5 Steps To More Effective Time Management
The bad news is time flies. The good news is you’re the pilot.
Time management is the ability to take control over how our day is spent through proper planning, in order to achieve our goals. If left unchecked, poor time management can lead to stress and have a negative impact on our well-being. By making small adjustments to how we manage it, we can become proactive “pilots” of our time.
How To Do Less and Achieve More
The older I get the more I find that time is like the elastic in my knickers – no matter how much I have, there just never seems quite enough to go round! Whatever the day, there are never enough hours in it to get everything on my growing ‘to do’ list done. And for an aspiring over-achiever like me, that sucks. But I have learnt not to let that keep me up all night worrying, or to let work stop me from going to that really cool party. In short, I have learnt how to manage my time effectively, in a way that works for me. And you can too. The secret although simple, requires a lot of discipline. The secret is this: do less.
In this tech-savvy, supercharged world, we have become accustomed to the fact that more and more demands will be made of our time. Work, whether it be in or out of the home, takes the lion’s share of the day. We then have to divvy up the rest of our 24 hours between, family and friends, errands and chores, exercise and leisure and sleep or relaxation. Too. Much. To. Do. This is simply a statement of fact. The average woman will struggle to fit all of these priorities into a given day. So why even try? This leads me nicely on to the first of my 5 steps to more effective time management.
He who every morning plans the transactions of that day and follows that plan carries a thread that will guide him through the labyrinth of the most busy life.
I confess that I am an endless optimist; and a morning person. I am an optimistic morning person! For me, the beginning of each day heralds the dawn of new possibilities. For my husband, not so much… Nevertheless I tend to spring out of bed each day ready to tackle life head-on. I get myself ready and then the kids, prepare their breakfast, get them off to school and then I write my list. I love lists, I live for them. Electronic and digitally synced ones are great, handwritten ones are fantastic too. To me there are few things as satisfying as ticking off an item from my schedule once completed – a solid accomplishment! But in order to feed that sense of accomplishment, I have become smarter about what goes on my list.
It used to be that I would only write down the “big ticket” items – the work projects, important appointments and so forth. The trouble with that was that I would rarely get to tick off all those tasks as completed, because I got so wrapped up in a myriad of mini-jobs that were also critical to my day. Now when I sit down each morning to think through the things that need to be done, I list out all of those little errands too. Those time stealers that are essential to the successful running of our household and our lives. Take kids to dentist? It goes on there. Boiler repair jobs? Check. That way, I am more realistic about the time that I have left to accomplish the other items on my to do list. If it is unlikely and unnecessary to get done today, I will park it for another day. Less mess, less stress. It’s all about setting realistic expectations about what you can and can’t achieve. You are only one woman after all!
That leads me onto my next point about being selective. The best advice I could give to anyone wanting to manage their time more effectively is to embrace the power of “no”. It’s a wonderful word, a powerful word, but one that women are reluctant to use too often. We feel that it is seen as uncooperative or unkind. We fear that it will affect how others see us both at home and in the workplace. Well it’s time to put that fear to bed. There is nothing wrong with saying no to jobs or tasks that we are unable, unqualified or unwilling to do on occasion. If you know that doing that favour for a colleague will seriously throw you off your own work schedule, then think twice before you agree to do it. And if you decide that you really cannot afford the time, then there are plenty of polite but firm ways to let her down. The point is this – ensure that your to do list only has those items that you intend to do. Otherwise, they will never get done and you will waste precious time procrastinating.
There is nothing less productive than to make more efficient what should not be done at all.
Now that you have a list of all the stuff that needs to be done, you can start to prioritise each task and schedule your day accordingly. Not all jobs are created equal and some may be dependent on others. Know when you are at your most productive and schedule your most challenging jobs for when you are feeling alert and energetic. The difficult sales phone calls that I dread making and the problematic article that I need to write are best done before lunch, in my case.
