Improving your time management comes down to setting goals for what you want to achieve within a given time period and prioritising tasks that need attention most.
In this lesson, we’ll identify common time-thieves that make you less efficient, as well as some simple tips and tricks for improving your time management and productivity.
So, who or what is stealing your time?
Over the course of a day there may be lots of distractions pulling you away from your work. These can be small, like answering phone calls and emails, responding to questions from colleagues, or maybe over-thinking tasks, but they all add up. If you’re trying to concentrate in a noisy office or don’t have the equipment you need to do the job effectively, it may be the work environment itself that is distracting. Or, it could be that integral parts of your day are making you less productive, like travelling to and from meetings.
Whether it’s procrastination, external factors or interruptions affecting the amount of time disappearing from your day, identifying these distractions is the first step towards being more productive.
Start by taking note of how long it takes you to complete individual tasks. Recording how long you spend on daily tasks is a crucial step in making sure that you make the most of the time you have at your disposal, and will allow you to identify behaviours or factors you may not realise are stealing your time - such as overrunning meetings.
Try creating a daily timesheet or log, which can be done using online tools like a spreadsheet, or the old fashioned way in a notepad. The key to success here is to detail everything - every task, interruption, call, or tea run. Ideally, you should look to collect this information for an extended period of time (say a week or two) to get an accurate impression of where your time is going.
The next step is to take the disruptions you’ve identified, and look at how to minimise them.
Online productivity tools such as Asana, Basecamp and Google Keep can help you create digital to-do lists, manage your tasks and plan your day. Some will even allow you to delegate tasks to others, or send you friendly reminders when deadlines are approaching. Many of these tools are free and some have free versions for smaller teams.
Remember to be realistic. Trying to do too much can result in a drop in productivity, not to mention morale. Start with a prioritised to-do list, either on paper or using one of the online tools we’ve mentioned. Ticking things off that to-do list is great motivation and will help you build momentum in getting things done.
Here are five top tips you can integrate into your everyday routine to help increase your daily productivity:
- Stay focused at meetings: Make a point to avoid unnecessary meetings that don't require or benefit you. Your time is precious - use it wisely. If you’re the one scheduling the meeting, set clear expectations, provide all reference materials in advance and start and end on time.
- Create daily to-do-lists: Get into the habit of creating a prioritised list of all the things that need to be achieved every day.
- Take breaks: Sitting at a desk all day might look productive, but taking 5-10 minute breaks when you’re feeling fatigued can boost your concentration, especially if you stretch and move around.
- Eliminate distractions: Let people know you don’t want to be disturbed, or move to a different part of the office to help keep distractions to a minimum.
- Sleep: Lack of sleep can affect the way you work, so try and get a good night's rest to prepare you for the day ahead.
Being more productive doesn’t necessarily mean that those daily distractions are going to disappear: you’ll still have to respond to emails, answer questions, and go to meetings, but you should be able to ensure you’re as effective as possible in between.
Working on improving your time management can be beneficial both personally and professionally - from reducing stress and minimising mistakes to allowing you to be more productive. Think about the time thieves in your day, and consider the processes you can put in place to minimise them.