One of the biggest challenges I hear from people is the lack of time they have to get things done. People report being bombarded with demands from external agencies or clients such that they are constantly reacting and have little time to be proactive and consider what is really important for them or their business. Yet some people, who are perhaps no less busy, invest in their people, lead great teams, deliver results and are more proactive, so what is they do as we all only have 24 hours in a day.
Firstly, time is inaccessible to us, it continues uninterrupted irrespective of what we might do. We cannot manage it directly, but we do have the scope to influence how we use the time available to us. Developing your own time-management strategies, learning how to prioritise and delegate are vital skills for most individuals in today’s workforce.
So why is it we struggle with time management? When we look at the research into human behaviour, it becomes apparent that there are certain aspects of how the brain works that can undermine our ability to manage time effectively. It is assumed that we will choose to focus on tasks that yield the greatest benefit, but this is not always the case. Not only do tasks differ in terms of size or importance but also when they yield benefit. We typically prefer positive, smaller-sooner outcomes which means we may spend time doing tasks that provide us immediate gratitude rather than prioritising our time to spend on more important longer-term goals and that contributes towards less strategic thinking and more “reactive” responses.
I wanted to share with you a few thoughts around time management and encourage you to reflect on what actions you could take.
- How often do you assess how you are using your time and how long tasks actually take? Use technology, e.g.: Harvester, to support you to build your understanding of how long activities actually take. By being clearer, you’ll be more able to schedule and realistically plan your day.
- Do you actively plan and schedule your time? This could be supported by utilising daily, weekly, monthly action logs, setting short and long-term goals, actively scheduling time in your diary / outlook calendar to focus on specific tasks and goals, chunking similar activities together to avoid “dead” time and then allowing you space elsewhere to focus on activities that take more focused “thinking” time.
- Are you clear about your priorities? If you are unclear, it is easier to be drawn into doing activities that are urgent but perhaps less important?
- Do you regularly take a step back to monitor and review how you utilise your time? Many people work in demanding environments – curve balls derail our best intended plans but it is possible you could take more control than you think by reviewing what you are doing, asking yourself whether the task can be delegated and ensuring you reflect on each day.
- How proficient are you at saying “no”? Learning to say “no” is a skill and understanding how tasks align to your priorities is a good start.
- How well do you minimise distractions to allow you to utilise your time effectively? Simple techniques such as putting your phone aside, turning off emails (for a while) and avoiding multi-tasking can support you to focus on key activities that deliver your desired goals.