How to Manage Time (Especially When You Don’t Have Any)!

“The phone rings, my list of unread email grows, someone is standing at my desk, and I’m trying to finish the report due by 10:00. Of course I want to manage my time, but look at my day! I have so much going on between organizing my schedule, dealing with interruptions, putting out fires…there is so much to do. When do I have time to manage my time?”

Sound familiar? Time management is a vital business skill. It’s time to take control and examine the barriers that derail your attempts at improved productivity (and sanity).

Procrastination, distractions, and interruptions are three of the most common barriers to managing time well.

Procrastination – Go to the source
If procrastination is your problem, then go to the source. Find out what triggers you to procrastinate. What is your trigger?

“I don’t know what to work on or where to begin.”
• Create a list of projects/tasks. Write down what needs completed daily, weekly, monthly, and include long-term projects.
• Tackle your list in chunks. Create your list focusing on the tasks that MUST be completed daily, which must be completed within the week, and which projects have milestones due within the next month? Re-examine your list at the beginning or end of each week and re-prioritize your tasks for the week.

“I didn’t start the next phase or complete a project because it’s still not perfect.”
• List the required tasks/milestones for successful project completion. Start with what you know must be accomplished and add deadlines.
• Stop researching and start doing. The “perfect” project is one that’s completed on time.
• Learn from your mistakes. If you delay getting started, your mistake might be that you missed out on a once in a lifetime opportunity.

“I didn’t think it was that important and it’s not very fun.”
• Ask for help prioritizing your list. Work with your boss or team members to determine which items should move to the top of your list.
• Reward yourself. Not everything on your to-do list is fun; however, if it’s on your list it’s important. Schedule short breaks or make a deal that you’ll reward yourself when you come to a pre-determined milestone.

Distractions – Earn back time wasted in “search mode”
Is your workspace messy or cluttered? Are you constantly spending unnecessary time searching your desk or computer for the ever elusive file, report, or email? A cluttered environment is a distracting environment. Distractions are a normal part of working in an office. Minimize distractions and the time you spend in search mode to increase your productivity, become more organized, and decrease your stress.

• Clear your workspace. Schedule time once a month to “spring clean” by clearing your workspace, desktop, computer hard drive, files and email folders. Get rid of the things you don’t need, and place the things you need in an orderly spot.
• Develop a system to track notes and priorities. Your system may be a notebook and pen, paper calendar, or perhaps you prefer a digital device. The key is to use a system that works well with your workstyle.

Interruptions – Reflect on your personal time zapper
Interruptions happen, and many times they happen because we allow them to happen. Take time to consider how you’re controlling to this time zapper.

• Schedule interruptions. Build in 10% more time to a project to account for unscheduled interruptions. Block out time in your calendar to make phone calls and respond to email.
• Communicate and clarify. Are you being interrupted because someone in your workplace is unclear about a task or project? Request that coworkers schedule a meeting with you to go over unclear expectations, then send a post-meeting summary in email to confirm and clarify agreements.
• Examine and experiment. On a quarterly basis, re-examine your current processes. Ask yourself, “What can I (or others) do to make a process smoother?” Implement one change at a time for a short period, then evaluate if it’s working or not.

Time is a valuable asset to the organization. Take action today and get ready to use your time and talents as wisely and effectively as possible.