One of the most powerful and valuable traits you can possess in life is the ability to effectively manage your time. Let me tell ya, if you are not making sure you are using your time wisely, there is very little chance you are going to reach your goals at work - and even less likely that you will reach your personal goals outside of work. Sure, there is a possibility that you may make some progress. But you will make greater strides in less time if you incorporate effective time management skills into your everyday life.
The truth is that the passing of time is the greatest equalizer on earth. Young and old, affluent and poor, all of us get the exact same 86,400 seconds in a day. And, it is in how we organize and utilize our time that set us apart.
A whopping 92% of people fail to achieve their long-term goals. This has a large part to do with putting tasks off, not being able to prioritize effectively, and well, just plain laziness. Whatever time management system that works best for you, choose one and stick with it. Life is too short to waste time.
With that in mind, here are a few helpful tips around time management to ensure that you have all the tools to meet and exceed your goals:
1. Know your goals.
There is definitely a right and wrong way to go about goal setting. If you do not set your goals the right way, then you'll most likely miss something, which will force you to go back and redo things, or worse, force you off-track. Here at TINYpulse we use SMART goals to help us set parameters around our performance goals. A SMART goal is a goal that is Specific, Realistic, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-Bound. To set yourself up for success, make sure you are actually writing your goals down. Research has shown that when we put our goals to paper, we are more likely to remember them and plan activities that align with achieving them.
2. Understand how you currently spend your time.
This seems like a no-brainer, but it is imperative to know where your time is being spent currently to effectively manage your time. My advice: use a tool like Toggl to track where your minutes are being spent daily. Spend maybe 5 days assessing how you spend your time at work. What are you doing? Where is the majority of your time being spent? What did you accomplish? Was any of this time wasted? Was it well spent? At the end of the 5 days, tally up all the numbers, and observe where you are now. This way, you will have a baseline for your endeavors moving forward.
A great tool to help you understand this concept and how to prioritize tasks is the quadrant time-management system. This handy graph splits your activities into four quadrants based on urgency and importance. Things are either urgent or important, both, or neither. Neither (quadrant 4) are the activities that you want to stay away from, but it's the not-urgent-but-important quadrant (2) that you want to pay close attention to, as those are things that tend to get away from us.
- Important and urgent: These tasks have important deadlines with high urgency - complete these right away.
- Important but not urgent: These items are important but do not necessarily need immediate attention, but should involve some long-term development strategizing. For highly effective time management, spend most of your time in this quadrant.
- Urgent but not important: These tasks are urgent but not important. Minimize, delegate, or eliminate these as they do not necessarily contribute to your overall goals.
- Urgent and unimportant: These activities hold little, if any value. These should be eliminated as much as possible if you want to stay on track.
4. Plan ahead.
Once you have an idea of where your priorities are, the next step is to plan ahead. The time you spend thinking ahead and planning your activities will be time well spent. It takes time, but by making to-do lists, you are effectively setting goals for the day. Oftentimes, we can get caught in the jumble of activities and daunting tasks we know we have to complete. Daily goals are a great way to lay out, and understand what you need to get done that particular day. Not sure how to start? Try one of these techniques:
- The night before - At the end of the day, take a few minutes to clear your head and put together a list of your most important tasks to be done the next day. You’ll arrive in the morning with a fresh list of things to do, and you won’t have to worry about organizing your to-dos.
- First thing in the morning - Arrive a few minutes early and assemble a prioritized list of things to do. This will start your morning off right, and in a clear mindset.
5. Set time limits for daily tasks.
Reading and answering email can consume your entire day if you let it. Trust me, the time it takes dealing with customer requests and other daily immediacies can add up. Instead, set a time limit each day for these tasks and stick to it. If you assign a block of time rather than dealing with these things on demand, your schedule will say more in tact and organized throughout the day.
6. Just say no.
I’m going to let you in on a little secret: It’s OK to say “No.” You’re the boss. If you have a deadline, something urgent to take care of, or need to prioritize your own work, it is completely OK to decline a request. Sometimes it is far more important to attend to what you absolutely need to be doing to move towards your own goals than to focus on the needs of others. Focus your efforts accordingly. If you can’t say no, delegate it. While delegating can be a hard skill to learn, it can work wonders for your personal time management. You will never learn how to effectively manage your time at work if you never learn how to say no.
7. Don’t be afraid to walk away from things. The best advice I ever received was to not become tied to a sinking ship. Basically, it is absolutely OK to walk away from any projects or activities that you have determined are unfortunately headed nowhere. It is completely acceptable to move on to more productive tasks if you know that your time will be better spent elsewhere.
If a project hasn’t been profitable, or isn’t turning out how you had imagined, don’t beat yourself up. Instead, realize that the time you have invested has passed, and appreciate that you learned a valuable lesson. Walk away.
8. Declutter and organize.
Studies have shown that unnecessary clutter in our environments can force us to lose focus, and derail us from tasks at hand. For this reason, keeping your workspace tidy should be of the utmost priority when managing your time. When we lose focus, we lose time. Take a few minutes each day to tidy your space: clear a water glass, put your pens back in your drawer, throw away old post-its. It will allow your mind to focus on the task at hand.
9. Eliminate distractions.
In addition to decluttering and organizing your physical workspace, you should also declutter your mental space. Our bad habits, tendency to lean on distractions, and allowing our minds to wander are all huge time-wasters. Whether it's a colleague interrupting us, attending another meeting, being on social media, playing games, etc., all of these things can take away from the time that we have allotted to hunker down, and get stuff done. My advice: Use your time wisely by eliminating (or at least lessening) some of these distractions if you are serious about achieving your overall goals.
The importance of work-life balance cannot be overemphasized. It’s vitally important to avoid burnout in your everyday life. If you lack balance, you are more likely going to feel stressed out, and stress leads to bad habits, and bad habits will eventually derail goals. One study suggests that you should work for 52 minutes and break for 17. If you do not take breaks every once in a while, it is unfortunately far more likely that you will hit your breaking point. Prioritize yourself along with overall goals. In the long run, it will make a difference. Just remember: Balance is key.
Time is Tricky
Fostering effective time management skills will not only make your time seem more abundant, but you will most likely hit your overall goals with greater ease. Keep in mind that managing your time with greater precision will most likely not happen overnight. These are the type of skills that you will need to hone over time, until they become more second nature. But, with practice, you will make greater strides and hit your goals if you incorporate effective time management into your routine.
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