Another key thing to bear in mind is that you need to adopt a me-first approach to prioritisation. Most women are uncomfortable with the idea of spending time on themselves. From a young age we are taught that to put ourselves first is to be selfish. But a wise person once told me that you cannot pour from an empty cup. What this means is that you need to take care of yourself before you go looking after others. Make sure that you factor a little time for yourself in your day and make that a priority. If that means a 45 mins visit to the gym – great. Or if it means an actual lunch break instead of a salad at your desk, perfect. Make yourself a priority for a portion of every day and don’t feel guilty about it. You will find managing the rest of your time much more bearable.
Image Credit: Veronica Dearly
3. Buffer: The Time-Waster Slayer
So now you have your schedule all worked out and your priorities nicely set, did you allow for some slack in that schedule? With the best will in the world, none of us is able to focus solidly on work, work, work. We are not robots, yet. So build some buffers into the day to ensure that you really will be able to manage everything in fair time. If you have a task that you figure will take you an hour to complete, allow yourself a further 15 mins, just in case. If it is especially difficult, add another 30 mins. This stops you from eating into your scheduled time for other tasks when things run over, which can be deeply frustrating. If you don’t use the extra time then you can do a little window shopping on the internet instead!
Procrastination is the foundation of all disasters.
There are days though, that even the prospect of a well curated list is not enough to get me motivated in the morning. On these days I have to dig deep to find the source of motivation that will inspire me to push on towards my goals. Motivation presents itself in two forms; intrinsic and extrinsic. Intrinsic motivation involves engaging in behaviours that evoke good feelings, such as the joy of finishing a report on time. Extrinsic motivation, however, refers to doing something to avoid a negative consequence or to gain an external reward such as job promotion or financial incentives. Whether your desire to be more effective at managing time comes from an intrinsic or extrinsic motivational source, it is important to remember this when you are having a slump. The interactions between time management and motivation often elicits a feedback loop whereby, the more improvements seen in time management, the better motivated you become, which in turn evokes better time management and so on. In short, successful time management strategies are key to increasing motivation, productivity and well-being.
If you find it difficult to concentrate on a single task for long stretches of time, try the Pomodoro Technique. The Pomodoro Technique (named after the tomato-shaped timer) is one of the simplest time management techniques to adopt and can be very effective if your mind tends to wander. It works like this:
- Choose a task from your to do list to be accomplished.
- Set the timer to 25 minutes
- Work on the task until the timer rings
- Take a short break (3-5 mins)
- Every 4 Pomodoros take a longer break of up to 15 -30 minutes. This break may be an actual rest break or it may be moving onto a different task (a change is as good as a rest after all).
A Pomodoro is an indivisible stretch of work (25mins), which means that if you are distracted by a phone call or a colleague, you will need to stop the timer until the distraction has passed. This is where you can employ your charm to let the person know that you will be unavailable for a period of time but will be able to get back to them once the job is done.
Last but not least, delegate. There is no shame in asking for help, after all it takes a village and all that. Sometimes, you just need to think strategically about what must be done by you personally and what can be delegated fairly to others in your team or family. No doubt they will ask you to return the favour one day, and you will be more than willing to help!
I hope that these techniques help you to take more control over your daily time management challenges. Just remember to set realistic goals, allow sufficient time for each task and ask for help when you need it. If you have any other useful tips or tricks, please share them in the comments below.
As a final bonus, take a look at my video below on the subject of saying “no” – let’s reclaim that word from the toddlers and use it to good effect! Don’t forget to suscribe to our Aurora Wellness YouTube channel to keep up to date on our video discussions.
At Aurora Wellness we are all about self-improvement & discovery. To discover ways in which you can maximise your full potential and learn useful life-enhancing skills, apply to join us at our next WonderWoman Workshop on Friday 23rd March to Monday 26th March 2018.
With over 15 years of management experience behind me I love to see women succeed at work and home. When I'm not doling out advice, I can be found sitting mute on the sofa watching tv with my husband or refereeing fights between my two kids.