At its most basic, effective time management is a simple but powerful idea. It’s about regarding your time as a precious finite resource that’s as limited as your money in the bank. There’s only so much of it and you want to get the most out of it that you possibly can, because when it’s gone it’s gone.
There are countless flashy time management techniques and schools of thought out there, but before you invest heavily in something that might not be right for you, we reckon a bit of old-fashioned self-awareness can take you a long way towards at-work effectiveness. Here, we look at some ways to deal with the symptoms of bad time management that we identified last time on the workSMART blog.
- You get easily distracted by emails
Emails take up a whopping 38 whole days of an average office worker’s year! Having a dedicated and limited time to answer emails each day can do wonders for your productivity. When it’s not that time, switch off email alerts and let your phone go to voicemail.
If your emails tend to pile up alarmingly, you can streamline how (and to what) you respond by using the 4Ds approach: ‘delete’, ‘do’, ‘delegate’ or ‘defer’.
Interruptions from colleagues are a different form of distraction. Wearing headphones or earplugs can block out general noise and act as a ‘do not disturb’ signal to colleagues (particularly if you’ve already told them that’s what it means!). Many people find that working from home is even more productive, so if this kind of distraction is stopping you being at your most effective, discuss Flexible Working options with your manager.
- You are you always busy… doing things that aren’t important
If you recognise yourself in this description, it may be worth making a distinction between your efficiency (getting things done) and your effectiveness (getting the right things done).
Effective workers always have one eye on the objectives their manager will be using to assess their performance. Good objectives outline what you want to achieve, by when, and how important it is against other goals.
Once you are focused on what you are being paid to achieve, a simple prioritisation technique is to plot your jobs on a graph with an ‘urgent’ axis and an ‘important’ axis. This will slot your work into four categories of prioritised tasks, starting with ‘urgent and important’, then going on to ‘important but not urgent’, ‘urgent but not important’ and finally ‘not urgent or important’. This is your basic ‘to do’ list. It will soon be clear where to put your efforts, and which jobs are only wasting your time (even if you like doing them).
- You tend to procrastinate
Procrastination – the art of avoiding unpleasant chores – is a tricky habit to shift. Being told that you'll feel better when you get a difficult task out of the way rarely helps, even if it’s true. But being honest with yourself about the jobs that you want to put off is at least the first step.
It can help to break down an unpleasant or difficult task into a series of more manageable steps. Once you have done the first, it will probably be easier to get on with the second. You could also try mixing onerous jobs up with more fulfilling or routine tasks as well. Or reward yourself when you get them done.
There is nothing wrong with saving routine and less demanding jobs for when you are feeling a bit tired or down, just as you should harness a burst of enthusiasm or energy on something that takes more effort.
- You’re too much of a perfectionist
Like it or not, absolute perfection is a fantasy, and striving for it can stop you pulling your weight at work – instead of impressing your colleagues and manager, this can end up annoying them. So here’s an idea: why not try doing something a little less well than you usually do it, and see if anyone notices. Ask for feedback on whether you are meeting or exceeding the standard expected. You can still take pride in your work without turning it into an obsession.
- You say ‘yes’ to everything
Before you agree to anything that isn’t one of the performance objectives you’re paid for, make sure you have a full and frank discussion with your manager about the work you have on your plate. Time is not a limitless resource, so taking on a new task may mean rolling back on another. At work, you’re measured against your objectives, not your popularity.
More on time management
We’ve looked at how you can improve your own time management, but what if it’s your manager or the organisational culture at your workplace that is making you work longer and harder than you should? For more on all aspect of time management, visit workSMART’s comprehensive advice sections on Time Management and Tackling Long Hours.