Effective time management is an essential tool for busy people. When you have that sense of being overwhelmed with tasks, it is time to take a look at whether you making the best use of the time available to you. Very often it is the people with the biggest workload who achieve the most. This is not because they are super-humans, but because they know how to organize their time in order to achieve the best results.
To make your time work in your favor, you have to know why you are doing what you do, how to be able to prioritize your activities, how to do only what is necessary, and how to eliminate time-wasting.
What are you doing and why?
To start the process of organizing your time, you need to be aware of how you use your time and why. There is no need to confine time management to just one area of your life such as work. You can apply the principles to all areas of your life in order to achieve a better balance of activity all around. First, start a record of one day’s activities. The headings you need are:
Time started Activity Time finished Reasons for doing
List what you do and the time you spend doing each activity. When you have a complete day mapped out, you can start to analyze the results.
First group the activities according to the different roles you have to play:
- family member
- yourself as an individual
Add up the hours you spend on each role and decide if the time spent in each area of your life matches the way you want to divide your time. If you are spending too much time on work roles and bringing work home in the evening, then this is the area that you need to put most effort into reorganizing.
Choose the areas that are out of balance and examine your activities and your reasons for doing them. If you find that you are spending time on trivial jobs or jobs that have no obvious purpose, then you can start to eliminate these one by one to see how much time you can free up. Look also at when you are doing certain jobs. Are you, for example, making unplanned telephone calls throughout the day? If so, start to manage your outgoing calls by grouping them together and setting a time for them. When it comes to activities you do in your home, you need to check to see that everyone is pulling their weight. Don’t do things for other family members that they could do for themselves; it doesn’t help them to be responsible individuals if they can call on you to do their chores for them.
The next thing you need to do is look at those areas where you really do want more time to devote to that particular role. Say you are neglecting your friends. Start to think about which evenings you can free up to spend with them.
Planning a new schedule
When you have analyzed your existing patterns of using time and have decided where the adjustments are needed, plan a new day using the same headings as before but this time the activities and timings will become targets to aim for. There should be no activities that you cannot give clear reasons for. As you implement your new schedule, mark your progress on the log to give you an idea of how accurate your forecast was. At the end of the day you will be able to analyze the results and set the process off again with finer tuning for day after.
As you come to fine tune your timetable, start to prioritize your activities. Most of us have busy periods interspersed with slacker times. Sift out the less important activities on your to-do list and schedule them for the slacker periods so as to leave more time for the top-of-list tasks. Keep a mental balance sheet in which you weigh up the amount of time you devote to each task and the ensuing results from the time spent. If you find some tasks take up a disproportionate amount of time in relation the results they produce, then cut the time and allocate it to an area where the results will be better for the time invested. The principle is exactly the same as ensuring the best interest for money invested.
Remember also to make a balanced lifestyle a top priority. The time management schedule will still be unsatisfactory if you have sacrificed the time you need for physical fitness or adequate rest. Don’t neglect your personal needs. One way of fitting them in might be to combine them with activities you have planned with friends or family. Going swimming every Saturday morning with the kids or friends, for example, kills two birds with one stone.
Effective time managers understand the value of good organization. If you don’t know where you have put a document, if your desk is a heap of coffee-stained papers, if your telephone numbers are on scraps of paper and post-its, if your computer files are all in a jumble, then you will inevitably waste time looking for things before you can complete a task. Build into your plan periods each day for setting your desk and files in order. The same goes for orderliness in your home. You don’t have to have everything neatly folded and put away, but you should have a place for everything so that you can find it when you need it.
By following the steps above, you should be well on the way to using your time more productively. The next step is to fine tune yet again by looking for where you waste time:
- Think about incoming calls: do you accept them even when it is not convenient? If so, take control. Leave a message on your answering service saying you will get back to callers later; tell switchboard operators or secretaries that you will not accept calls during meetings.
- Tell callers who trespass on your time that you are not able to speak at the moment but will call them back.
- Look for areas where other people can help you. This might be by delegating specific tasks.
- When you sift through your in-tray each day, make sure you retain only those items that really need your personal attention. Everything else can be given to other people in the office to handle.
- Overcome that attitude that tells you “I am the only person I can rely on to do things properly”.
- Before you commit yourself to any meeting, ask if it is really necessary. Your input to a meeting might be just as useful by means of a memo, or a written, or a telephone call before the meeting takes place.
- Another common way of wasting time is to go on to a new task before the first one is finished. Try to make it a rule that you deal with each item only once. Of course complex projects will not permit this so what you can do is break the bigger task into different stages and complete each one before moving on to the next.
Forming good habits
The planning, analyzing, and re-planning cycle is essential for developing your time management awareness. However, it is also laying the foundation for a good habit. Making a daily plan will allow you to keep control over your time; you become proactive instead of reactive. You will be the one who sets your agenda, rather than always trying to fit into others’ plans.
For a teaching lesson plan for this lesson see:
Effective Time Management Lesson Plan