for example, review your schedule for the day over breakfast. If you prefer to use technology, there are plenty of time-tracker, checklist and organization apps available. Overall, mix and match tools and tricks to craft a time management system that suits your schedule and personality.