We are unlikely ever to have sufficient time to do all the things we want or need to do. Therefore, it’s vital to make the best use of the time we have available. And since time itself is not physically manageable, we have to learn to manage ourselves, our workloads, our priorities and our clutter. Here are top ten tips to help you do this:
1. Never let others solve their time problems by creating yours! Make sure you know how and when to say ‘no’, and are in agreement about the next move. It is far better to negotiate tasks and deadlines as they arise than to accept everything and then lose face because you can't cope.
2. Get your priorities clear and keep them in mind.It is always vital to have a specific time deadline for a task. It’s no good accepting tasks that are ‘urgent’ or ‘ASAP’ because these mean different things to different people. Also, always set out specific, realistic deadlines for tasks that you need others to do for you. You are more likely to achieve your deadlines if the people you depend on are clear about theirs.
3. Plan your day (preferably the night before) and stick to the plan. If you have been looking ahead for possible problems, you are less likely to have last-minute crises preventing you from achieving your goal. The key here though is to only plan those tasks which MUST be done that day and which are within your control - proactive tasks, but leave time during the day to deal with all those other tasks you will have to do - reactive tasks.
4. Aim to achieve something every day. If at the end of a long day you feel you have worked your socks off but don’t know what you’ve done, there is less motivation to do it all over again tomorrow! So make sure you factor into your daily to-do list at least one task that, when you look back over the day and ask, "What have I done today?" it will give you a sense of satisfaction and achievement.
5. Be realistic with what you can achieve in one day. If you aren’t sure, then consider making a time log, say, for two weeks, of all the things you do (no matter how trivial or quick) and how long things take to do. Not only will this provide a feel-good factor as you can see just how much you do in the day, but it will also help you look at tasks you do which are not actually your responsibility; how many times a day you are interrupted; and why and when you do particular tasks.
6. Do your difficult or time-consuming tasks first, when you are at your best. This achievement will motivate you to clear all the other little things too. If a task is too big to slot into one day, then break it into smaller, more manageable chunks and schedule in each chunk so that you achieve the final deadline.
7. Deal assertively and decisively with interruptions. (both face-to-face and on the telephone), perhaps scheduling in or rearranging a time to see people once you’ve finished your high-priority tasks.
8. Do you procrastinate? It is reported that 85% of what we worry about never happens, so why do we worry? If so, schedule in ‘worry time’ for the end of each day, and tell yourself you’ll get on with your work now, and won’t worry about things until the allotted time. (By that time of course, it won’t be on your ‘worry’ agenda any more!)
9. Cut the clutter! Be kind to people but ruthless with paper. If everything is in its rightful place, you will be able to function without distractions and be able to find everything quickly. Clutter can be very distracting, lead to crises as you forget a task that’s buried in the pile, and can make you feel like you can’t cope. So organise your papers and set up reminder systems so that you never forget anything, and can always look as though you are in control.
10. If a task comes in today, deal with it today. That doesn’t necessarily mean doing the task itself unless the deadline is for today of course. Learn to ask yourself, "What’s the best use of my time, right now?" Chances are, it isn’t doing that ‘little’ job that you like doing!