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Top 12 Time Management Tips

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Top 12 Time Management Tips

Top 12 Time Management Tips
by Tim Kehl

In this era of economic stagnation and corporate downsizing, workers at all levels are being asked to do more with less. To prevent being overwhelmed, today's employees (from the receptionist to the CEO) can learn to work smarter not harder.

By incorporating some essential time-saving techniques into their daily routine, employees can increase their productivity, reduce stress and free-up nearly an hour a day.

So how can you get control of your time and your life?

1. Track your time. Keep a time log of everything you do for 3-5 days. It only takes a few extra minutes to record this information and it will show you how you are using—and where you are losing—your time. When examining this data, ask yourself: What do I need to start doing? Stop doing? Do more of? Do less of? Do differently?
Bonus tip: People who complete this self-assessment are generally surprised at how many hours they spend addressing issues that are urgent but ultimately unimportant. When faced with such situations, ask yourself: “What is the most important thing I could be doing right now?” Do that thing—and let the minor stuff slide.

2. Start each day with a plan. Successful people plan their work and then work their plan. Use a date planner (paper or electronic) to organize, prioritize and schedule your daily tasks and activities. Set aside 15 minutes at the end of each workday to construct your calendar for the next day. Or prepare it before you go to bed, or first thing in the morning—but don't start your day until you have completed your plan. The most important time of your day is the time you schedule to schedule your time.
Bonus tip: When your day is 70% scheduled, consider it full. This will provide a necessary cushion for interruptions, delays and emergencies.

3. Put first things first. The ability to prioritize is the hallmark of time management competency. More important than getting everything done is getting the important things done. Block out interruption-free time in your daily schedule for your three highest-impact activities. Schedule these tasks during your prime time—that period of the day when you have the most energy and do your best work. Stick to these priorities, and let everything else fall in around them. (This is known as the ‘Three Big Rocks' method: If you have three big rocks and a pile of pebbles that must all fit into a jar, first put in the three big rocks. Then let the pebbles flow around them and fill in the gaps. If you put the small stuff in first, the rocks won't fit).
Bonus tip: When you sit down to work in the morning, before you check your email or get involved in the minutiae of the day, devote one solid hour to your most dreaded or demanding task. This will jumpstart your day and give you an initial sense of accomplishment. As Mark Twain quipped, “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.”

4. Use technology to get organized. You cannot be your most productive if you are always searching for documents and surrounded by clutter. Get rid of those random piles of papers and sticky notes and use a simple electronic filing system. There are numerous software programs that can help you organize a wide array of customer and product particulars, allowing quick and easy access. Additionally, adopt a personal scheduling program such as Microsoft Outlook that allows you to keep a calendar, to-do items, work plans and a directory of contacts.

5. Answer your messages in batches. Just because someone can contact you instantly doesn't mean you have to immediately respond. Constantly checking your email and voicemail interrupts your train of thought and hampers productivity, especially in jobs that require creative, innovative or strategic thinking. Reply to all incoming messages in groups and check them only three or four times a day (e.g. 10 am, 2pm and 4pm).
Bonus tip: Adopt a ‘one-touch' approach (Do, Delegate, Delete, or File) for processing all email, postal mail and other requests.

6. Delegate wherever and whenever you can. You don't have to do it all. Really. Other people are quite capable of handling some of the duties you generally reserve for yourself. Consider which tasks you could be sharing with others and start gradually parceling out some of these responsibilities. This will allow you to focus on your high-impact activities while giving your co-workers a chance to grow and shine. You normally make you greatest contribution when you only do what only you can do.

7. Avoid perfectionism. Don't waste time obsessing over every detail of your work when you could be moving on to something else. It is more important to plant forests than to prune trees. The most successful people are satisfied with 80% on most assignments, and save their need for 100% for the few, truly important things. In addition, perfectionism leads to micro-managing, poor relationships with co-workers, procrastination, low productivity, stress, anxiety and depression.

