What would you do with an additional hour of free time each week?
• Have coffee in bed on Monday?
• Go on a date with your spouse?
• Have a pint with your friend?
• Catch up on some reading?
• Start that exercise regime you have been postponing?
At least one more free hour each week is what better managing your work day will give you – to spend by yourself or with family and friends as you wish.
Is this your daily reality: constantly rushing – from one task to the next?
Are you often late, running behind for meetings? Do you often find that the day is gone, it is 6pm or 7pm, or even later, and you have not done what you planned? So you have to work late or you bring work home during the evening or even during the weekend?
Do you spend your days in a flurry of activity and yet you do not feel you have achieved very much?
Do you feel frustrated that you do not seem to have enough time? Do you notice yourself getting impatient? Or maybe you have so much to do, you are not sure what task to do first?
Is it because there is just too much to do? Too many things to fit into the day and too little time to do them all?
The Benefits of Time Management
If you stopped rushing everywhere, how different would your life be as a result? What does life feel like when you are able to manage your time well?
First, you would make your deadlines. That is because, if you have work objectives which you want to achieve, then you most probably have due dates. So, if you want to meet your deadlines, you will most probably have to manage your time. In a work situation in particular, delivering on time is often as important as the content you deliver.
But that is not all. What happens when you make your deadlines? Well, others will notice, especially your boss who should be grateful. If you are one of those people who deliver on time, you will be known as dependable and chances are that you will be entrusted with visible work, something which will give you a chance to shine in the eyes of senior management. And line you up for promotion!
But there are more benefits. Personal benefits. You see, when you manage your time well, you will be able to leave the office when you decide – not when you are done and it is already 9pm. You will get to see your family, your kids before they go to bed, chat to your spouse because you will still have time and energy, meet your friends. You will get to have a life, right?
Would you agree then that managing your time is also important to your well-being?
Keeping a Time Log to Learn How You Fill Your Workday
If you are someone who feels rushed, or frustrated about how much time you spend at the office, how late you leave in the evening, or irritated that you often take work home, let me suggest that you start keeping a time log.
A time log will enable you to find out where the time goes during your workday. A time log will help you figure out what your workload really is about and why you need to work so late so often and even during weekends.
But what is a time log? Firstly, a time log is NOT a day planner.
A time log is about how you really spend your day.
You need to note down every single thing you do once you set foot in the office – all the times you got a coffee, all the chats with Peter, Paul and Mary, all the phone calls you returned and all the times when you dealt with emails which were screaming “read me” at you…
The more detailed your time log, the richer its content, the more you will get to know what you really do during your work day.
For that reason, keeping a time log is a pain. You need to carry a notebook with you or at least have handy a notepad on which you must make sure to jot down everything you do. An incomplete time log will not be so helpful. And keeping a time log takes time: it may at first therefore seem counter-productive but let me assure you that it is well worth the investment as it is a fundamental step to taking more control over your workday
Let me make one thing clear: there is no right or wrong here. This is not about telling you how you should spend your day. This is about showing you the difference between your original plan for your day and what happened in actuality.
From that point on, you need to draw your own conclusions because only you can know the value of how you spend your time. The time log shows you how you chose to allocate your time – even though at the time you were unaware of the choice you were implicitly making. Managing your time better will mean making different choices in the future.
Prioritizing Your Tasks to Work Smarter
Now that you have your time log and you know how you spend your day, you can make changes to how you allocate your time. I recommend a simple method: classify the activities in your time log according to their urgency and their importance. Urgent issues demand immediate attention or action while important issues are more strategically meaningful.
Ideally you would want to spend as much of your time as possible on the important things, the ones which allow you to plan ahead, to ensure that you meet your work objectives in six months’ time. In addition to being more strategically important to your employer, these activities should also be more personally meaningful to you, providing you with more job satisfaction.
If you spend all your time on urgent issues, you are in fire-fighting mode and at risk of burnout. Even when things are urgent, do they require YOUR attention or YOUR action? Can you delegate – even if you review before completion?
An email from your boss arrives: it is of course important but is it urgent or can it wait an hour, a day?
Good time management means not allowing little things like emails or phone calls to constantly disrupt your concentration. You need to avoid them for periods of time so close your email inbox, shut off your Instant Messages, forget Bloomberg… and let voicemail pick up your calls.
If you identified many activities as top priority, let me ask you: are you sure you are correctly differentiating and prioritizing? Is this task really essential or can it wait?
Two more tips before I close this article:
- 1) If you really have many important tasks vying for your attention, pick the most difficult first. That way, you will have more energy for it and less energy for the easier tasks.
- 2) Try to finish a task or at least a clear section of a task before beginning a new one. Multi-tasking is an art form and if you juggle too many balls in the air, the risk is you won’t do any of the tasks optimally and you might even drop one of your balls!
This is just the tip of the iceberg for time management techniques but I hope that both the time log and the prioritization matrix have shown you that there are ways to change how you manage your day.
To your better managed work day!