Struggling with time management is a challenge that almost all my clients have experienced, whether they are managing teams of people or just solo entrepreneurs. There are so many things we want and need to do, and often there does not seem to be enough time to get them all done.
Luckily, there are tools and methods that can help us be more focused and efficient. Not only have my clients found them useful, but I utilize and practice these tips regularly myself with great success. I do follow my own advice – most of the time!
Not taking control of how we spend our finite time can have significant consequences.
We can all miss important deadlines. This, in turn, can lead to damaged reputations, lost opportunities, strained relationships, financial penalties, and sometimes even legal issues!
Our productivity suffers. We may not allocate the needed resources or time which may cause us to need to rush the work and therefore lower the quality.
It takes a toll on our mental health. We may find ourselves working later and longer, creating an imbalance between our work-life and home-life. We are stressed! We can suffer burnout.
Making a decision to take charge of your schedule is the first step. Reviewing the various options available and then creating a plan that suits your personality and lifestyle sets you on the road to increased productivity and greater peace of mind.
One of the key elements of effective time management is taking the time to plan. Many of us just start our day without mapping out our priorities, simply living by default. This can be helpful in the short-term but stunting in the long-term.
Use the Eisenhower Matrix
Setting aside time to assess what is important, not just what is pressing, is critical. One of the most useful tools is the Eisenhower Matrix, made well-known by Stephen Covey. Making the effort to review your workload and assign your responsibilities to these important categories can dramatically improve your workflow. Too often we let what is urgent but not important become the task we focus on.
Let’s review how to use this to the fullest advantage.
Do what is urgent and important. Many times, these tasks are the ones we’d have the most concerns about, so we procrastinate, deliberate, and relegate it to a later time. Putting these at the top of our to do list ensures that they get the time and attention needed.
Plan – Decide what is important but not urgent. Many goals have multiple tasks associated with them or require a significant amount of time. Breaking these tasks down into bite size pieces or setting aside enough time to accomplish the goal ensures their full and satisfactory completion.
Delegate what you can. We will get into this in more detail below but too often we hold onto duties that can and should be done by someone else. This is a recurring theme with many of my clients! We are social creatures; we build better together.
Delete what is not necessary. Sometimes this is the hardest segment of all. Are you holding onto tasks out of guilt or a false sense of responsibility? Remember to steer clear of the sunken cost fallacy. Be honest with yourself about what you can eliminate.
Time Management Strategies
Set Clear Goals
Many of us get so caught up in the day to day that we don’t take the time to look ahead with SMART goals. This applies to both long-term and short-term goals. These are Specific, Measurable, Relevant, Time Sensitive – they can be measured and monitored. What gets measured, gets managed. I have another blog about setting goals. Setting clear targets for the future enables you to determine the steps you need to take along the way. For example, if you want make more money, you would sit down and look at all your options. From those ideas, you can set up specific tasks. These now become your priorities.
Keep a To-Do List
Getting all those tasks down into one system or another, either by hand or by computer, is important. As I say below, using the system that works best for you, get it out of your head and onto a clear path. Going through each step can help in so many ways. You can see what is missing along the way as you think it through. It relieves the stress of uncertainty. It increases the likelihood of accountability. It uses a system rather than your memory to make sure that each element is covered. I confess that I am always a bit surprised when I meet people who don’t rely on a to-do list. How they track their tasks – both professional and personal – is one of the first topics I cover with all new clients.
Keep your Daily Priority List Short
Gary Keller suggests only one priority per day in his book The One Thing. That is too few for me, but you get the idea. When we keep the task list short, we focus on the most important first. There are also psychological reasons for keeping the daily list to a minimum. The two more important benefits are an increase in productivity and a decrease in stress. We can go into a panic mode when we look at everything we need to get done. See time blocking for an effective way to make sure those tasks do get done. Knowing they are scheduled can reassure us and let us concentrate on the tasks at hand with less distraction.
Find the To-Do List System that Works Best for You
Whether it’s paper or electronic, find a system that you will use consistently. Writing things down on random scraps of paper is not efficient! They will get lost and are hard to organize. Even if you have to keep changing systems, it’s better to keep looking than give up. There is at least one system out there that will work for you – just keep trying until you find it. Some app favorites – Trello, Asana, Google Keep, Outlook Tasks. Or just a notebook – and ONE notebook only!
