Stop wasting time: five tips to take back control of your schedule
Guest post by Jan Burnes (AIM Faculty)
Lewis Carroll took time management very seriously according to his character the Queen of Hearts, based loosely on Queen Victoria, in his novel ‘Alice in Wonderland’. Is effective time management an issue for you too? Does your day ever end before the work does? Do you often leave work worrying about outstanding tasks only to be bombarded with a new set of tasks the following day? It isn’t the things we’ve done during the day that wakes us up at 4:00 am – it’s all the things we haven’t done and it just keeps multiplying!
My first observation is that there is no such thing as time management per se – we cannot manage ‘time’, we can only manage ourselves and our workload within the time available to us.
Here are five proven techniques to ensure you don’t feel overwhelmed and you can take back control of your time.
Does your desk look like a mine field with unfinished tasks and requests everywhere? Do you control the load by whoever is the most demanding of your time, e.g. the squeaky wheel gets the grease! Busy people can’t afford to work this way. Dealing with whatever comes to hand, whatever grabs your immediate attention or pops into your field of vision leads to crisis management, burnout and stress. You need to set your priorities for each day – preferably the night before but definitely first thing in the morning. Use Stephen Covey’s four D’s:
- Do it if it is urgent and important.
- Decide when to do it if it is important but not urgent.
- Delegate it if there is someone else who can do it as well as you or who you can train to do the task.
- Dump it if it doesn’t contribute to achieving your KPI’s (key performance indicators).
Clear your desk
Clear your desk of anything that you are not working on at the moment – create a ‘pending’ file with timelines for completion clearly shown. File completed tasks or anything that isn’t your responsibility. This helps you to work on one thing at a time until it is complete. A build up of partly finished task can be stressful and distracting. Create a 'TO DO' list either on your computer using the appropriate software or simply on an A4 notepad (my preference!). Create a margin where you can prioritise your tasks, e.g. A’s, B’s and C’s. A’s being high importance and C’s low!
Carry a notebook
Carry a notebook or have a small one on your bedside table for when you suddenly remember something you have forgotten to do, you have a good idea, or simply a note to check on something or someone. This technique keeps me from laying awake at night worrying about unfinished tasks! John Lennon always carried a list of ‘Tasks’ including odd jobs like buying marmalade, asking for the return of a book – the top of his list (and therefore his priority) was sorting out his cable TV box! After his death, his ‘to do lists’ sold at auction for A$4,086.
Managing the big tasks
Manage those large tasks or all those things you keep putting off because they are going to take a substantial amount of time to complete. Stop procrastinating and make a start! Do something that will move the task along, even if it’s simple a checklist or a contact list of stakeholders. Keep the task within sight – whenever you have a ‘gap’ between more urgent tasks move this task along to the next phase.
Make the best use of your time
Have a clear sense of your priorities and where your business is heading. We are continually bombarded with a multitude of things we could do.The bottom line is that dreaded word ‘discipline’. We have to develop self-discipline to prioritise our daily activities. Not a rigid, life-quenching discipline, but a method that allows us freedom and flexibility, and most of all a sense of achievement and moving forward.
If you find yourself juggling competing priorities and need the skills to effectively manage your time AIM’s Time Management Short Course will help you develop the skills to analyse workloads, prioritise tasks, overcome procrastination and create time management systems to increase productivity and effectiveness.