3 Tips How to Effectively Manage Your Time

Eliminating the trivial from the vital

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How to effectively manage your time

You’re here because you want to find out how you can effectively manage your time, probably when under pressure. I will not talk about lists. These are made to be the guilt trips from hell, either designed to never be finished or to give you a good feeling for checking off easy items that don’t matter in the end. I will also not give you instruments or mention fancy apps that will help in managing your time.

My tips are different… This article is a sequel to the Essentialism* series and it deals with elimination of tasks.

Determine your most important priority

Time management done well is not about “hacks” to do your tasks as quickly as possible. It is vital to determine your most important tasks to begin with. Start with setting priorities for the week. Do those priorities also align with your goals set for the year? If so, make sure to schedule time to execute those priorities – without distractions. Read one of my previous articles in the “Essentialism” series for more about setting priorities.

3 tips for managing your time more effectively

Effectively managing your time is more about eliminating the trivial and the less important activities than doing as much as possible. If you can focus on more important activities that will bring the most added value to you and the organization, that work will be of better quality. Therefore, you need to make time and learn difficult behaviors to protect your time.

One no brainer is that you shouldn’t spend too much time on social media or let yourself be distracted all the time. However, changing behavior can be tough. Therefore, understanding the mechanics of behavior and behavior change is important.

Here are 3 tips to eliminate the less important activities and how to keep your agenda as empty as possible during the workday:

Time management tip 1: Saying no more often

Once you’ve clearly defined what is important to you and where you need to spend your time, it is important to say no more often. You don’t have to be a jerk about it, but a clear no is important. Sometimes you can get surprised by a reasonable good opportunity or by a request from someone you like. What helps then is to say that you’ll think about it. That way, you buy yourself some time instead of immediately confirming that you’ll help that person. Because it sometimes may be hard to decline a request for help from someone you like.

Another behavior that helps in these kinds of situations is repetition in your response. Personally, I have certain periods during the quarter that are really busy. The people around me know when this is and generally understand when I don’t (immediately) help out with their requests.

In case you’re pressured into doing something delaying may still help. Later, you can discuss this new activity with your manager. If the new task is also important for him/her, then ask what activities you can drop. This way you show that your time is a valuable resource and what happens if there are too many requests for your time.

Saying no in a graceful manner will not always be to everyone’s liking. However, I’m convinced that in the end people will respect you more for it.

Time management tip 2: Uncommit

If you already have commitments you regret later, you can always try to backtrack out of those commitments. When you have to handle some unexpected project with a tight deadline, earlier commitments may be less vital. But also if you made a mistake by accepting an invitation for a certain meeting, you can always go back and apologize:

“I’m sorry. I’ve accepted the invitation to your meeting, but I don’t believe my attendance is vital. I have other priorities at the moment. Thank you for understanding”

Be playful in this kind of situation. See it as an experiment. What happens if you do this? Often, the reaction of the people involved is not as bad as you might think.

Also, in bigger projects you should be aware of the sunk cost bias. This is a term I’m lending from my Economics classes, but it is very much applicable when you’ve invested a lot of your time in some project as well. Sunk cost bias is when you tend to be in favor of continuing a project even though it will not bring you (enough) future benefits, for the sole reason you’ve already spent a lot of time on it.

An example (non-job related) is a website I had about lease cars. The returns on that website were dwindling and compared to the income from my job it was not important enough. Moreover, I did not like maintaining the site anymore. But I’d spend a lot of time in it and therefore I continued for over a year(!). This was time that was not well spent, so after some time a cut my losses and gained more free time instead. One of the better decisions I made that year.

Be aware that such examples also exist in your jobs. Which projects (in the past or present) did you continue to commit to, even though you knew deep in your heart it wasn’t worth it?

Time management tip 3: Setting boundaries

Setting boundaries is another essential time management tip. Often people try to make their problem your problem. Therefore, each time someone requests you for help, assess if you should do the actual work they want you to do. What I’ve noticed on some occasions is that just giving some advice is already enough. Also, your time schedule should not be hijacked by someone else, unless it is also a priority for you as well.

Setting boundaries for your employer is also important. For instance, I don’t get company email on my phone. I do this consciously, because I don’t want to be disturbed when I’m with my family. If it’s urgent, they’ll call anyway. For someone else it may be important to leave at a certain time to pick up the children. These boundaries are important and you should protect these.

Which of the time management tips will you start to apply tomorrow?

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