Effective time management is one of those skills that the truly disciplined people have mastered, and that the truly effective individuals utilise again and again to achieve wondrous results.
It is a skill that can help anyone in any position – from a housewife, to a school student, to the chief executive officer of a multinational company. Yet, so often we don’t put much thought into managing and planning time. Here are some simple steps that can make you more efficient in managing time and your daily activities.
Evaluating your style
To start off, evaluate your current strengths in time management. Identify the areas you are doing well in, and the ones that you need to improve on.
Try to dig and find the root of the “problem” – Is it a matter of not having enough discipline, of not planning well, or merely of getting distracted along the way?
You also should aim to recognise the effect of your time management style on those around you – at work, but also at home.
There are various tools that can help you manage time better. Use a time planner. Be it an electronic or a hard copy one, a time planner allows you to write down and record the various components of your life.
A good time planner has a master list where you enter each task as it comes up. Once there, you can assess the task – the hours it needs, its urgency, and from there you can fit it into the right time slot.
Planning several months ahead can also prove to be very effective. The time planner allows you to have reminders and not forget about tasks, and also prioritise the tasks that need immediate attention from the ones you can do next week or next month.
Once you have the time planner in place, you’ll have to come up with a daily “to do” list, which will help you keep track of your progress and ensure you address all necessary tasks for the day.
Research has shown that the simple task of making a list increases your productivity for the day by 25% – giving you two extra hours in an eight-hour workday to tackle more tasks, or pay more attention to the ones you already have on your plate.
Making lists and putting everything on a planner is only part of the story – many of us have been doing this to some extent, or have at least started the year doing it.
Somehow, we tend to lose momentum and inefficiency creeps in once again.
Identify the root causes of your inaction. In addition to that, assess whether you are stuck in the deadline-driven trap.
Are you always sprinting between deadlines, never allowing yourself a breather? Is this due to your working style, and bad planning, rather than external factors such as, perhaps work overload?
The art of prioritising
Do you know the difference between “urgent” and “important”?
Urgent means that something requires immediate attention.
Important, on the other hand, has to do with results. Important matters contribute to our mission, values, and high priority goals.
Urgent vs important, an idea popularised by Stephen Covey’s book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, is captured in the following diagram:
Covey suggests that effective people spend more time on quadrant II. They stay away as much as possible from quadrants III and IV, as they are neither urgent, nor important.
Quadrant II, as he puts it, “Deals with things like building relationships, writing a personal mission statement, long-range planning, exercising, preventive maintenance, preparation – all those things we know we need to do, but somehow seldom get around to doing, because they aren’t urgent.”
Working with others
Effective time management depends, partly, on how you work with others – Many find team meetings and team projects highly unproductive and time consuming. However, if you control the amount of time you spend there, they can help you immensely.
The advantages of working in a team are obvious – more brains tackling the same issue, more hands to complete it faster. It only takes proper planning and control, really.
Delegation of tasks, according to each group member’s strengths, can bear favourable results. It might take some pressure off your shoulders so you can concentrate on a specific part of the task.
Finally, learning to say “no” to certain tasks may give you more time to manage the rest of your commitments and responsibilities.
Of course, say no to things that are neither urgent, nor important. Don’t say no when there is a crisis and you are expected to help out.
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey is distributed by Penguin Books and is available at all leading bookstores. If you and your people feel that you can benefit from a time management course, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Click here for more articles.