8 Simple Steps to Skyrocket Your Time Management Skills
You have probably wished there were more than 24 hours a day to get more work done and spend more time on other meaningful things in your life. Unfortunately, you can not add more hours to a day, but the good news is that you can always learn to use them more wisely.
Good time management skills are the difference between people who struggle with getting work done on time, and those who perfectly manage, having plenty of time and energy left over to invest however they want. Having more time helps you focus, lowers your stress levels, and allows you to take advantage of learning opportunities. All of these time management benefits lead to more career success and other improvements in your life.
We have put together a list of top time management techniques to help you accomplish everything in less time. Skyrocket your productivity, and ultimately have more time for yourself.
1. Plan the work
Productivity is not about doing more things – it is about doing the right things. It is all about planning: mapping the tasks required to achieve the desired goal, and prioritizing: ensuring you are doing the right things.
Start by setting up a defined master plan for your project. Then, break the plan down into tasks and subtasks. Set deadlines for the entire project, including each task and subtask – and stick to them.
Productivity expert Brian Tracy says that every minute you spend in planning saves 10 minutes in execution. It takes only about 10 to 12 minutes for you to plan out your day, but this small investment of time will save you up to two hours (100 to 120 minutes) in wasted time and diffused effort through the day.
Prioritization helps you to make the best use of your time and resources. There is a limit to the number of things that you can do (with good quality) in a period of time. Therefore, you need to prioritize. The Pareto principle states that you get 80% of your results from 20% of your work. The key to effective prioritization is discovering the 20% of your projects and tasks that will give you the greatest returns on your effort. The ABCDE method helps you with deciding which tasks to tackle first.
Keep in mind not to do everything by yourself—instead, delegate tasks to appropriate parties. And don’t forget to make use of modern technology – you can easily plan your work and delegate tasks with any project management tool.
2. Work the plan
The next step is to perform the defined tasks and sub-tasks in the prioritized order and ahead of set deadlines.
David Allen, the creator of the Getting Things Done (GTD) productivity method, recommends having a to-do list for each day: write tasks down in an organized, clear, and simple way. But remember to be realistic about what you can accomplish in a day and don’t’ set yourself up for failure with an unrealistically long agenda. It is recommended that you keep a list of three to eight tasks that you need to do each day.
To stay productive and motivated, it is imperative to consider how the big picture and task details drive each other. Therefore, do not forget to regularly touch upon the big picture (the master plan) to ensure you are on the right track to your desired goal. Maintaining and switching between both the macro and micro are necessary for practical work and time management.
3. Make every second count with time management software
To stick to the project master plan and not miss deadlines, try tracking your time on work, meetings, etc., with time management software. It is eye-opening to dig into work reports that reflect on your productivity and pinpoint ‘time-wasters’ – it improves your work results, optimizes your workload, and improves your planning skills.
Did you know that a whopping 87% of high-performing companies use time management or project management software? And for modern organizations, the success of a project initiative will be tied to the tools they use. Spreadsheets are still ruling in the world of general project management, but for time management, centralization, collaboration, and sharing information – spreadsheets are still quite limited.
4. Forget multitasking, try monotasking
Multitasking can seem necessary at times, and your boss might even praise you for doing it at work. However, research by American Psychological Association suggests that doing more than one task at a time, especially more than one complex task, takes a serious toll on productivity and results.
Not only does it take more time in the end and involve more errors, but it also leads to as much as a 40% drop in productivity and increased stress. Furthermore, another study by the Institute of Psychiatry at the University of London concluded that multitasking can reduce your IQ by as much as 10% and cause mental blanks.
If you want to be effective in your work and get more done in less time, you need to stop multitasking. Instead of doing many things at half-effort, focus on your most significant tasks, one at a time.
5. Cut off distractions
New York research firm discovered that an average worker in the United States loses 2.1 hours per day due to interruptions. Additionally, researchers Gloria Mark and Victor Gonsalez of the University of California, Irvine, found that once interrupted, it takes workers 25 minutes to return to the original task if they return at all.
Chances are you’re interrupted more than you realize – since interruptions blend in seamlessly with our work that it is often hard to notice them at all. According to research by RescueTime, an average worker, who sits most of the day at a computer, opens email 50 times a day and uses instant messaging 77 times a day. That means way too much distraction.
Distractions are multitasking in disguise, and to successfully monotask, you need to eliminate these distractions. Turn off your phone ringers/beeps, create separate time slots for checking your email, Skype, Facebook, and other notifications. In the meantime, put your mind to the task at hand. And close the door if you must.
6. Declutter your workspace
An organized desk means fewer distractions, a clearer mind, increased productivity, and boosted creativity – so you can get more high-quality work done in less time.
David Allen suggests that the workspace should function like a cockpit – all the controls easily accessible as required. This allows full focus on your activities, quick over-viewing of the work to be done, and easy ad-hoc processing of all forms of input (from email, paper mail, phone, and live conversation).
In addition to decluttering your physical workspace, psychologist Dr. Jean Pollack also points out the importance of ditching the digital clutter. She suggests that digital clutter affects us in the same mental way as physical clutter – it creates confusion. Thus, give your space a quick clean-up at least once per month (and more often if you’re just getting started). Mark decluttering on your calendar, whether it is decluttering digital files or your workspace.
7. Take breaks
The human brain can only focus for 90-120 minutes before it needs a break. After doing the same task for a long time, you begin to lose your performance on the task declines. Taking regular breaks from mental tasks improves productivity and creativity, and skipping breaks can lead to stress and exhaustion.
So, in addition to your lunch break, do not forget to schedule at least a 5-minute break about every 90 minutes to avoid burnout and maintain high productivity – stand and stretch, rest your eyes.
It turns out that the employees with the highest productivity ratings do not even work eight-hour days. The reason why they can get more work done is that they treat their working times as sprints. They make the most of those 52 minutes by working with intense purpose but then rest up to be ready for the next burst. In other words, they work with purpose.
8. Motivate yourself
There are 24 hours a day, and we can not change that. The secret to time management is not to manage time but to manage yourself. Do not forget to set milestones for the smaller and bigger successes you can achieve along the way – and celebrate those milestones. That helps you keep yourself and your team motivated and productive in the long run, including your future projects. Good luck!