Managing time effectively is a critical skill for leaders. Time is precious, and unless you want to spend your whole life at work, you’d better learn to manage it well.
Leaders and managers often struggle because they can’t just complete their task list, they also need to be available to support their teams and resolve issues.
So, here are my top 5 time management tips to help you get your work done, without spending your whole life at work.
Time Management Tip #1. Understand Your Priorities
Priorities are important. Without them, you have no concept of what work you should tackle first, and what can wait.
Generally, I like to set up to three priorities per day. Any more, and *everything* starts to become a priority, which is not helpful. When you have too many priorities, you can’t make trade-offs about what to work on.
After you have set your priorities for the day, you can use them as a guide to how you spend your time. Some tasks take longer, so rolling these up into weekly and monthly priorities can also help.
Now you can ask the question “Is this work contributing to my priority tasks?” If not, then you need to allocate time so that you do complete them at some stage.
We can’t always work on our own priorities. Often other work comes in from your boss or other teams. But if you find you are always working on other people’s priorities instead of your own, it’s time to make a change.
Time Management Tip #2. Work Offline
Working offline is one of the amazing time management tips to focus your efforts and get your priority tasks completed. We are bombarded these days with an extraordinary number of distractions.
Smart phone notifications, incoming emails, social media, phone calls or unexpected “pop-ins” at your desk are common examples of the distractions we deal with every day.
Unfortunately for us, The Muse tells us that it takes almost 30 minutes to refocus after being distracted. That’s a big risk to your ability to get your work done.
To work offline, try the following approaches.
Work In “Offline Mode” In Your Email Client
Many people do a lot of work with emails. If this is you, then switch your email “offline” for 30 minutes at a time. This way, you won’t see any notifications and be tempted to check that new email.
After 30 minutes you can always go back online to check what has happened. But I can guarantee that in most leadership roles, being away from emails for 30 minutes is not going to kill you or anybody else.
If people demand that you pay immediate attention to their emails, it’s time to start educating them that email is not useful for urgent communication. Email is actually an asynchronous method of communication… which is not good for urgent matters.
Work Away From Your Normal Location
Book a meeting room just for yourself, or go out to a coffee shop for an hour. People won’t be able to find you so easily. Often people will interrupt you because they know exactly where to find you, and asking you for help is easier than solving a problem for themselves.
When you can’t be found so easily, you have a much better chance of having fewer distractions and remaining focused on your work.
Ditch the Technology
Need to sketch up a plan, strategy, or a to-do list? Get rid of your laptop or your iPad, which have many distracting features.
Go to a quiet place with a notepad and pen and have some thinking time, with far less chance of distraction.
Time Management Tip #3. Make Calendar Bookings to Do the Work
I find one of the often underrated time management tips is to book time in your calendar to complete specific tasks. This helps you segment your day and ensure you’ll get the time you need to work on your priorities.
Make sure you don’t book your whole day like this – it will make you seem unavailable. It will also make it difficult for others to meet with you, and collaboration is important.
But, when you really need to focus, block out your calendar for that important task. If people try to book over these calendar entries, it’s time to have a conversation and push back.
Remember that people throwing bookings over your own are probably trying to get you to work on their priorities, rather than your own. You do need to be helpful and work with others, but if this becomes a recurring pattern, you need to make a change.
Time Management Tip #4. Match Your Effort With the Value
There is no point spending three weeks working on something that your boss spends two minutes reading. You need to match the effort you spend with the value that your work brings.
For an important, highly visible piece of work, you might need to spend more effort. But it’s important that you don’t fall into the perfectionist trap of spending far too long on something that nobody really cares that much about.
If a task is taking up too much of your time and you suspect it brings little value, it’s time to start thinking about how you can eliminate it or do it more efficiently.
Time Management Tip #5. Remember That Taking Shortcuts Wastes Time In the Long Run
The last, but certainly not least of my time management tips is to remember that taking shortcuts usually leads to a lot of wasted time, in the long run.
Let’s look at an example.
You know you need to delegate some work to somebody in your team. But you’re busy, so what you do is send a quick email, briefly explaining what they need to do.
You skip a lot of the details and assume they understand what they need to do, because it’s quicker for you.
The person you delegated the work to is confused. They might send you a follow-up email, asking for clarification, which you will need to respond to.
Even worse, they may take your poor instructions and run with the task, making mistakes along the way. Then, you’re going to need to tidy up the mess, wasting more of your time.
Just be aware that taking the time to do things properly at the start, can save a lot of time in the long run.
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What are your top Time Management Tips? Let me know in the comments below!