Share this article:
Ten Strategies for Time Management
- The first step is being aware of where your time is going, now.
You can’t find something you’ve lost when you don’t know where you
might have lost it in the first place. So the first strategy for
managing your time is to know where it’s going, now. That means
actually tracking or logging your time daily, for at least 1-week
(preferably 2). Track the exact time you begin and end an activity,
make a note of the duration in exact minutes, and a few words to
describe the activity. This step requires you to be really honest with
yourself and track EVERYTHING you do in your work day so you can see
where your time is really going -- so if you spent 23 minutes chatting
with coworkers at the coffee machine (no cheating by logging all your
time in nice, even 15, 30 or 60 minute intervals) -- write it down
- Analyze and summarize your time logs.
At the end of the week, review your time logs and start to summarize
the tasks (and the amount of time spent on each) into categories. You
will create these categories yourself, and you should have between 6
and 12 categories. They should be meaningful to you, self-defining,
mutually exclusive and as concise as possible. Some examples might be
Administration, Business Development, Sales & Marketing, Computer,
etc. You will then summarize, for each day, how much time you spent
doing tasks or activities for each category, in the exact number of
minutes. You might also do a little math, to figure the percentage of
time each category takes out of each day. You make this step as
detailed as you like, but the key here is awareness.
- Create a New Daily Routine.
If you were honest and diligent during steps 1 and 2, chances are you
had a rude awakening when you reviewed and analyzed your time logs.
You no doubt can see where the time drains are occurring -- and now
you’re ready to make better choices and create a new daily routine.
This routine will maximize the time you spend on productive work by
conforming to the natural flow of your day and with your natural
rhythms, by taking into consideration when you’re at your best for
certain tasks, grouping similar tasks together for greater efficiency,
and by setting aside dedicated time for doing uninterrupted work. How
do you create your routine? Look at where you’ve been spending your
time and start making some decisions about where the different tasks
can best be fit into your day, then actually write this routine down
and post it where you’ll see it every day. Strategies 4 through 10
will give you some food for thought as you develop and implement your
new daily routine.
- Prioritize and stay focused.
Once you’ve done the up-front work of tracking and analyzing your
time, and creating a new routine, how do you keep it on track? You
will also need to do some work on prioritizing what you do. You can
create your own easy tools to do this. On one sheet of paper, create 5
sections: High Priorities, Secondary Priorities, People to Contact,
Telephone Calls, and Schedule. You can fill this out each day, first
thing in the morning (or better yet, at the end of your workday so you
are well prepared to start fresh tomorrow!) Each day, ask yourself:
"If nothing else gets done today, what are the one or two items that
absolutely MUST be done?" Those are the items you will use to focus
your day. You should also periodically go back to the time logging
exercise, so you can determine if you are slipping back into those old
bad habits and take immediate steps to get back on track.
- Reduce interruptions by creating stronger boundaries.
It is true that interruptions to your day can and will happen, and to
some degree they are out of your control. However, you probably have
more control than you think. Instead of blaming other people and
getting frustrated with them for interrupting you, take responsibility
for creating stronger boundaries with your co-workers where
appropriate. Keep in mind, other people don’t mean to be inconsiderate
by interrupting, they are just caught up in their own “stuff” and
probably don’t realize. It is really up to you to set up some
guidelines for when you can and cannot be interrupted, to communicate
them to others, and then to stick by them. For example: you might
institute a “quiet time” policy (mornings are usually best) where you
let everyone know that this is a time where you cannot be interrupted
-- and then set up another time later in the day where you have an
open-door policy. This strategy creates a firm boundary but also
provides time for you to be accessible to others. At first, those
around you might try to cross your boundaries, and it’s up to you to
gently remind them that they can come back and talk during your "open
door" time. After a while, they’ll get used to it. Change takes time,
so stick with it!
- Structure your telephone time.
Set aside certain periods of the day to accept, initiate and return
calls. The best time to accept incoming calls is just prior to lunch
or at the end of the work day (the other person will not want to
dawdle on the phone at those times either) -- so whenever possible,
let others know this is your preference and set that time aside so you
are available. When initiating or returning calls, the best time to
contact those difficult-to-reach clients is early in the morning, just
before or after lunch, or late in the day.
- Don't procrastinate.
Procrastination is probably one of the biggest “time hogs” we have.
Not only are we NOT doing the thing we’re procrastinating about, but
we also end up wasting even more time worrying about how much we’re
procrastinating. So, if you have an unpleasant task to do, simply make
up your mind to take care of it immediately and just get it done.
- Under-promise and over-deliver.
You may have heard this one before, but a little reinforcement never
hurts. Many of us have too many requirements on our time because we
take on more than we should. When we over-commit ourselves, we are not
only creating unnecessary stress in our lives, but we are also
creating potential situations where we cannot deliver what we’ve
promised. We also don’t realize that when we can’t deliver what we’ve
promised, we can inadvertently cause more pain and hurt feelings than
if we’d been willing to say no in the first place. Remember that
you’re not doing yourself or anyone else any favors by taking on more
than you can reasonably deliver. Commit yourself to making this
strategy a high priority in your life, and watch what happens.
- Separate your work from your personal life.
It is critical for your health and emotional balance that you find a
way to separate your work from your personal life. If possible, don’t
take work to be done after hours at all unless you are certain you can
get to it. It’s better to stay a little longer at the office (but be
sure and set time limits for yourself) to get it done, then enjoy your
leisure time without the stress of having to do work after hours. If
you work from a remote office, you will need to be even more diligent
in setting aside separate times in your day for work and for your
personal time and family.
- Remember that you're only human.
We all have only 24 hours in the day -- and sometimes that just
doesn’t feel like enough, does it? There will always be days where
things happen that are unplanned and which can throw even the most
organized day into a tailspin. When that happens, take a deep breath
or two, and accept that you are doing the very best you can, right
now. Tomorrow is a new day and a chance to start fresh. Let go of the
need to be a perfectionist and remember you’re only human.
-Lisa Taylor Huff
Copyright 2001 Lisa Taylor Huff, PCC. Lisa Taylor Huff is a Business and Life Coach, partnering with motivated executives, business owners and professionals, guiding them to Living Boldly®, Working Boldly, and Loving Life!