If you’ve ever found yourself overwhelmed by the number of meetings on your calendar or your to-do list, you’re not alone. Everyone struggles with time management from time to time. It’s been reported that productivity decreases by 68% when people feel they don’t have enough time to tackle their workload.
If you have too much on your plate and need help, it’s important to ask for help. Don’t be afraid to reach out to your teammates or your boss. In addition, here are some overall tips and tools to improve your time management skills:
1. Embrace the template
Is there an email that you send every week, or even every day? Instead of typing it out each time, use a template. These digital mad-libs will help you save a significant amount of time in the long haul. Templates are helpful for presentations, proposals, memos, and more, and can also be helpful when your company is trying to keep materials on-brand. Work as a team to create reusable templates for all reoccurring materials. Your to-do list will thank you.
2. Check it off
As soon as you’re assigned a new project or task, it’s helpful to put together a checklist of everything you’ll need to do to complete the assignment. Not only will this give you a structure for your work, it will also ensure that you don’t miss anything or waste time remembering what to do next. You can keep these checklists in your notes, or on your tool of choice. Trello and Todoist are some options.
3. Ask yourself: Could this be an email or instant message?
We all know the scenario. You’re in the zone on a project and all of a sudden, a meeting reminder pops up on your computer. You rush to the meeting room (or call in, if you’re working remotely), only to find that the meeting is a 10-minute update … or worse, an hour-long update that could have been condensed to that 10-minute update. Most of time, these meetings could have been emails or instant messages.
To avoid this situation, encourage your team to create agendas for your meetings. Not only will this help prevent unnecessary meetings, it will also create structure for discussions and make sure that everything is covered.
4. Block it out
To help your team know when you’re available, block out time on your calendar for when you’re busy working on a task or project. When people switch between tasks, they are more likely to lose productivity and focus. If your team knows that you are busy during a certain time, they won’t interrupt your work and you won’t feel you have to be responsive at all times. You can also create office hours, similar to your college professors did, for when people can schedule time with you.
5. Set communication preferences
Would you rather use emails, messenger chats, or quick calls when communicating? What does your team prefer? Work together to create a set of communication preferences. For example, email is better than instant messenger chats for important information, because it will be easier to find when needed. Messenger chats are best for things that need more timely responses. Video or phone calls work well when brainstorming or collaborating.
Talk with your team about what they need and prefer and create a set of loose communication rules together.
6. Own your calendar
You likely have an assistant who schedules specific meetings, but you should be active in deciding what meetings you will participate in and how much time you will allocate. You should also be clear on what you will delegate to someone else. Don’t fully pack your schedule. Be sure to set aside time each week to think and contemplate any big issues that need addressing, plan your actions, or organize your efforts. As a senior leader, it’s important you don’t become a slave to your calendar.
7. Find your own effective way to organize and track your objectives and tasks
Some people write in books, others use various programs. I personally like a flexible program known as Wunderlist that provides flexibility in organizing objectives, making concise lists with actions and sub-actions. It also allows me to capture key takeaways from meetings or my own personal thoughts. This tool works across enterprise and home; PC and phone. I find it a very good way to stay organized
If you’ve applied all of the above tips and you’re still feeling overwhelmed, perhaps you need to use a more elaborate time management style. There are many different techniques out there, but I’ve found these two to be very effective:
- Pomodoro Technique: There are many apps and digital tools that employ the Pomodoro Technique, but all you need is a timer, pen, and paper. To get started, set a timer for 25 minutes and get to work on your current task. Don’t multitask or work on anything but that task. When the timer ends, take a five-minute break. After four rounds (called “pomodoros”) of this, take a longer break of 15 to 20 minutes. Repeat. (For a more elaborate explanation of this technique, check out this helpful article). This technique achieves a few things. First, you feel a sense of urgency and purpose when a timer is involved. Second, it forces you to take much-needed breaks, instead of sitting at your computer for hours at a time. Third, it allows you to keep a more detailed account of your workday, and you can see what you’re spending the most time on.
- Timeboxing: This technique is similar to Pomodoro, but it’s stricter. With the Pomodoro Technique, you work on a task until it’s complete, keeping track of how many Pomodoro rounds it takes in total. With timeboxing, you set a finite amount of time that you’re allowed to work on a task before you move onto the next one. It doesn’t matter if you’ve finished the task or not, you have to move onto the next thing on your to-do list. You can return to that task at another time if it’s important. This method stops procrastination, frees you from unnecessary perfectionism, and prevents Parkinson’s law from wreaking havoc on your workload. Parkinson’s law explains that work expands to fill the time available for its completion, meaning that if you have a long deadline, you will most likely draw out the work to meet that time frame, even if the project itself would take half that time. Timeboxing can also make tasks feel like a game, as you are racing against the clock. Just be sure to set reasonable amounts of time to complete work, you don’t want to throw yourself into a panic unnecessarily.
How does your team manage their time?