Time-management skills for most people are learned along the way, a necessary part of getting the job done. However, like most things, the more you invest in it, the greater the reward.
To reach your short- or long-term goals, time management is critical for prioritizing tasks, scheduling appointments, emails, projects and so much more, not to mention family responsibilities. What steps can you take to get some of your time back? Like most skills, you can hone your time management practices to sharp edge with a little diligence and practice.
To aid you in your quest to get more done, CIO.com has put together this handy list, compiling data from a host of sources such as The Washington Post, The Huffington Post and the Chicago Tribune to help you get the most out of your busy day.
1. Planning is Key: Keep Lists and Use the Tools at your Disposal
The pace at which most of us work at these days is furious and documenting thoughts and tasks is the only way to make sure things don't fall through the cracks. When creating lists remember to record as much as you can--this will help get you back on track quicker when you revisit your task later. Most of us have a tablet, smartphone or laptop with us most of the day and night. Each of these has some form of time management tool built in or preinstalled, and chances are that the tools are being under-utilized.
Outlook, for example, has tasks, a way to keep, track and maintain lists and notes along with a calendar, a great tool for project planning, appointments and reminders. The iPad and Android both have notes and calendars built-in, as well as thousands of time management apps available from their app stores.
If you're old-school, carrying a notebook or small pad is always a good idea. Whatever the medium get your tasks and thoughts organized.
Related Story: Time Management: 6 Ways to Improve Your Productivity
When should you organize and compile your list? One option is to organize your to-do list at the end of the work day. Reflect upon the day's events and thoughtfully plan your strategy for the coming day. Doing so can save you many sleepless nights.
Another option is to create a list that includes all your tasks, both personal and business. Once your list is complete, look it over and ask yourself these questions: Do you need to schedule appointments? Can you delegate any of these tasks? Is this meeting necessary?
Don't let your lists get too long or they will become unruly; these should be categorized and broken down before that happens, if possible. The important takeaway is getting your items documented somewhere so you can get them out of your head and focus on the task at hand.
2. Multi-tasking Doesn't Work
In a recent article from the Huffington Post, Zheng Wangs, a researcher and assistant professor of communication at Ohio State University, offered his thoughts on multi-tasking:
"There's this myth among some people that multitasking makes them more productive. But they seem to be misperceiving the positive feelings they get from multitasking. They are not being more productive -- they just feel more emotionally satisfied from their work."
People are most effective when they concentrate on one thing at a time. It's often said that it's better to finish one job then to start five.
3. Prioritize, Prioritize and Prioritize
Look at your lists and identify your top priorities. Tackle your most important or thought-heavy tasks at the point of your day where you are most mentally engaged and alert.
For many, that time is first thing in the morning, but for others it could be when everyone leaves the office at 5:30.
Related Story: Project Management: 8 Steps to On-Time, On-Budget Delivery
4. Set Goals and Deadlines
Tasks and projects need deadlines and goals--these are the way for you to measure your forward progress and success.
Deadlines are critical to the outcome of any project or task. If not set in a realistic timeframe and managed well they will become a major source of stress. Not giving you or your team enough time can result in extreme pressure on all parties involved.
Always give yourself a little more time than you think you may need in order to avoid unnecessary setbacks. Sticking to your deadlines will help you get more done faster.
Set SMART Goals or goals that are the following:
Set both long- and short-term goals. It's easy to get lost in the microcosm of the daily--goals help keep things in context and help illustrate the bigger picture. Consider them the roadmap of your career and a necessary part of your day to day work. If you want to be successful you need to set and then strive to reach your goals. It gives you both direction and a focus on what's important.
The bottom line: always have clearly defined goals, objectives and deadlines.
5. Make the Most of the Time You Have
All of us have some time in the day that can be better used--for example, commuting, exercising or showering. Take this time to visualize your day, think about upcoming goals or projects. This is also a great time to prioritize some of the items on your list.
6. Monitor How Your Time is Spent
A big step towards great time management is to know how your time is spent. Take a day or two from your work week and document each activity and task you do. This sounds more difficult than it is. There are many productivity apps out there that will do the trick for pretty much every platform. We've listed a few for you below to get you started:
Eternity Time Log Lite
Android Time Card Free
PC or Mac
Once you have all the data laid out before you, it will be clear where time can be saved. People are often surprised by what this simple experiment will reveal.
7. Don't Procrastinate
Procrastination will literally get you nowhere, so don't put off important tasks or wait until the last minute to put together your presentation. As humans it is part of our nature to avoid unpleasant tasks--to avoid this, try using the reward system. Plan something fun or relaxing after a difficult task, like take a ten minute break and go for a walk or work on something that is more compelling to you.
8. Recharge Your Batteries
Eat right, exercise regularly and get enough sleep. When we're healthy and all is well this often is taken for granted--it sounds like a no-brainer yet so many of us find it difficult to do.
9. Eliminate Distractions
No matter where you work, distractions abound in the form of email, social media, meetings or coworkers wanting to chat about last night's episode of "The Newsroom," current events or their children.
What can you do to limit these distractions and concentrate on the task at hand? If you've taken the time to monitor how your day is spent you'll know right where to start, but some other things you can do include, putting your phone on silent during your work hours or setting up specific intervals for the checking of email. Some people use noise-cancelling headphones or listen to music to drown out the other office sounds, while others use a do not disturb sign on their office or cube.
Do you have a coworker or boss who likes to drop by while you are trying to be productive? A great way to circumvent this is by making a preemptive stop by their office or cube just before you begin working on something. Let them know you are about to enter a meeting or work on a task that requires your complete attention, then ask them if there is anything you need to discuss before you get started. It requires a little extra effort on your part but the payoff is uninterrupted time to be productive.
Whatever you do to eliminate distractions, cutting through the noise of the everyday will allow your mind to focus on the task at hand more easily.
10. Delegate Responsibilities
Are you always on the run or behind schedule? Do you skip lunch or eat it at your desk while you work? Chances are you aren't delegating. Failure to delegate properly can be a career-limiting factor. There are 24 hours in the day and each of us is only one person. Founder of Virgin Group and billionaire adventurer Richard Branson had this to say, "I learned to delegate from a young age. Actually removing myself from the office has helped me look for the next big venture." Regardless whether or not you think you can do it better, some things need to be delegated so you can focus on your top priorities or take on new responsibilities.
Delegating is not a set-and-forget process, it requires thought and follow-through. Here are six helpful steps to take when delegating tasks and projects:
Know who your go-to people are. What are their strong/ weak points?
Set goals and let expectations be known.
Set checkpoints and deadlines
Let them know what resources are available to them.
Be available for questions. Stop by at checkpoints and see how the task is coming along
Allow a little more time than necessary. The amount of time it takes you to do a task is often different than someone who doesn't regularly do the same task.
Delegating is a daily part of IT management and core to better time management, offering a huge increase in your productivity.
A large part of time management is about becoming aware of your behavior patterns. Once you become more aware of the things that get in the way of your productivity, you will find your own ways of dealing with them.