You don’t need more hours in a day, you just need to make better use of the ones you’ve got.
Time is a funny old thing. Actually, it’s not really a ‘thing’ at all, it’s a concept that is supposed to help us bring order and structure to our world. So, why does it feel like time is often our enemy, working against us to pile on the stress, rather than a tool to helps us?
Undeniably, time is a valuable commodity; we talk about trying to ‘buy more time’ or ‘carve out more time’ but of course, we can’t actually do that. There are the same number of hours, minutes and seconds in a day for everyone – it’s what you do with them that counts.
Time Management is a well-worn phrase but a much-misunderstood concept. We usually think about time management as a tool for getting more done. The trouble is you can’t just ‘get more done’ if you’re already working flat out.
In business especially, time seems to be particularly thin on the ground. We are all striving for that utopia whereby we get all our business tasks done in a normal working day and then still get to spend plenty of quality time with our friends and families. ‘Work Life Balance’ is a phrase that is now almost as commonplace as ‘Time Management’ and yet also feels as equally vague.
Tip #1 Get your priorities straight
Before you can prioritise you need to write a list of the tasks that need to be done. Then use a tool such as Steven Covey’s Time Management Quadrant to figure out what the priority of each task is. At Opendoorz, we’re big fans of this tool and use it on a large whiteboard with lots of post-it notes we can move around. Check out the table below to see how it works.
Q1: Important and Urgent
Things that are out of your control, i.e. emergencies and deadline-driven work – DO
Q2: Important but Non-Urgent
Tasks that you can plan and control when you do them, i.e. follow up calls, business planning, etc. – PLAN
Q3: Not Important but Urgent
These tasks are driven by someone else who is calling the shots over their urgency. They include: taking calls, meetings, some emails, booking events, etc.
WARNING – this area can have almost endless tasks that are the most distracting and ‘steal’ most of your time (phone calls and emails being the biggies) – DELEGATE
Q4: Not Important and Non-Urgent
Mostly distracting tasks that don’t hugely contribute to your overall objectives such as: non-work social media, some calls, time wasters, etc. – ELIMINATE
Tip #2 Eliminate Distractions
Did you know that 30 minutes of focused concentration is much more productive than 2 hours of half-hearted attention?
Distractions not only waste time they put a serious dent in your productivity. The trouble is we are all fairly easily distracted because, more often than not, the distractions are easier or more appealing than the tasks we should be doing! If you find yourself absently clicking on LinkedIn when you should be writing a report or responding to emails that don’t require urgent attention when you should be working on the budget then try the following:
- Turn off notifications on your computer, laptop and phone.
- Switch your phone to meeting mode.
- Plan social media time and don’t browse outside of it.
- When that must-read article pops up save it to a read later folder and set aside time to go through it daily/weekly.
- If you’re working from home let others know when you’re working and not to be disturbed and don’t work when it’s family time.
Tip #3 Practice saying ‘No’ more
Here at Opendoorz, we’ve noticed that successful people are comfortable using the word ‘No’. They get that saying ‘yes’ too often to others’ requests not only drains their energy and headspace it also puts someone else in control of their time. Before you say ‘yes’ next time, ask yourself these questions:
- Will this help me achieve my work objectives?
- Does this take me towards my goals?
- Will I regret saying YES later?
Saying NO sometimes does not make you selfish or uncaring but it is crucial to ensuring you focus on your own priorities and self-care. It may feel uncomfortable to begin with but it will get easier and help you keep control of your time and goals. This is a great quote from Paulo Coelho that explains why saying no sometimes is important. “When you say yes to others, make sure you are not saying no to yourself.” Paulo Coelho
Tip #4 No time to waste
We often have small pockets of time that can feel wasted, for example, arriving early for a meeting or waiting for a train. Rather than viewing these pockets of time as ‘dead time’ think about what small tasks can be done in just a few minutes. I bet you’ll be surprised by how many. For example:
- Social media – a few likes, comments or real-time updates
- Quick phone calls
- Responding to texts, WhatsApp or emails
- Reading articles in your ‘Saved for later’ folder
- Updating your to do list and planning for the next day
Tip #5 The 3 P’s: Plan, Prepare and PJ’s
The best time to get ready for the day ahead is the evening before. I like to take 10 minutes before finishing my days’ work to plan and prepare what I need for the next day. That doesn’t mean writing the report you’ve got to present! But it does mean making sure you’ve got the right notes, laptop, cables, etc in your bag ready and making sure you know where you’re going and double checking how long it will take to get there. Knowing that you have everything ready to go in the morning should make for a more restful night’s sleep. You’ll wake up feeling organised and in control which is a great headspace to kick start your day.
Tip #6 Track your time – knowledge is power
If you are in a profession where you charge by time, you’ll be used to keeping a close track on how much time you spend on different tasks. That’s not the case for many of us and we often under value our time when it comes to work. Using an app, such as Toggl, or some good old pen and paper, will help you build an accurate picture of how long different tasks take and where the balance is between tasks that are required to help you run and build your business.
Once you have this information you can not only plan your time better but you’ll know how much time to allocate to an activity. Sticking to these time allocations for tasks will ensure you get through your to do list for that day and not leave work (late) feeling like you’ve not accomplished anything. Tasks have a funny way of expanding to fill up available time so by restricting that time you’ll become more efficient and effect. Make sure you leave a few spare block of time to allow for those unexpected things that crop up.
Tip #7 As the slogan goes ‘You’re Worth It’
The key to effective time management is understanding that you are at the centre of it. The time you are managing is yours and if you feel over-whelmed or stressed by the lack of time you have it is only you who, ultimately, will suffer.
Effective time management means making time to look after yourself too. Factor in taking breaks and holidays. A quick walk in the fresh air at lunchtime, booking a Friday off for a long weekend to recharge the batteries, all of these are essential to effective time management.
Even adding variety into your schedule will help you perform better. If you spend too long on one thing you will become less and less productive as the time goes on. Plan to switch to a completely different task and then come back to it later.
There are endless hacks and tools out there to help us do more with our time. Time management has become a big industry. Sadly though, in my experience, there is no magic pill that will give us more time or make us fly through tasks more quickly. It boils down to understanding that time is a limited resource, organising your tasks to effectively use that resource and monitoring your time while performing those tasks (and making adjustments as needed).