8. Learn to say ‘No.' Trying to be all things to all people is futile, frustrating and unproductive. Politely decline requests that do not align with your top priorities and goals, especially those you tend to get involved in out of quilt or a false sense of obligation. Remind yourself that everything you say ‘No' to allows you the freedom to say ‘Yes' to something else that is more important—and and more worthy of your time and skills. You can be frank without being rude. Simply say, “I'm sorry, but I just can't manage that right now.”

9. Take frequent mini-breaks. Even the busiest people need to clear their mind and stretch their legs now and again. Every hour or so get up from your desk and take a five minute breather. Do some stretches, take a brisk walk outside, or climb up and down the stairs a few times. Talk to someone you enjoy. Drink water. Eat a healthy snack. Briefly stepping away from your work will relax your body and rejuvenate your mind.

10. Eliminate time-wasters and conquer procrastination. Much time is wasted on the job by procrastinating, doing ‘busy work,' visiting distracting websites (especially social media sites), attending unnecessary meetings, over-editing reports, and interacting with chatty and/or negative colleagues. Drop as many of these time-bandits as possible and concentrate on the activities that actually “move the needle” of your business. When necessary, close your door, turn off your electronic devices and signal your colleagues that you do not wish to be disturbed for a designated period of time.
Bonus tip: When you find yourself avoiding a project because it is complex, time-consuming and/or undesirable, adopt the ‘Swiss Cheese' approach. Just as Swiss cheese can be easily broken into bite-sized pieces, so you can break overwhelming tasks into small, manageable parts. Work on each portion for only 25 minutes at a time. Once you have bitten off and digested a few chunks, the project will not loom so large and you will be more motivated to complete it.

11. Mind your health. Your health should always be your No. 1 priority. If you are not in good shape physically, mentally and emotionally, both your professional life and your personal life will suffer. Keep yourself healthy by eating nutritious meals (especially breakfast), exercising at least three times per week, sleeping a minimum of seven hours per night and observing a weekly day of rest. These practices will relieve stress, raise your energy level, increase your stamina, improve your mental clarity, boost your immune system and make you a happier, healthier and more productive person. (For more information on taking care of yourself and maintaining a healthy work-life balance, see my article “12 Key Strategies for Achieving Work-Life Balance,” at http://www.industryweek.com/articles/12_key_strategies_to_achieving_a_work-life_balance_27152.aspx?ShowAll=1

12. Know when to ask for help. If you have implemented some combination of the above strategies and find that you are still overwhelmed, don't suffer in silence. Untenable work situations can be usually adjusted, but you will need to calmly explain your situation to your supervisor. Similarly, if you are experiencing serious personal problems and/or ongoing stress, shed the Superman/Superwoman image and talk with a professional—a counselor, mental health worker, or clergyperson. Take advantage of the services offered by your employee assistance program. Be positive and know that there are solutions to your problems, but you will need to ask for help.
Bonus tip: As a time management trainer, I must note that there are many additional time-saving techniques beyond the twelve essential ones described above. Whenever possible, take a time management seminar or workshop. If your company doesn't offer such a course, consider proposing one. Or sign up for a class at a local university or community college.

Like any other skill, developing stellar time management practices takes time and effort. Don't get overwhelmed by assuming you need to make big changes all at once. Even if you implement only a few of the above tips, they will have a positive and tangible impact on your productivity and peace of mind. Start with one clear goal—then add another, and another. Gradually your life at work will take on a consistent, manageable and sustainable routine.

Forming new work habits is never easy. But those who commit themselves to this quest reap great rewards: better health, increased productivity, reduced stress, greater success and more time to pursue a quality personal life.

Tim Kehl, M. Div., is a work-life balance specialist, speaker and trainer. He also serves as a senior corporate chaplain with Capital Chaplains LLC in Madison, WI. Tim can be contacted at timothy.kehl@gmail.com, website: timkehl.com, or 608-271-6606.

 

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