Probably one of the things I am least good at is time management. Its an area of my life professionally that I consistently have to work on. Most people also struggle with this in their work lives. For me, it is difficult to say no when I really should and I have an over developed optimism that I can get more done that I actually can. This article began as an exercise for me to try to improve in this area but I found it so helpful, I thought I’d pass on what I learned. Below are a few tricks you can try to help get better at time management. Try them individually, combine them or alter them to fit your own circumstances and you’ll see your work life go much smoother as you become more productive.
It’s hard to know what to fix if you don’t know where your time is being spent, so regardless of the other items on this list THIS one is key and should be done first. Maybe you spend time going through social media or spend too much time answering email. Everyone has time-suckers that eat up their available time each day. Toggl is a great free time management tool that can help you track where those minutes and hours are going.
It’s almost impossible to be productive if you are constantly looking at the clock to see if you’re making progress. It’s depressing and disheartening when you think you’ve been working hard, you look at the clock and realize only 10 minutes has passed! That’s a sure path towards failure. If you know there are things that you have to do each day, block your time into productive sections. Set aside a portion of time each day for one type of work, maybe checking emails or returning calls and then block some more time for a different type of activity. Then STICK TO YOUR BLOCKS as much as practical. You’ll find it to be a very efficient way of managing your time.
This was a new one for me. The Pomodoro Technique is a method for breaking up your day into 25-minute sections that are separated by 5 minute brakes. Those sections are known as pomodoros. After 4 or 5 pomodoros, you take a longer break lasting 15-20 minutes. Each of the 25 minute sections are timed, which instills a sense of urgency to get that section done. Instead of feeling like you have hours and hours to fill to finish the workday, you know you only have 25 minutes to get done as much as possible on a particular task. There is , of course, an app for this and it will help manage those time sections for you. Android users…here is one for you.
We’ve all heard the story of the rocks, sand and jar, right? I won’t bother to repeat it here, but if you aren’t familiar with it click HERE for an explanation. Essentially, in the context of being productive, the story reminds us to keep focused on the largest tasks first (the rocks) and then the mid-sized tasks (pebbles) and then anything else that needs to get done is a bonus (the sand). Prioritizing in this way will help you to get the most important things done first and leave time for the other things that need to get done.
Eating The Frog
This idea says that if you do the least tasteful thing in the morning, i.e., the hardest thing, you will have accomplished something significant that day and that accomplishment will motivate you for the rest of the day. We generally dread and avoid the things that are hardest and so by knocking that out first, the rest of the day is left to get smaller tasks done.
The Pareto Principle (a.k.a. The 80/20 rule)
This principle is named after its’ inventor, Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto back in 1895. He noted that virtually all economic activity in Italy (80%) was controlled by 20% of the population. In business, it is a general rule that two out of ten items on any general to-do list will turn out to be worth more than the other eight items combined. So, this principle would be applied by identifying which 20% of the tasks on your list are the most important and then ensuring that they get done.
Your Own System
The items I’ve discussed are great for giving you some ideas to focus on and maybe draw some inspiration but at the end of the day, you have to decide what is going to work best for you.
I have learned that my personal productivity tool is a list. I create the list and systematically check the items I need to do off the list. I take great pleasure in making progress on my checklist. Find what works for you and watch your productivity soar!