With overflowing to-do lists, competing priorities and life’s distractions, many of us are struggling to manage our time effectively. At ConvergenceCoaching, we struggle, too, and have discovered that the key to becoming more effective isn’t about managing time at all. Rather, it is about managing ourselves and the way we spend our time.
When you really look at your biggest time management challenges, you will see that you have more control than you think. To be more effective, the solution isn’t to better manage time so you can get more done in a day. Instead, the real solution is to respond differently to the things that demand your time and to take a more proactive approach in choosing what you do each day.
In this blog, I will share my view of the top five time management strategies that address the most common time management challenges and will help you be more productive:
- Stop procrastinating. Procrastination is one of the most common challenges inhibiting our effectiveness and efficiency. Keep procrastination from inhibiting your progress and success by identifying the underlying reason for your procrastination. When you identify the root cause, you gain clarity about how to move forward. For example, you may procrastinate because the task you should focus on appears overwhelming and you don’t know where to start. Once you identify the underlying cause, you can see a possible solution, such as breaking the project or task up into smaller, more manageable pieces. Another common reason you may procrastinate is because you don’t like the task. Knowing this, you can move the activities you like least to the top of your list and knock them out so they don’t linger for days. Next time you catch yourself putting off something that you need or want to accomplish, stop to ask yourself why you are avoiding the task and then look for ways to overcome your tendency to procrastinate.
- Manage interruptions. Interruptions have a way of disrupting your workflow and distracting you from your priorities. Some interruptions can be avoided with planning and discipline. For example, if you are frequently interrupted by e-mails throughout the day, consider turning off your e-mail notification and only check and return e-mails at specified time intervals (no more than once per hour) so you can allow yourself substantial blocks of time to focus on your work. Similarly, you may consider turning off your telephone ringer and checking messages and returning phone calls at specific times during the day. Another idea to minimize interruptions is to set “office hours” that you’re available to answer questions from your team to prevent people from walking in and taking you away from your activities.
Adopting practices that will minimize interruptions will improve your productivity, but keep in mind that there will always be some level of unavoidable interruptions. Some of these will be urgent in nature and will require that you put your attention on them, but some of them only appear to be urgent. Always take the time to find out where something fits in the immediate priority scheme and schedule it accordingly.
- Distinguish urgent from important and prioritize accordingly. Competing priorities have a way of making us feel like we’re being pulled in different directions, hindering significant progress in any one area. Some tasks require your immediate attention because they are both “urgent” and “important” like client emergencies and deadline-related work. These types of tasks fall into what Stephen R. Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, calls Quadrant I of Stephen R. Covey’s Four Quadrant Time Management Matrix. According to Covey, the key to becoming more successful, productive and effective is to spend less time on urgent tasks (Quadrants I and III) and on those tasks that are complete time wasters, like surfing the net or chatting with others (Quadrant IV). Instead, Covey encourages us to spend more time in the quadrant of proactivity, or Quadrant II, where tasks are important but not urgent. Examples of truly proactive activities include spending time on exercise, strategic planning, goal setting, business development activities, developing your people and working on your life-long dreams and goals. These things require more planning and deliberate attention or you risk putting them on the “back burner” as you focus on the urgent and unimportant things in your life. By being more intentional and working on things that will benefit you in the long run, you will end up spending less time on urgent activities, which will decrease the amount of unplanned time you spend in your day, reduce your stress and increase your sense of accomplishment. We have created a tool based on Covey’s time management matrix to help you become more conscious of where you are currently spending your time by tracking your activities in each quadrant for a week. You can access the tool by clicking here.
- Get and stay focused. Being focused is another common obstacle to achieving maximum productivity. Part of the reason we have trouble focusing on individual tasks is that we have a lot on our minds. We are constantly trying to keep track of commitments, responsibilities and what needs to get done, in what order, and the status of our ongoing projects. You can improve your ability to remain focused by regularly “emptying your head” of the things that you’re trying to keep track of. Here are some ways to empty your head:
- Create a weekly work-to-do list. Download a copy of the weekly work-to-do tracking tool and a description of the weekly work-to-do process that we use and recommend to our clients.
- Carry a notebook to jot down ideas and other things that you need to remember. Alternately you can keep notes in your Blackberry, iPhone or similar handheld tool.
- Keep a journal to record your thoughts and provide therapeutic release from the worries and concerns that you are carrying around with you.
- Organize, organize, organize. Being disorganized can rob you of valuable time and leave you feeling discombobulated. The payoffs for investing time in the organization of your tools, files and your workspace are huge! Calendar time each week for filing paper files, electronic files and e-mails and to organize your desktop and supplies. Treat this time just as you would a client appointment and don’t allow some other, seemingly “more important” activity to infringe upon that time. This type of deliberate organization is a good example of a proactive, ultimately time-saving activity, and if you commit to doing it, you will see a surge in your productivity and a decrease in your stress level, too.
Let go of the notion that you can get better at “managing time” and instead focus on managing the way that you spend your time. Be vigilant and schedule time for the priorities in your life, especially the ones that aren’t “in your face” demanding to be dealt with, but are still very important to you. Take our Time Management Assessment and examine which of these top five time management strategies you tend to struggle with the most. Then, identify one behavior that you can commit to change to gain more control over your life and produce the results you’re most committed to achieve. Please share your one commitment with us by replying to this post, and use this blog as a place to find support and share your successes.