Feeling overloaded, stressed? You may need to go back to basics and look at your time management strategies.
I have taken on so much work lately that I am starting to feel overloaded and stressed and wondering about my own time management. I need to go back to basics and revisit some time management strategies, and I bet I am not the only one!
Do a time audit
The first step towards managing time more efficiently is to become clear about what time management problems you have. Do a “time audit” to work out how you are spending your time.
Draw up a time log. Each day, note the tasks you do and how long you spend on them. For a routine job this may need to be done for one or two days to get an accurate idea. For a job with a lot of variation, it may be necessary to keep it up for two or three weeks. Also note your interruptions and how long these take, whether they be new tasks to do or socialising.
Analyse the results. The time log will give you a picture of how you actually spend time and allow you to work out how you would like to be spending it instead – such as less time in meetings and more time with clients, focused time completing tasks finally and getting them out of the way.
What are the blocks to achieving better time management, and spending your time in a more efficient manner? It comes down to the individual doing something to manage their own time better. You need to ask yourself, “how do I manage interruptions and how I can I change?”. It may also mean taking more control and saying, “I don’t need to wait for that before I can do this…”.
Techniques for time management
Try to deal with things ONCE for as many tasks as possible – for example, touch papers once, deal with emails once etc. Constantly shuffling emails and papers wastes time, so do something with every task or piece of paper straight away. If you have a huge list of emails and stacks of files and paperwork, start with the first item and work your way through, try splitting the pile in half and starting with the bottom pile.
People often procrastinate when something seems too big or involved to make a start on. Instead, break the task down into small manageable sub-tasks, rather than feeling overwhelmed by the size of the task as a whole.
Take responsibility. Meetings can often be very wasteful. You need to make sure there is a meeting agenda, a set schedule and allotted time for each item. Take the responsibility for ensuring that this agenda is followed by stopping people from going off on tangents and moving on to the next item when it is necessary.
Overload is a reason why many people have difficulty managing their time. One of the hardest issues to deal with can be setting priorities – actually deciding what is most important and then allocating an appropriate amount of time for each task.
The principle of “calculated neglect” is often used in effective time management, whereby you purposely choose to ignore a “lesser” task in favour of a more important one.
Deciding what is most important and therefore a high priority is easy. Many people find the difficult part deciding what the low priorities are and tend to want to spend time on everything.
People who bury tasks
As a boss, manager or supervisor, how do you deal with a staff member who buries things that are either too hard or that they don’t want to do?
You need to point out to the staff member what you have observed in a way that won’t get them defensive, but that indicates you want to help.
Ask them why they are having trouble with the task and why they are burying it – is it that they are not sure what is required, or are they anxious about it?
Find out the reason and offer whatever is necessary to help them complete it.
If you are burying tasks yourself – make a point of doing an end of day check thorough what has been achieved for the day, and what needs to be done for the following day and coming week – then stick to it!
If you want to improve your time management skills – do a 360 degree feedback assessment of your time management skills – see how your own assessment of your skills matches the perception and feedback of others who work with you. Then when you get that specific feedback – do something to improve.
Eve Ash is a psychologist, managing director of Seven Dimensions, and co-producer with Peter Quarry of DVD Time Management from the Take Away Training Series produced by Ash.Quarry Productions and co-developer with Peter Quarry of the Online 360 degree feedback tool “Time Management Indicator” www.7dimensions.com.au
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