10 Ways to Improve Your Time Management Skills
How much time do you waste in a typical working day or week? 4 hours, a whole day, more? Whatever your industry and wherever you work, time management matters.
If you've recently started working from home, without a daily commute perhaps you're suddenly feeling time-rich. Or perhaps the distractions or the lack of structure/organisation in the office might be weighing down on your productivity. Perhaps you find yourself unable to shut off. Whatever the case, it's more important than ever that you use that time wisely.
For companies, effective time management leads to efficiency savings, thereby increasing revenue. People with good time management skills tend to be more productive, more motivated and also more likely to meet deadlines. But, it's not always easy to get this right.
'Unlocking the UK’s ‘Daily Savings Time’, a report from US software company Workfront provides some alarming statistics regarding the amount of time wasted at work:
Key time management statistics:
- On average, workers waste 11.4 hours a week, costing £11,225 per employee per year
- Less than 60% of our working day is spent productively - with impromptu meetings and email being the biggest time wasters
- Workers waste two hours per day on average through interruptions and distractions, even though 80% of these are trivial
- Workers spend up to 4 hours a day checking and managing email, receiving 300 + emails per week, although only 14% are crucial to work
- 57% of workers spend up to an hour a day looking for missing documents
- Many professionals attend an average of 60 meetings per month
Top tips to improve your time management skills
- Produce a time log for a week - This will show you how you currently spend your time and how much you spend on non-productive tasks.
- Use the Important/Urgent matrix to prioritise tasks - This ensures that you only spend time on tasks that are important and urgent (i.e. your top priorities). Anything else can wait!
- Focus on the most important/urgent tasks when you're most alert - This allows optimum concentration. But, remember to flip between high and low-attention tasks or take a micro-break (see below) to let your brain recover from mentally-demanding activities.
- Compile a To Do list at the start of each day - This lists all your priorities in one place and tracks your progress. It structures what you have to get done and you'll get a sense of achievement as you'll see you're making progress. This is especially useful when working from home as you'll need to be more self-disciplined.
- Take micro-breaks between tasks - If you're working at home, making a coffee and walking around for a short time not only reinvigorates you, but it's also beneficial ergonomically to adjust your posture. It ensures optimum concentration when you return to your desk. What's more, if people around you (colleagues or family members) know you'll be available later, this can limit their interruptions.
- Look for signs of procrastination and take action - There are many reasons why we procrastinate (everything from a task being unpleasant, to a fear of failure, perfectionism, feeling overwhelmed or a lack of organisation). Homeworkers beware: Daytime TV, long lunches and social media can all lure you away from your main focus. Don't let them take over. If you procrastinate, figure out why and take action before you're swamped. If you don't, you'll be working late into the night to catch up!
- Manage meetings - Avoid all unnecessary meetings. If there's no agenda or the right people (i.e. decision makers) cannot attend, reschedule it.
- Manage email - Switch off email notifications and check emails just two or three times a day; keep emails succinct and avoid 'Replying to All'; don't look at email first thing - complete an important/urgent task instead; set aside a short time burst (15-20 mins max) for responding to emails unless it's core to your job; use folders to organise emails.
- Learn to say no - What can you do to deal with a chatty colleague, a demanding boss who's heaping more work on you, a customer who's in no hurry to let you get on, or - at home - an unexpected visitor or curious family member? Rehearse strategies for dealing with interruptions and learn to say no without causing offence.
- Reduce your exposure - For tasks that require intense focus, don't be afraid to turn off your emails or instant message notifications, put your smartphone on silent, even go and work in another office to minimise distractions. If you're homeworking, headphones can also be useful for limiting interruptions - a visual reminder you're busy. Finally, remember to respect others' time by keeping your own interruptions to a minimum too! By making every second of work time count, you'll have even more time to spend on the other things you love.
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