Time management is an incredibly valuable skill, and massively undervalued. One of the biggest fallacies of modern life, especially in the workplace, is that being busy is the same thing as being productive. It’s not. It’s actually quite easy to be busy without getting things done. Ever been in an excruciatingly long meeting where nothing happened? Everyone in that room was busy, but it doesn’t mean that anything was accomplished.
Time management is so valuable because it allows us to get more things finished in less time. So here are 4 tips to improve your time management skills.
First thing in the morning, or even the night before, take five minutes to plan out all the things you need to do that day. Break down larger tasks into smaller, actionable chunks that can be marked off.
Make sure that each task on your to-do list is clear and can be completed. Putting a task like “exercise” on your to-do list isn’t helpful because it’s not clear what counts as exercise. Something like “Complete standard routine at gym” is better, because it’s clear whether you completed that task or not.
Once you have all your tasks outlined, you need to determine which tasks are more important. Some tasks contribute to goals which you feel are more important than others, and some tasks have greater consequences for inaction than others do. Showing up to your anniversary dinner should be a higher priority than buying spare batteries, for example.
Go through your to-do list and assign each task a letter, symbol, or colour based on how important you think it is. Work on most important tasks first, then the next tier, and so on.
Using the previous two steps as the basis, build a schedule for the day and for the week. Make the schedule realistic, and include time for breaks and contingencies.
There’s no point making a schedule if it’s impossible for you to stick it. If you have a task that takes twenty minutes, giving yourself ten minutes to do it doesn’t magically make it take less time.
And if your job involves frequent interruptions or unscheduled events, build some spare time into your day to account for these.
If you don’t know how long a certain task takes, then time yourself doing a few times. Some tasks take a surprisingly long time to complete, and it’s only when we specifically time ourselves that it is revealed how long they truly take.
Taking breaks gives your mind time to recharge, and will make your time spent working more productive. Taking no breaks means you are working more time, but at a lower standard than if you were taking breaks.
A popular system for scheduling breaks is the Pomodoro system. Break down your day into thirty-minute chunks of 25 minutes of work followed by a five-minute break. And every four chunks (2 hours) take a longer break.
It doesn’t work for everyone, but when it does, it increases focus and efficiency.
The key to success is having a plan, and having effective time management skills to ensure that plan is being followed.
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