Does time management seem to be a constant battle? Do you oscillate between feeling organized one day, but in a state of total disarray the next? If you are like many – including yours truly – I suspect most of the time, the answer to both questions is “yes.”
I found the quest for effective time management even more daunting after starting my own business. I was suddenly managing every aspect of a company while trying to build sales and deliver at the same time. For the first few years, life was a chaotic juggling act until I ironed out some process and started bringing people on board.
Time Management Reality
For years, I searched for the perfect solution to plan and manage my time better and was always on the hunt for new ways to improve productivity. I’ve read dozens of books by leading experts, and they all offered great advice that seems simple and obvious. But knowing something and doing it are two different things. Just look at how many gym memberships gather dust a month or two after New Year's day!
The simple conclusion I’ve reached is that there is no “silver bullet” when it comes to time management. It takes different thinking, behaviors, and tools, all working together to achieve and sustain results. What works for me is a melting pot of smart ideas from others and lots of experimenting. Although it's always a work-in-progress, the tips below have significantly helped me improve.
#1 - Find or Create a Process
Develop a planning process or framework that helps structure the way you think and work. This could be simple daily to-do lists, or something more advanced. The goal is finding a method that helps you organize your short and long-term activities most efficiently. There are hundreds of time management systems readily available on the web, but it might help to think about what has worked well for you in the past. Trying to conform to a system that makes you grit your teeth every time you use it just won’t work.
#2 - Use a Tool to Manage the Process
Once you have a process that “feels” right, you need a management tool for the day-to-day execution. Whether it’s sticky notes on a wall, calendars, MS Project, or an online offering like Teamwork (my personal choice), find a tool that works best for you in prioritizing, scheduling, and managing your activities. Having visuals, everything in one place, and automated reminders are important features to consider.
#3 - Prioritize and Break Down Activities
An essential building block of any time management system is identifying the critical activities that: 1) need to be done first, and 2) are most relevant and impactful. I still like Stephen Covey's “First Things First” way of thinking about this. Another resource that may help is my simple 5-Step Planning Model.
#4 - Be Realistic About Time
Learn from your past and get precise about how long your activities take to complete. The more accurate you are, the better the process becomes. Don’t forget to include time allocations for personal time, family, learning, travel, exercise, and other activities that will impact your work schedule. These are essential parts of life, and they don't simply go away because you have a lot going on at the office.
#5 - Expect the Unexpected
When planning my day, I like to include a 30% “buffer” for the unexpected. This unscheduled time is useful for new tasks that take longer than anticipated. It also accounts for interruptions that happen during an average day (urgent emails or calls that need a response, for example.) Let’s face it; the world doesn’t operate around your calendar. Cutting your planning too thin each day will end up being discouraging since you will seldom achieve your daily goals.
#6 - Offload, Delegate, and Outsource
After breaking down your activities in Tip #3 – look at all the “non-core” activities that are repetitive. Determine what parts of these tasks can be done by someone else – either on your team or within your organization. If you don’t have the staff, assess what tasks can realistically and cost-effectively be outsourced and do it! When analyzing your workload, always ask the question, “who can do this instead of me?”
#7 – Be Disciplined and Persistent
Whatever methods and tools you end up using, you need to focus on time management every day. It must become an automatic behavior at some point. As soon as you let it go, even for a short period, you will quickly become disorganized again. When overwhelmed, try to keep doing something - even if it’s a lower priority. Once you have some momentum back, it’s easier to shift into high gear again. The alternative is to sit immobilized in front of your monitor, helplessly wasting time.
Another aspect of staying disciplined is keeping a positive outlook. To help with this, focus on your accomplishments. “I didn’t get everything done today” is better framed as “I tackled the three most important things I needed to get done today.” This subtle change in thinking helps you feel good about your progress. If you find yourself constantly falling short of your daily goals, you should revisit some of the previous six tips.
#8 – Continually Learn and Improve
Getting better at time management has been a long journey for me, and it continues to be a learning process. I believe it’s one of the most important and actionable ways to improve your life. It's also one of those things that few people ever perfect, so it's best to keep learning new ways to improve. Read, research, and ask successful friends what works for them.
I am certainly not a time management expert, but I hope some of these ideas can help you regain more control over your clock. Although the tips above need to be continually worked at, I find they help me produce more, in less time, and with less stress. If you have best-practices that help keep you organized and productive, please share. To get notified when new articles are published, please hit the button!
Randy Fougere, President, Think2Grow Marketing
With a passion for building brand awareness and lead generation, I started Think2Grow for B2B clients looking to accelerate growth through better marketing strategy and execution - something I have been doing for more than 30 years now.