Time is a precious and finite asset in life. It is the one thing that none of us can ever get enough of and yet we often waste it. Although I cannot help you get more time, I do believe there are ways we can all be more effective with what we do with the time we have. In this article, you’ll read some simple yet effective ways that can help you become better at managing your time—starting right now.
Use a task management tool
Using a task management tool is nothing new. There are hundreds of options you can choose from to keep track of the things you need to do. Having said that, there are a few ways to make any task management tool you use more effective.
You should leave every meeting with a list of follow-up actions to complete. Throughout the day, you may also remember other tasks you need to complete or something someone mentioned in conversation. These things can be easily forgotten or lost. So, before you forget, write it down. If you’re in doubt about whether it's worth tracking, write it down anyway!
Keep it organized
Some days may feel like you add more tasks to your list than you complete. This is typical in smaller teams, especially in a fast-paced environment. Don't stress about it. Some days will be better than others. But to avoid getting overwhelmed as you work through your tasks, be sure to check things off your list, then move them out of sight.
Organize tasks by role or function
Whether you are using a task-management tool for your teams, a personal tool, or an old-fashioned notebook, try to compartmentalize your tasks by the roles that you own or the function of a group. For example, you may want to have separate task lists for your role as a project manager, product owner, or leadership team member. These will help you see the progress you are making in different areas of the business and help with scheduling out your work so you’re not constantly switching gears between roles.
Choose your MIT (Most Important Task)
Whatever your daily routine is, you should be sure to review your task list first thing in the morning and get a handle of outstanding and pending actions. When you review your task list, highlight the most important items to be completed.
There are quite a few videos online that demonstrate time management through a visual demonstration of rocks, sand, pebbles, and a jar. The rocks represent the most important tasks. The pebbles are the small tasks, and the sand is all the disruptions that occur throughout the day. If you put the sand into the jar first, then the pebbles, you won't be able to fit in all the rocks. But if you reverse the process—put the rocks in first, then the pebbles—the sand will just fill in all the empty spaces. Everything will fit. Think of your day in the same way: The first things you should work on are your MITs (Most Important Tasks).
Schedule your meetings, tasks, and breaks
Now that you have a list of all your tasks written down and you have them prioritized, pull up your calendar and think about how you can actually get all these things done. Some tasks may take longer than others and some may require collaboration with team members. Having a large laundry list of tasks can be daunting, but it is important that we are realistic with our time and available capacity. This is especially true when working from home and dealing with distractions. Consider scheduling out your time in the following ways.
At the end of the day
Review all the unfinished items that you intended to do, both scheduled and not, and reschedule them for another day.
At the start of the week
Personally, I find doing this on Sunday evening is most helpful. Spend 30 minutes reviewing your emails, scheduled items from the prior week, and your schedule for the week ahead. Plan out whatever meetings you need to have and whatever tasks you need to focus on.
Schedule to live, don’t live to schedule
Scheduling out your weeks and days does not mean you should let the schedule run your life. Your life should run your schedule. Keep in mind that things do happen. Schedules change and disruptions will always come up.
Leave enough buffer time between meetings, and if you need to, schedule out your breaks. Your brain needs to recharge even during the day. Pummeling through for 8 or 10 hours straight is not healthy for your mind or body. Give yourself a chance to eat, stretch, walk, and socialize. Doing so will greatly increase your performance and productivity.
Manage your time
I've found that there are two types of activities that happen throughout the day: those that require collaboration with others, and those that require quiet focused time over a prolonged period (1 hour or more). The first type usually requires a scheduled meeting with a group of people. If you don't run your meetings well, it may feel like you have way too many of them and never get anything accomplished. That is a separate issue that I will tackle in a future article.
With so many distractions, like emails, Instant Messages, phone calls, kids running around, etc... the second type, which requires focused time, can often seem impossible. However, there is a method that I have found to be remarkably effective. I call this a focus block.
How they work
Let's say you need to work on some reports or a presentation that you expect will take about 2 hours. Find an open time slot on your calendar—when you believe you would have the least amount of distraction—and block that time out. Remember about buffer time. If you think you need 2 hours, block out 3 hours instead.
Making them work
During your focus block, you must commit to not respond to texts, calls, IMs, or emails. Communicate with your team and if you need to, set an out-of-office reply on your email so people won't expect a response from you during this time block.
Focus blocks give you the opportunity to disconnect from day-to-day interruptions and FOCUS on what you set out to do. The first time you do this may feel unusual and awkward, but after a while, you’ll get used to it and may schedule out these focus blocks several times each week.
Just remember the previous point about being realistic: Don't run yourself into the ground. Set realistic time frames, use buffers, and make time for breaks to ensure you perform at the optimal level.
We cannot get more time in the day, but we can definitely get more done with our time. If you want to learn more about time management, I encourage you to check out some of the resources below. There are many platforms and tools available, both paid and free, that can help you get things done and stay productive. Our platform of choice is Microsoft 365. If you would like to learn more about how we use Microsoft productivity solutions to run our company and keep things moving forward, feel free to reach out.
- The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People®
- Pomodoro Technique
- Task management software | Microsoft Planner
- The Personal MBA | Most important tasks
- Jar Of Life - Put IMPORTANT Things FIRST!