“Time Management” is not an Oxymoron: Six Ways to Get Control of your Time
Prioritizing and time management are nice ideas, but you probably feel stress just thinking about all the things that need to get done. Managing your time can seem impossible when just a quick glance ahead shows that your calendar looks awful. Everyone and I mean everyone, wants a piece of you. Task management is something you just don’t have time for when your boss, peers, direct reports, clients and other stakeholders are requesting your time to attend meetings and conference calls – never mind your personal obligations and goals.
You are constantly bombarded with emails, phone calls, and text messages throughout the day. The distraction is constant, ever present and can get overwhelming. No wonder you burn the midnight oil, look tired a lot and are exhausted at the end of the five-day workweek. (What’s that you say? Five day work week! Right!)
The truth is, we are all given the same 24 hours in a day. No one gets any more (or any less!). So hone your time management skills and understand how prioritizing can make a difference in your stress and your success. Here are the best ways to get everything done and come out alive after managing your day:
#1. Focus On Your Top 3 Priorities
Your priorities will demand your attention, enable you to take action and produce results. Quickly, off the top of your head, what are your top 3 priorities right now? If you don’t know, perhaps that is why your calendar looks the way it does and you feel the way you do! One of the quickest ways to define them is to create an Eisenhower Matrix, an idea popularized in Steven Covey’s “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” Basically, this is a time management tool that allows you to focus on what’s really a priority versus something that just appears to be on fire in this moment.
To create it, simply divide a piece of paper into 4 squares. On the horizontal (x) axis, write “Urgent.” On the vertical (y) axis, write “important.” Now, quickly take what you perceive to be your top 10 priorities into these 4 areas – the higher up you place the task, the more Important it is, and the further to the right you place the task the greater urgency. Your top 3 priorities at any given moment should fall into BOTH high urgency AND high importance..
#2. Track How You’re Spending Your Time on Your Top 3 priorities
When people set goals for weight loss, one of the tools they often say has the greatest impact is understanding the details of their diet. In this same way, you can temporarily use a journal or app to track your activities each hour of your working day. Do this time management exercise for two weeks and assess how much time you are spending on your top 3 priorities. If your not spending 75% of your time on the 3 issues most vital to your success, then you need to evaluate what, where, and how you are spending your time. Just like someone trying to adapt their eating to healthier ways, tracking your time can be a real eye-opener, and can help you change the way you manage your time.
Delegation works! Spend time on only things that are both Urgent and Important to the success of your objectives. By delegating everything else, you not only give yourself the ability to capitalize on your strengths, you also empower others to find and develop theirs. It’s a win for every member of the team, and you as a leader, have the ability to get more done in less time. Delegating is a great way to develop your team, assess their capabilities and allow them to feel they are contributing. Plus, your team will learn valuable time management skills of their own along the way, with you to guide them in prioritizing and understanding their role within the success of the team.
#4. Learn to Say No.
Set boundaries. Say no to that meeting or conference call that you can quickly see is “Urgent” but not “Important.” Again, you can delegate the responsibility to someone on your team who can better dedicate the time and resources to creating success. Make your team responsible, but be sure you check in and keep things rolling along when you do say ‘no’ to something that is merely a distraction for you. Checking in allows you to say no to the task but yes to achieving the objectives. Guide and support your employees and they will suddenly become motivated and productive.
#5. Connect With Your Team on What You Need.
Connect with your team on what the most vital priorities may be. Empower team members with the tools to communicate with you, and what your expectations are. Then, learn to listen effectively. Listening is an important part of time management, as you can miss information or spend time revisiting ideas and topics that could have been solved in a single pass, had you heard what was said initially. There’s a big difference between hearing someone and listening to them. Be sure your team members understand that as well, and that they are listening when you communicate objectives and tasks. Be specific and very clear about your expectations, and what the goals are. As a skilled listener, you can also customize your style of communication based on what you gain by truly tuning in to your team members.
#6. Control Incoming Distractions.
Finally, take control over the flood of information you receive each day. If your work involves time at a computer, close your email program and only read and respond to those messages two or three times a day. Set a timer to remind you if necessary. I find that 10am and 2pm are perfect times to check email, though I do usually check my email right before I head out for the day. Whatever your usual schedule may be, communicate it with those that communicate with you. Explain that you are improving your own productivity and time management and will absolutely respond in a timely manner – but that may not mean you’ll respond immediately. Touch your messages just once and do something with each message. Respond, forward with instructions, file or delete.
A final note about time management: As much as possible, connect with people in the real world. Managing your time can be a whole lot easier if you connect with people and understand what their priorities, obstacles, and goals are. Walk around and see your team members, or if they are not in the same location as you, pick up the phone once in awhile. Don’t spend a great deal of time, but do plan to take the time to truly connect.