By definition, time management relates to maximising one’s productivity, by using time effectively towards achieving certain long-term goals. By design, time management can have different architects, with their own vision and agenda.
This all means that you can be creative and instrumental in achieving some of the greatest feats in business, by designing a time management plan that works for you.
“We all have the same 24 hours” is a saying that I totally understand, but which also instills such anxiety in me when I am not being productive by my measure. Time management really seems to be at the crux of successful people’s effective balance, with them delegating and doing tasks according to priorities and interests.
There are an overwhelming amount of articles and books quoting the habits of the world’s most prolific and successful figures – CEO’s who wake before the sun for a (Tim Cook, Apple), and celebrities with such diversified career portfolios that they require their daily time be segmented by their industry interests (Mark Wahlberg).
We may all have the same 24 hours, but we do not all have the same means, motives, and opportunities. For those with a more realistic outlook on their daily habits – regardless of well-intentioned scheduling – work holds attention for an even smaller time frame than what is on paper. I have five time-management rules I adhere to, to ensure I get my work done in a timely manner. These tips will have you working optimally too.
1 Accomplish something like clearing your inbox early, as that sets off a productivity chain reaction for the day
Did you know that people with cluttered email inboxes spend more time on email than any others?
The tone of your day (from pace to effort) is set from that first task you do, so choose one task you know you are able to complete and get it done. Perhaps now is the time to experiment with email folders, where unread emails are moved into separate folders labelled with titles like ‘Urgent Priority’ and ‘Awaiting Feedback – Check’.
If you are looking for other ways to be productive in the morning, award-winning American journalist Charles Duhigg, says that “making your bed every morning is correlated with better productivity, a greater sense of well-being, and stronger skills at sticking with a budget” (The Power of Habit, 2014). So, do try kickstarting that productivity chain-reaction for your day. That sense of accomplishment you get from a well-executed first task, will carry you to the next, and you will feed the enthusiasm until you are done with everything.
2 Leave a 5-minute rest-stop between tasks
It seems repetitive to point out, but if it is not a lunch break you are taking, then a breather between tasks is necessary. Leo Widrich at Buffer reports that we can only basically “focus for 90 to 120 minutes” before our brains need a break. This discovery on humans’ ability to focus, was discovered by groundbreaking sleep researcher Nathan Kleitman, who referred to our behavioral focus as a “basic rest-activity cycle”, according to Tony Schwartz.
So, allow your mind to process that one task is done. Give your body time to create and distribute all those happy chemical reactions that come with feeling accomplished, and then revel in that bit of goodness for a minute. This is the pat on the back you need, to encourage you to keep going, so leave a 5-minute rest-stop between daily tasks.
3 Remove the distractions, especially if your music playlist ends up being a bit too good!
If the work set-up you created yesterday worked, but you are struggling to find your flow today, change things up. It is not always possible to keep the productivity bubble blossoming at work, when the world and everyone in it, can be unpredictable. Moods change, and the weather switches too. There will be human resource challenges, and power outages too – but always adapt to the situation in such a way that you are productive by close of business. Change clothing if the fibres are irritating you,and switch off phone notifications because even I know that the temptation to look is overwhelming. Additionally, try one of Spotify’s recommended work playlists for calm; and close those windows when noise pollution distracts your thoughts too. Do your best to remove distractions with efficiency!
4 Figure out whether you are one to compartmentalise tasks, or someone who does them as they come
There is no one singular method that works for all people when it comes to working effectively and efficiently. Some successful people advise you to focus on one task, and complete it, before moving to the next; but you know what kind of working person you really are. You may differ in such a way that you work better doing a task immediately given to you, rather than moving it aside for later, knowing it’s a toss-up if you will really remember the task, and have ample enough time to complete it. It is an advantage to know just how task-orientated you are, for the prosperous career you are working towards.
5 Audit your time
The day does not just get away from you. From midnight-to-midnight, one is able to actually account for every minute in their 24-hour day, and that includes sleep and bathroom breaks. Take the time to log every little thing you do, from: how long you take to actually get up after your alarm rings, to how long it took you to go through all your emails, and log responses. There are also time management apps like Toggl which can actually help you evaluate your entire scheduling and work flow, for the better.
Wasting time and resources, on tasks that are not actually priorities, can be detrimental in the grand scheme of your work and morale. The novelty cups employees around the world tote, exclaiming ‘I Survived Another Meeting That Should Have Been An Email’ are not just funny items to snigger over, but visual accounts on how redundant some formalised gatherings at work can be seen as, when there is perhaps not a clear goal in mind, or you bring in people whom the meeting agenda does not apply to.
If there is one guide that undoubtedly helps in prioritising your daily tasks (and figuring out whether they are, in fact, priorities), it is the 10 questions successful entrepreneur & productivity coach Matt East formulated in his 2020 book titled ‘The Purposeful Planning Method: How to Plan Your Day, Beat Procrastination, and Regain Control of Your Time‘. Matt gets ideas flowing with these 10 questions:
- If I could only achieve one thing today, what would it be?
- What’s the second most important thing I need to accomplish?
- What’s the third most important?
- What else needs to be done?
- What could I complete today that would make me happy when reflecting on my day?
- What can I do that will move me closer to achieving my goals?
- Are there projects or tasks that others own but I should follow up on?
- What key relationships in my life need my energy today?
- What can I do today that would remove stress from my life?
- What tasks can I delegate to someone else today?
When you eventually sit down and begin your time management plan, remember that yes, some people are able to multitask; However, quality complete work (for your own satisfaction and reputation management), should always be strongly prioritised. Manage your time people, but also your energy!
Liezel van der Westhuizen is a virtual speaker, personal branding specialist, and digital emcee. Van der Westhuizen is Masters graduate in Business Communication and is also owner of The Giraffe Academy, which is dedicated to a mission of personal brand-building, assisting clients to stick their necks out and cultivate their power to stand tall and be unique. This, she believes, is the key to marketplace success.
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