Let’s face it- 24 hours in a day seems limiting. After all, you have deadlines, coworkers to manage, and a looming project. How do the likes of Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, with all their responsibilities, have enough time to accomplish their goals? One common characteristic of very successful people is excellent time management skills. By not learning or employing time management techniques, you are not working efficiently as possible.
We will go over five time management tips that will hopefully save you time, money and increase your efficiency. They say it takes three weeks of repetition to make an action a habit-what are you waiting for!? Start practicing the time management skills shown below.
#1) Track your daily activity
Before you can begin to manage your time better, you must analyze your habits and workflow. Are you spending too much time on low priority tasks? Getting interrupted frequently? Are you a procrastinator? Tracking your daily activities for a week should give you a big enough sample size to draw conclusions on your habits. You can track your time easily by using a cell phone, PDA, time tracker, or even a simple Excel worksheet. Pay special attention to any interruptions-including the duration and cause. For example, responding to email’s, answering questions from co-workers, etc. Remember to be honest! If you are spending your day on Facebook or FML, document it! The more honest you are with yourself, the better you can assess your habits.
#2) Minimize Interruptions
Like many of us in the corporate world, we are constantly bombarded by things that can interrupt us. As a project manager, you don’t even know how many times a co-worker asks for a ‘you got a minute’ meeting. These ‘you got a minute’ meetings turn into ten minute meetings. After tracking my daily activities, I realize I was spending roughly 2 hours a day from these impromptu meetings! That’s roughly a quarter of my work day! As a result, I implemented “office hours”. This is a forty minute time period where I conduct “you got a minute” meetings- kind of like a college professor.
After tracking my daily activities, I also realized that I was spending too much time answering e-mails, especially at inopportune times. Although smart phones and other automatic notifications make it easier and more tempting to view and answer each message in your inbox as soon as it arrives, it is inefficient. I’ve learnt that unless you are prepared to answer and deal with that message at the moment, do not answer or view it. E-mail is a convenience-you don’t have to live by it.
Whatever is interrupting you-whether it is a chatty co-worker, a funny website, emails, or impromptu meetings- you must learn to cut them out- or at least minimize them.
#3) Can’t touch this!
Although I alluded to this in #2, I felt it was so important, that it deserved its own point. Tell me if this sounds familiar: You come into the office and you see ten’s of emails. You look at one email and you quickly realize that it’s going to take more time than you have right now. You put it aside, and handle another task. While you’re doing this task, the phone rings and you get pulled in a new direction. You then go back to handle the email you left aside, but another email comes in with a task that cannot be dealt with right now. Do you see the problem? The constant revisiting and readdressing of old emails and tasks is a big time waster! If you spend 15 minutes per day to revisit, readdress, or reread documents or emails, you will waste 97 hours per year where no action is taken!
This is why I suggest a one-touch rule. Meaning, if you touch it, take action. Don’t open the email or task until you’re ready to deal with it. If you are unable to deal with it, place it an appropriate folder and add it to your to-do list. The one-touch rule is predicated on good email management, which brings us to point number four.
4) Email Management
Emails have long replaced fax machines and are a major convenience, but without proper email management skills, you could be wasting a lot of time. The key to effectively managing your emails is very descriptive subject lines. For example, “Web analytics-11/19 report”. From the subject line, the person receiving this can infer the length of time and the content of the email, and is easily able to store the email in an appropriate folder for later viewing. After receiving the above email, ideally you would place it in the “web analytics” folder and add it to your to-do list. That’s how organized you need to be.
I also insist that my company change email subject lines when the content of the email changes. Let me show you why this is important. Suppose I email someone with the subject line, “Upcoming Seminar-Palm Springs” and they write back: “Yeah, I’ll be there. I already booked the flight. P.S. Did you talk to Mike about the deliverable I mentioned to you?” The email goes back and forth about the problem with Mike, but still has “Upcoming Seminar-Palm Springs” in the subject line. A few weeks pass, someone asks you what happened with Mike? One of the eight emails covers that important issue, but you have to sort through all eight to find it. Moral of the story: change the subject line as you change the content of the email!
5) Lists, lists, lists!
Making lists are a great way to keep organized. They help you focus on high priority and highly productive matters. The key to being productive and creating good lists is keeping it brief. You should only put down six or seven of the most important things you need to get done that day. This way you can pick something from your list, do it, and feel productive about it. When you have a long list, you tend to do the easy, less productive tasks first to trim the list. It is also gratifying crossing off all your objectives for the day, knowing that these were the most important tasks.
Although lists are extremely useful, you must also be realistic. You should determine the amount of time each task realistically takes. You want to make sure all your items on the list can be accomplished in one day. If one of your tasks is too big to accomplish in one day, you should write down the amount of time you will dedicate towards it. Here is an example of a quality list:
In addition to your daily list, you should also create a separate to-do list for tasks that suddenly arise- add them to your daily schedule as needed. This is especially important for email management, and ensures that tasks that originate through email do not fall through the cracks.
There you have it, folks. Those are my top 5 time management techniques. Feel free to share what time management techniques works for you!