It has been proven that focusing on one task at a time is much more efficient than moving your time and attention from task to talk. Focusing on one thing at a time will enable you to retain more information and work faster. One of my favorite shows, Parks and Recreation, has a moment where one of the main characters, Leslie, is facing burnout and her responsibilities are suffering. Her sage co-worker Ron Swanson offers the words of wisdom “Never half-ass two things, always whole ass one thing.” He was right! Multi-tasking is proven to drain productivity.
Checking your email or social media networks frequently is becoming a habit that is harder and harder to break. Research has found that after being frequently interrupted, people often develop a shorter attention span and begin to self-interrupt. So, set specific times to check your email, your phone and your social media. Turn off the notifications while you work.
Block your Time
Whenever possible, plan out your schedule and assign tasks in between meetings or other time constraints. Time blocking is a great way to make sure you allocate time to important tasks. You’ll need to find your own rhythm, but most studies suggest that 90 minutes is the maximum amount of time you can efficiently spend on a task. Use a timer of some sort to keep track and then, you guessed it, take a break!
Sitting still too long can actually decrease productivity and energy. ‘Sitting is the new smoking!’ so make sure to get up from your desk often. Even better – create some sort of standing desk option, there are many companies who now specialize in convertible options. Taking breaks can increase your concentration. Note – this is a mental and physical break. Checking emails, social media, or your phone does not count as a break! This needs to be time for your personal life and to see family and friends. All work and no play makes for a dull and less productive life.
Try the Pomodoro Method
This is a very structured approach to taking breaks. It helps with motivation because in addition to time blocking, it helps you know exactly what task you will be working on. Using a pre-determined amount of time, you set a timer and focus completely on the task at hand. (While the common suggestion is 25 minutes, some people prefer shorter or longer. It’s up to you.) At the end of that time, you take a 5–10-minute break.
Knowing exactly where everything is will always save you time. Paperwork especially, among other things, can easily get out of hand and often gets lost. Spending time on a regular basis to keep your work organized will not only increase your efficiency and productivity but will also make you feel more in control and empowered in your work.
Automate and Delegate Whenever Possible
While this is not a luxury that is available to everyone, it has certainly been proven that automation and delegation dramatically increase efficiency. So, look to see which of your tasks might benefit from either of these options. An excellent way to evaluate what to delegate is to ask yourself these questions.
- What do I like to do? It’s good to keep duties that you enjoy as much as possible.
- What can only I do? There are some responsibilities that only you can handle.
- What can someone else do at least 70-80% as effectively as I can? Delegate that!
People who work for your company aren’t the only ones you can delegate to. Examine your professional network for people who specialize in certain tasks. For guidance on effective delegation, check out my blog.
I know a major concern when thinking about delegating is the time needed to train someone. Look at it this way. Take the amount of time that a task takes you per week. Let’s say it’s 5 hours. If it takes you 25 hours to train someone else how to do that, at 5 weeks, your “investment” of time is at breakeven. After that, you have a profit of 5 hours of time each and every week! Short term pain for long term gain.
Take Time to Exercise, Sleep, Eat and Meditate with Intention
Scheduling these activities into your daily schedule can train your mind to unwind and really boost your energy level. While strenuous exercise might be best done in the morning, whatever time you find to exercise consistently is the key. We all know the benefits of sleep but it’s so easy to ignore our needs. Set a consistent time to go to sleep and get up and you will reap the benefits. Try to make sure to sharpen your mind and fuel your body with intention and regularity too. Rituals are the bedrock of stability. All of these activities can help turn stress into bliss!
Periodically, take a step back and try to see where you are. It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day whirlwind and lose sight of what is truly important. Check in with your mental state, your physical needs, your priorities. Do you need a break? A healthy snack? Have you forgotten something urgent that you need to get done? Stop what you are doing, take a couple of deep breaths and just ask yourself if you are doing what you need to be doing to be your best.
You can absolutely learn how to gain mastery over your time to accomplish more with less stress. You can overcome procrastination, hit those deadlines with greater ease, and enjoy a better work-life home-life balance. Choose which tips will benefit you the most when getting started and see how you can get more done with less chaos.
As always, I am here to help. Schedule a call with me today to see how I can help you increase your productivity.