Time management is a hot topic these days. With more pressure on most of us to do more with less, we are constantly turning to gurus in this area to try and improve our time management skills. This article is the first in a series of four (check out the other three Master Time Management with 7 More Time Management Tips, Master Time Management with Yet Another 7 Time Management Tips, Master Time Management with a final 7 Time Management Tips) which end up providing you with 28 great tips on managing your time more effectively. But no matter how good the tips are, or how willing you are to implement them, you will never be successful till you accept the idea that it isn’t time you are managing but rather yourself. This may seem self evident, but the difference in focus often means the difference between success and failure in this key competency.
1. Always allocate a priority to every piece of work that comes your way and do it in that order. Many of us work in a haphazard manner, too busy trying to cope with whatever comes our way to invest a few minutes daily in establishing our work priorities. It reminds me of a story of the wood chopper who was so busy trying to chop down trees with his very blunt axe, that he complained he could never manage the time to sharpen his axe. Take five minutes morning and evening to write down all those tasks which need to be done. Identify them by importance and urgency. Do not make the very common mistake of spending your time on less important and non-urgent tasks simply because you enjoy doing them or because the most urgent and important tasks appear boring and daunting!
2. Do not allow interruptions when working on high priority tasks. Many tasks need concentrated effort and there is nothing more frustrating than a barrage of relatively unimportant interruptions when you are trying to complete an urgent report or some other task requiring considerable concentration. People who complete a time log over a week’s duration are often astounded at how much time is wasted through unscheduled and unimportant interruptions. Try saying “no” to interruptions more often and watch your efficiency and output increase accordingly.
3. Learn to say no to requests that are unreasonable or should really belong to some one else. As Edwina C Bliss (“Getting Things Done”) states, perhaps the most effective of all the time saving techniques ever developed is the frequent use of the word “no”. Being able to say “no” (even to one’s boss at times) is an assertion skill which can, and should, be developed.
4. Never put off tasks which are daunting or uninteresting. Too many of us are experts at procrastination, but keep postponing doing something about it. Albert Ellis maintains that many of us act upon the irrational belief that it is easier to postpone doing something daunting or unpleasant than to tackle it immediately. Such a belief is irrational because putting off daunting or unpleasant tasks only magnifies the problem – a molehill can become a veritable mountain in no time. Just do it is great advice no matter what you apply it to.
5. Never allow your environment to become disorganized or messy. The problem with a disorganized and messy work environment is that it can create frustration, a sense that you are not getting anywhere with your work and also be distracting when you are trying to concentrate on particular tasks. Significant time can be wasted looking for items which should normally be easily found. An efficient filing system can make a big difference and while everything else often tends to get precedence over filing, it is an important task and must be done regularly.
6. Never keep documents just in case you’ll need them in the future if they can be easily replaced in some way. This is the best way to ensure you don’t drown in paper and your filing cabinets do not multiply like mushrooms after a good rain. We keep far too much paper. Keep reference material which can be easily accessed in some other way (in your computer, on the net, in a book etc). Never keep magazines and publications to read later unless you really intend to read them later. If there’s only one article of interest, copy it or tear it out, read it then bin it. Keep clutter to a minimum. Keep only those things that are essential to keep (cannot be replaced or are required by legislation to be kept) and be ruthless with paper.
7. Delegate, delegate, delegate! Many people have problems with this one, for a variety of reasons. Some do not trust others with jobs of any importance, for fear of possible mistakes. Some don’t want to pass on any good jobs and will only delegate those jobs seen as boring or routine. Some will not delegate tasks because they consider themselves to be able to complete those tasks more quickly and effectively. There are hundreds of excuses for not delegating. But there is never a good reason to do something which some one else could do faster, more efficiently or better than you can. Just remember to give full instructions on the outcome you want, then “let it go”.