The main aim of effective time management is to allow you to achieve more in less time – however, that’s not the only benefit! Managing your time properly can also lead to reduced stress at work, less procrastination, improved work quality and more.
It can seem daunting to change your work habits, so we’ve put together our top recommendations for improving your time management skills. Keep reading to learn more!
1. Conduct a time audit
Before you can improve your time management, you need to figure out what your time is spent on, and where it might be being wasted.
A useful time audit might include:
- Tracking all activities using a calendar or time-tracking app
- Comparing how much time you think a task takes you vs how long it actually takes
- Logging how much time is spent on unproductive or non-work-related activities
- Times of the day when you are most productive
A week is usually a sufficient amount of time to conduct your audit over, after which you can identify problem areas, determine how much you can achieve in a day, and make informed decisions when planning your work.
2. Learn to prioritise
When putting together your overall to-do list (not to be confused with your daily list – see the next point!), start by identifying the most important tasks and complete these first.
Once the biggest tasks are out of the way, you can organise the rest of your tasks based on the interaction between importance and urgency. The Eisenhower matrix, a time management tool from Stephen Covey’s book First Things First, can be a useful resource for this. Try filling one out!
Understanding the matrix
- Important + urgent: To be completed as soon as possible.
- Important + not urgent: Most of your time should be spent on items in this quadrant – these tasks are important but do not require immediate action, therefore time should be spent on long-term development and planning.
- Urgent + not important: If possible, try to delegate, minimise or eliminate these tasks as they probably won’t contribute to your output and have likely come from poor planning of other people.
- Not urgent + not important: Eliminate if possible, as these tasks hold little to no value.
3. Schedule your day
Start each day with an organised to-do list, taking into account the priority of the task, the time needed to complete it, and the time you have available. Not only can this help you plan your time, but it can also help to keep you focused and prevent task-hopping.
4. Avoid multitasking
Leading on from the above, you should always try to tackle one task at a time and avoid the urge to multitask. While it might feel necessary to multitask, especially if you’re busy or facing deadlines, doing so can actually cause you to lose time and focus, and reduce overall productivity. It also increases the risk of making mistakes, as you’re mentally juggling multiple tasks and pieces of information.
Furthermore, this can lead to unnecessary stress as working on multiple tasks simultaneously can feel much more overwhelming than working through each one by one.
5. Group tasks together
By grouping similar tasks together you can save yourself a bit of mental energy and reduce the likelihood of distractions. Rather than responding to emails or messages as they come, try setting time aside to respond to notifications, make phone calls, organise paperwork etc. This can also be built into your daily schedule by assigning yourself set times to do certain tasks.
6. Take regular breaks
This might sound counter-intuitive, but research has demonstrated that taking regular breaks can increase memory, wellbeing, and productivity, and reduce the risk of burnout and stress.
Schedule these breaks into your day – the best time to do this is between tasks, giving your mind a chance to recharge and be ready to tackle the next job.
7. Set yourself deadlines
Some tasks naturally will have deadlines set by external sources, such as clients or managers. However, for items on your to-do list that have no concrete due date, it can be easy to push these back as other things crop up.
Try setting yourself a realistic deadline for tasks like this – this may help to make it seem more ‘real’ and avoid can-kicking!
8. Tackle challenging tasks first
For most people, the morning is the most productive time of day, before other distractions start to trickle through, or you hit that post-lunch slump! Therefore, it’s wise to try to get your most difficult jobs out of the way first thing, as not only will you have the most energy then, but also the rest of your tasks for the day will be less demanding.
9. Stay organised
Both physical and digital organisations can increase your efficiency and help you save time. For example, keeping your desk tidy can not only help you to locate documents you need quickly, but can also improve your cognition and reduce anxiety – making it easier for you to make decisions.
Organising your digital files and shared drives will allow you and your colleagues to find what you’re looking for easily and without confusion.
10. Manage Stress Levels
Not only can stress wear you out and reduce your productivity, but it can also cause actual changes to the structure of your brain – chronic stress can even lead to brain atrophy, a loss of neurons and the connections between them.
Make sure you take time to look after yourself and engage in activities to help you reduce stress, such as exercise, meditation, or a hobby. Learn more about how you can manage stress in another of our blogs here.
If you feel you’re taking on too much at your job, raise this with your manager and discuss how your workload could be adjusted.
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