Some say, “There is no such thing as time. Time isn’t real. It’s a man-made construct.” Tell that to your boss. Such philosophical arguments aren’t going to sway your supervisor. Instead of deconstructing, be constructive. Take action! There are many time management techniques that can squeeze productivity out of the tightest schedule.
With time management techniques and task management tools, you’ll not only get the work done, but you’ll feel less stressed and more organized doing it. That’s because time management is all about making good use of your time to work effectively.
The following are practical time management techniques that anyone can master, regardless of what industry you’re in. They can even be applied to your personal life. Time won’t change, but you can.
Make a List
The first thing to do is to recognize the tasks you need to accomplish, and make a task list. This can easily be done with a task management tool, a work planner or even just a piece of paper. All jobs, no matter how big or small, are made up of parts. To start the job, you must determine those parts because the worst thing you could do is forge blindly ahead.
Making a list is akin to developing a plan of action. It involves thinking before doing, in that you are breaking down the project into the tasks that lead from its beginnings to the final product. Once you have a list and have made sure it’s complete down to the more minute details, then you want to prioritize. It’s likely that you’ve collected more tasks than time will permit you to accomplish.
Therefore, those tasks need to be put into three categories: must do, should do and can wait to do. By prioritizing your list, you make sure that the essential parts of the job are done in time. If there’s time left over to do the rest, great, but at least you finished the critical overall assignment.
No less an expert than productivity consultant David Allen, creator of the time management method he calls “Getting Things Done,” believes that lists are essential. A list makes the complexity of whatever it is your doing together and manageable.
Set Up Deadlines
The truth is, if you don’t have a due date for the work you’re doing, it will not end. An open-ended job is one that goes on forever. Deadlines can be stressful, it’s true, but they are essential for developing a schedule and managing time.
With a firm deadline in place somewhere in the future, you can now work backwards to your start date and carve out appropriate periods of time to accomplish all of your tasks. Deadlines are really a way to schedule you work.
Deadlines also allow you to have some control over the work you’re doing. You can set up small tasks that are easier to manage and take incremental steps towards completing the larger deadline.
Avoiding distractions is easier said than done, as modern life has become a constant stream of distractions. To begin, make sure your work space is clean, well organized and as quiet as possible.
For example, turn off your phone; use voicemail. And, absolutely, shut off all notifications, be they social media or even work related. You want to get into the zone. You can always set up a time later to take a break and respond to calls and messages.
If you’re working on a computer, close all screens that aren’t related to the job at hand. There’s no reason why you need to have the news constantly scrolling in the background, and that clickbait can wait. Controlling your exposure to these technological distractions is one the keys to modern time management techniques.
When there’s a lot to do, you’re likely to have two responses: avoid it or tackle everything at once. The best advice would be to do neither. Avoiding it is just procrastinating, and procrastinating will only increase the stress level your deadlines loom larger. Tackling everything might seem like a great idea at first. Sink or swim, right? A little of this, a little of that. What’s that called again? Oh, right: multitasking! While multitasking might seem like a logical step towards chipping away at the block of work weighing on you; it’s not.
Research from the American Psychological Association has shown that doing more than one task at a time, especially if those tasks are complex ones, will sap productivity. You’re not saving time. Time is wasted as you switch back and forth from task to task.
In fact, if you routinely multitask it can become harder for you to concentrate and maintain focus. It leads to more distraction. That’s why you want to tackle one task at a time, to the best of your ability, and give it your undivided attention.
That said, you’ll want to put a time limit on your tasks as determined by your schedule. This way you avoid spending too much time getting bogged down on one task, which might be better served if you take a break and return to it with a fresh set of eyes.
Understand Your Workflow
A critical part of honing your own time management techniques involves recognizing your workflow and work style. There are morning people and there are night owls. Which one are you? It’s important to understand your workflow and figure out when you’re at your sharpest and, if possible, schedule your day around that time.
For instance, if you’re a morning person, then you’ll want to take on those big tasks first thing in the day. But if you’re the kind of person who takes forever to wake up, maybe use the morning to get some mindless busy work off your desk. Then, you can wrap your brain around the hard stuff later.
Another thing to recognize is when the peaks and valleys occur in your day. For example, most people are going to have a lull in their productivity after lunch. Know your internal clock, and don’t fight against it. Use the natural rhythms of your body effectively. When you need rest, take that time to recharge.
The Time Is Now
How many times have you said that you’ll get to something once you’re able to clear your plate and have time to devote to it? Or, maybe you’re the type who sits around waiting for their muse to show up and inspire them? That’s just procrastination.
Having the free time to fully devote yourself to something and being motivated by inspiration are great, but they’re also rare. If you’re going to sit around until things are opportune, then you’re going to be sitting around for a long time.
It’s best to get started. Now. There’s no reason to wait. You can use all the time management techniques and tricks you want, but doing the actual work will bring about true inspiration. Being in the process of doing something is when the ideas come flowing out. And as you work, you’ll be clearing your plate instead of waiting for it to magically do so itself.
A lot of people block themselves this way or, worse, by wanting to make sure everything is perfect. There is no such thing as perfection, so it’s a lost cause, and really one more way to procrastinate the day away. Yes, you might not be perfect. Yes, you might fail. But it’s through failure that we learn and succeed.
Here’s a bonus tip for managing your time effectively, project management software. Remember, anything that has a start and a finish, which produces a product or a service, is a project. ProjectManager.com is a cloud-based project management tool, with features to manage your time and to-do lists more efficiently. Try it and see by taking this free 30-day trial.