You can read all the books and take all the courses there are dealing with time management (and there are plenty to choose from), but you’ll find that the only constant in effectively managing your time is that everybody has the same twenty-four hours available every day. There’s no such thing as one person having more time than another.
There’s also no such thing as a one-size-fits-all system of time management. Time management is always personal. You can pick up some useful tips and insights from time management books and programs, even from this article, but no one else can manage your time for you. Effective and efficient use of your time is entirely up to you. Generally speaking, people tend to find the time to do the things they really want to do.
The strongest memory is weaker than the palest ink; so have a to-do list. Prioritize your to-do lists, always remembering that everything can’t be a number one priority and remember that your to-do list is not carved in stone. It can be changed, and should be changed if it’s advantageous or necessary to do so. For example, when you get bogged down in a particularly difficult item, it’s a good idea to pick one or two easier tasks and get a couple of successes behind you rather than stick to the strict order of the list.
Never let the fact that you can’t do everything you want to do keep you from doing what you can do. You can’t do everything right now, but you can do something right now. Instead of wasting time lamenting about the length of your list, pick an item and deal with it.
Each item on your list has to be done, delegated or ditched. If it has to be done by you and you can’t deal with it right now, then schedule a specific time later during which you are going to deal with it. If the item can be delegated to someone else, then do so. It’s usually best to delegate items that you don’t like to do or that are weaknesses of yours, but be careful not to delegate them to someone for whom they are also weaknesses. Anything that you really can’t do or delegate has to be ditched; not all tasks that we think we have to do really need to be done. Keeping an item on your to-do list that you’re never going to get around to doing makes no more sense than keeping an item on the list that you will never be capable of doing.
Examine your habits; time is usually wasted in minutes, not hours. But a bucket with a tiny hole in the bottom will get just as empty as one with a hole you can put your fist through; it will just take a little longer. Keep track of your activities for a week or so and see where those minutes are slipping through that tiny hole and adjust your activities accordingly. The only time you can really manage is right now. Take care of each day; let the calendar take care of the weeks, months and years.
When establishing deadlines, base them on what you can do, not on what you’d like to do. Unrealistic deadlines are stressful and counter-productive to effective time management. You will usually achieve more by having a number of shorter deadlines for the various steps of a project rather than by having only one long time line for the project itself. Another thing to remember about deadlines is that they should be changed only when there’s no other choice. When deadlines become negotiable they become ineffective.
Probably the most common time management mistake is taking on more than you can realistically accomplish. If you’re already busy you’re going to have to drop an old activity before taking on a new one. You’ll never be the consummate time manager until you learn to say “no.” A polite no is always better than a broken promise.
Even after you’ve studied your habits to determine where you may be wasting time, you have to continue to monitor your activities to be sure that you’re doing what really is important rather than simply reacting to what seems urgent at the moment. There’s usually a logical order in which things should be done in order to be done most efficiently, and when you disrupt that logic time management suffers.
Don’t fill your days with time-sensitive activities; if you do you’ll have no time to deal with emergencies. Nor will you have time to deal with unforeseen events that, although perhaps not qualifying as emergencies, still need to be dealt with, such as a distraught employee appearing in your office or a disgruntled client suddenly showing up in the reception area.
One of the most effective time management techniques is to do at least one thing every day that you don’t want to do; and do it as early in the day as you can. Your to-do list will usually have some distasteful things to do and the effect of getting rid of at least one of them each day, and doing it early in the day, will have an incredibly positive effect on your ability to manage your time. This is simply because there’s a natural tendency to waste too much time thinking about the items that you are putting off, which acts to the detriment of both your effectiveness and stress levels. Few things are as exhausting as an unfinished, distasteful task. People who manage their time best and accomplish the most are those who don’t wait to be in the mood; when something needs to be done, they do it.
Be sure tomorrow isn’t the busiest day of the week. The best preparation for tomorrow is doing, to the best of your ability, today’s work today.
Remember, too, that if it takes more than thirty seconds to outline your priorities, you don’t have any.