7 Strategies for Better Time Management
“Time has a wonderful way of weeding out the trivial.“ – Richard Ben Sapir
Sometimes our schedule just doesn’t work for us.
And it shows.
Maybe you just don’t have any time for the things that are really important.
Maybe you need more time for things that are important that keep slipping through the cracks.
Maybe it’s a lack of results, poor performance, getting tired and rundown, or throwing time at problems, but getting nothing done.
Whatever the reason, what you need are some simple time management strategies that you can use to help you get on track by using your time in much better ways that support you vs. work against you.
In The Inner Edge: The 10 Practices of Personal Leadership, Joelle K. Jay shares time management strategies you can use to gain more time, use the time you have more effectively, and deal with the demands on your time in more productive ways.
1. Design Your Ideal Day, Week, Month, or Year
What would your ideal schedule look like? You won’t luck your way into it, but if you put it down on paper, you have a fighting chance of at least changing some things that might move you toward your vision.
“Modeling your time means figuring out what the ideal schedule would look like. You sit down with a pencil and a sheet of paper and sketch the way you’d like the next stretch of time to look. In just a few minutes, you can design your ideal week — or for that matter you ideal day, month, or year. I even have one client who has mapped out the rest of her career all the way to retirement, and she’s only 43. It will take time to turn the model into reality, but now you know what’s possible. You may actually find creating the real thing to be easier than you think.”
2. Define What Types of Days You Need
Do you have some days where it would be great to catch up with people? What if you had a day where you made the focus all about walking the halls and catching up with people you need to see. Or what if you needed some heads down time? What if you designated a day where you really focused on cranking through your work?
“A complimentary strategy to modeling, defining your time means figuring out what types of days you need. Just as you have different kinds of clothing (work clothes, formal clothes, weekend clothes) and different kinds of friends (professional acquaintances, neighbors, college buddies), you can also have different kinds of days. What kind you choose depends on your needs.”
Jay shares some example of types of days you might need:
- Meeting days when you are available to meet with other people.
- Work days that you keep to yourself to do your own work.
- Flex days that are flexible to provide a cushion for spillover activities.
- Admin days for catching up on paperwork and other administrative tasks.
- Days off for rest and renewal.
3. Make Appointments with Yourself
If you want more time to get things done, schedule it. If you schedule it, it happens. If you don’t, it won’t.
“Think about it. You make appointments with clients, and you keep them. You schedule time with your boss, and you show up. You commit to meetings, and you attend. Now apply the same concept to yourself. Set a specific meeting with a specific purpose and be there to get the job done.”
Jay shares some examples:
- 4:00 every day, e-mail catch up
- 10:00 Tuesdays, coaching appointment
- 2:00-4:00 Fridays, office time for loose ends
- 7:00-9:00 Wednesdays, read up on industry news
- 8:00-10:00, every other Friday, review financials
- All day first Monday of every month, strategic planning
4. Escape the Rules of Time
What if you could break away from the standard time rules that hold you back? You can play around with the rules to support you better. It’s not about spending time, it’s about investing time, and achieving what you need. If that’s your lens., then some of the old rules of time might melt away.
Jay shares some of the unstated rules that tend to guide us:
- You must work 8 to 10 hours per day.
- You must take time off on Saturdays and Sundays.
- You must be available by phone and e-mail at all times.
- You must take vacations in full-day or full-week increments.
- You must be available to other people before you can make time for yourself.
“For instance, maybe you’d rather leave work every day at 3:00 P.M., but work six days a week. Maybe you’d rather get a long massage once a month instead of a full-week vacation. You might start defining the length of your workday by the results you achieve instead of the hours you’ve worked. Time rules don’t necessarily mean working less, but they do mean working with more freedom and choice.”
Jay knows some people will object to this idea saying their boss or environment would never allow it, but she simply asks, “Have you checked?”
She adds that, “If you’re willing to be fair, negotiate, and persist, you will be surprised at how accommodating others will be to help you break the rules to make better use of your time.”
5. Make New Time Rules
Maybe you need to put some new rules in place to help you use time more effectively.
“Financial advisors often advise people to set money rules, like ‘pay yourself first’ or ‘save 10% of every paycheck.’ Money rules help you be decisive and stay true to your financial goals. For efficiency and quality of life, you can apply the same concept to your time by setting new time rules.”
Jay shares some helpful examples that others use to make time work better for them:
- Never open e-mail before planning the day.
- Never schedule a meeting before 9:00 or after 4:00.
- Turn off my computer after 7 P.M.
- Keep my PDA off during family time.
- Always eat dinner at home even if it means working in the evening.
- Spend no more than one evening away from home per week for a work event.
- Work on my personal goals during ‘my time’ and work at work.
- Be home in time to tuck in the kids every night, or at least call them to say good night.
To make new rules, Jay offers a simple formula:
- Notice what’s not working about the way you spend your time.
- Write down what would work –the way you wish you could spend your time.
- Make a time rule that makes your time work well for you.
6. Replace Multi-Tasking with “Unit-Tasking”
You can try to do 10 things at once, or you can try to do something well. Balance and blend single-tasking some things vs. multi-tasking everything.
“Multitasking is a fact of life in a high-speed world. And it does work to help you manage complex, nonlinear tasks, like being available to people whenever they need you; responding on a moment-to-moment basis; staying on top of moving targets, like projects that move ahead in fits and starts; and handling phone calls and requests that come in at random. Naturally you’re not going to shirk your responsibilities to focus on a single project for weeks on end without addressing any other needs. That’s just not realistic.
But recognize the impact multitasking has on you. Your actions become fragmented, your thinking is interrupted, you make hasty decisions, and you do things poorly. To get the focus you need to be effective in achieving your vision, try replacing it with ‘unittasking.’ The whole strategy is this: Do one thing at a time.”
Jay shares some example activities that benefit from unittasking:
- working on projects
- conversing one-on-one
- spending time with the people you love
7. Power Down
Technology isn’t the enemy, but misusing it is.
“Power down means turn off the technology. The wonders of technology are just short of miraculous, and I’m always cautious about making technology the enemy. So much of technology can help us maximize our time. We can use it to transform not just the way our world works but the way we work. It can buy us time, save us time, leverage time, and organize our time.
But if we’re not careful, technology can also use up all of our time. Just because you can be available, 24/7 doesn’t mean you should. Just because you can instant message at the same time as you’re trying to write a report doesn’t mean you should. Just because you can perch your laptop on your passenger seat of your cart to tap out ideas during traffic, doesn’t mean you should.
Take the step occasionally to power down. Turn off the technology, and do what will bring you progress and fulfillment.”
if you get curious and explore each strategy, you’ll find the ideas that work for you.
The best way to know for sure in the end, is not to just think through it, it’s to actually test it.
Test some ideas for changing how you spend or invest your time and find your own time management breakthroughs.
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Image by Jose Carlos Osuna.