Ever found yourself wishing there were more than 24 hours in a day? Or that you could propel yourself back to last Tuesday to meet a deadline? Fortunately, there are plenty of things we can do to use our time more effectively and actually have more of it left over at the end of the day.
Do a time audit.
It all starts with management. While outside factors may influence your schedule, you have to be the boss of your time. Start by creating a budget of your time - just like you would your household expenses. It doesn't need to be an elaborate spreadsheet (that might take too long!) - a simple “to-do” list will work.
Next to each item on your list, write down how long it typically takes you to complete the task. Break large projects down into manageable pieces and set mini-deadlines for yourself. Be sure to note how much time you'll need to devote to each piece of the project.
Remember to include personal tasks as well - coaching your son's Little League team? Want to ensure you make it to your daughter's dance recital? Tired of skipping happy hour with your friends or missing your favorite television program? Write it down. Once it's all in front of you, you'll be able to see exactly how you spend your time and where you can - or should - make adjustments.
Now that you can see everything you need to do - and approximately how long each task will take - start ranking the items on your list. Next to each task, assign a rating of “high,” “medium” or “low” to sort out your priorities. In the event of a conflict - remember, there really are only 24 hours in a day and you do need to sleep - those items labeled “low priority” are the first place you can make cuts to ensure you have time for things that really matter.
Plan your day.
Make a daily “to-do” list based off of your master list - and stick to it as much as possible. Since there really are only so many things a person can accomplish in one day, this is where your rating system will really come in handy. Also, keep in mind that you can't plan every minute, so be sure that your new schedule is flexible enough to allow room for spontaneity.
If you have a tendency to procrastinate, consider the reasons why. Are you overwhelmed by the amount of work on your plate? Worried that you won't do a great job? Tired? Hungry? Once you identify the reasons behind your procrastination, it will be easier to conquer it and get down to business. So break large projects down into manageable pieces, ask for help when you need it, try to maintain a positive attitude - about your work and your abilities - and be sure to take regular breaks to rest and eat. If you still find yourself procrastinating, don't waste time surfing the Internet - try the productive procrastination technique: work on smaller projects while avoiding whatever it is you're putting off, so at least you're still crossing something off your list.
Let technology work for you.
The latest gadgets are designed to make our lives easier, but sometimes they do the opposite - leaving us feeling overwhelmed and without downtime. Today, cell phones, laptop computers and Blackberry devices are ever-present, constantly interrupting professionals at work, and in their personal time. In order to maintain productivity and a healthy work-life balance, workers must use technology to their advantage.
Check emails at set times each day. Let your automated “out of office” assistant speak for you by creating a message letting colleagues know that you are in the office and will be replying to emails at a specific time during the day. Be sure that higher-ups have a way to reach you (cell phone or IM) if they have an urgent need.
When you do check your emails, follow the “one-touch rule” - read it, reply to it and file or delete it. This will keep your inbox under control and save time when looking for a specific message.
Like emails, check voicemails at specific times each day - perhaps once in the morning, once mid-day and again shortly before you leave for the day. Consider making phone calls early in the day - before regular business hours if you prefer to leave a message. (You're more likely to reach a voicemail if you call at this time.) If you'd like to reach the person but don't want to be stuck on the phone for too long, call just before the normal lunch time or right at the end of the day - people are less inclined to be long-winded at these hours. And, if you find that your own chatty ways are the issue, try making your phone calls while standing. You'll be more likely to keep a call concise if you aren't relaxing in your chair.
Use the calendar and task lists on your computer to remind yourself about impending deadlines and appointments. Remember, when you place an appointment on your schedule, other folks on your network will be able to see that time is blocked out and can send meeting invites based on your calendar - eliminating the need for additional emails and phone calls to determine a time and location for the meeting.
It's your time - use it well.
Remember to leave time in your schedule to spend with family and friends - and yourself. Everyone needs time to relax, so if you consistently feel as though you don't have time for anything but work - and could use a few more hours for that - be on the alert for burnout. And don't forget, actions speak louder than words, so if you're a manager who doesn't take her time off, it's less likely that your employees will feel comfortable taking their vacation and personal time. Accepting that you may not always cross everything off your “to-do” list each day - and that it's OK as long as the most important items are completed - will help you enjoy your free time and may even lead to less stress and higher productivity during work hours.
Interested in more simple, yet effective tips for succeeding in today's working world? Contact your local Adecco representative today!