The rules of time management have changed – the days of showing up to the office, working through your inbox, shifting items to your outbox, going home and repeating the same sequence the next day are well and truly over.
Now, our inboxes never stop and they follow us around-the-clock. In the past, the goal of good time management was to get things done. Your goal these days is more than that – it’s about finishing what needs to be done, and being clear on what you are going to do and when you are going to do it. It’s also about knowing what you are not going to do.
Here are 9 ways to effectively manage your time.
1. Schedule weekly planning time
Have dedicated time at the end of each week to look forward and schedule the next week. You need to be out in front of your tasks and actions. This allows us to be proactive in determining what we are allocating our time to and not just responding to what shows up.
One of the best times to do this is on Friday afternoon. Block out 30 to 60 minutes to look at what you completed this week and what you need to complete next week.
Doing this on Friday afternoon has two benefits. First, it allows your ‘mind’ to relax over the weekend as your next week if fully thought through and planned out and second, when you show up on Monday you can jump right into the first schedule task rather than spending time getting a plan in place.
2. Be specific with start and end times
Items on your schedule should be clearly defined with start times, durations and ending times. Just creating a “to do” list for the day is not enough. By being clear about what you are going to do, when you are going to do it and how much time you are allocating, you can get very clear on both what you will get done and what you will not be doing.
If you’re not clear on how long a task will take, overestimate the amount of time by 50 per cent. If you finish early, you can always move on to another task and it avoids having yourself being committed to completing two tasks at the same time.
3. Schedule your activities not just appointment with others
Most of us are very good at keeping meetings and appointments when other people are involved. If you had a meeting with your organisation’s CEO on Tuesday at 11am, most of us would make that meeting.
Do you treat tasks that you need to get done the same way or are you more likely to have other items come up or get distracted. If you need to get a specific task or item complete, schedule it just like you would a meeting with the CEO and honour your commitment to it in the same way.
4. Be clear about what you are not going to do
As you get clear about your schedule and allocating time, you will see exactly what you are doing and when. This will also allow you to see which items or tasks you will not be getting done and be responsible by letting anyone know who needs to or to make an alternative plan.
5. Keep the big picture in mind
As we get inundated, it is very easy to spend all our time putting out the day to day fires. As part of your weekly plan, allocate time to take a step back and look at the big picture. Are the tasks and activities you are completing on a daily and weekly basis supporting the achievement of a larger goal or purpose?
6. Use a priority matrix to determine what to schedule first
Steven Covey popularised the use of the relationship between the urgency and importance as a tool to set priorities. It entails ranking tasks in terms of urgency and importance and the combination of the 2 gives you a priority level.
7. Be aware of your personal productivity curve
Schedule tasks at the appropriate time of day based on your personal productivity curve. We all have times of the day where we are more “on and alert” than others.
This is your 20 per cent time in the 80/20 rule where 20 per cent of your efforts are producing 80 per cent of your results. Spend these times working on what is most import and valuable and not doing mundane tasks.
If your most productive time is first thing in the morning, don’t start the day weeding through your emails.
8. Get control of your email
Don’t be at the mercy of your email notification alert going off and responding like a Pavlovian dog. Have specific times for handling and taking care of email. The frequency of these times throughout the day will vary depending on your role, but emails don’t have to be read the minute they come in.
If you were in the above mentioned meeting with your CEO, would you be checking every email that comes in during that meeting? Remember treat the time you have allocated to tasks the same way as you would a meeting with someone else.
9. You make and are in control of your schedule
Once you have your schedule in place, follow it. It’s the old cliché “Plan your work and then work your plan.” If something comes up that displaced something in your schedule, simply put it back into your plan to handle at another time.
You made the schedule, so you can alter it and not be a victim of it. Just remember, only alter it because what came up meets the criteria of being a higher priority (urgency and importance) not just because you don’t feel like it at the moment.
Lou Markstrom is the co-author of Unleashing the Power of IT: Bringing People, Business, and Technology Together, published by Wiley as part of its CIO series. Over the past 25 years, he has worked with over 35,000 people to create high performance organisations, teams and individuals.