Take control of your time
Be honest ‒ do the seconds, minutes and hours of the working day slip away? Do you sit at your computer at 9 a.m. and, in a blink, notice it's suddenly 5 p.m.?
If you struggle to get enough done in the day, the problem could be a lack of proper time management. Ensuring that you're productive and use your time well may not sound like the most enthralling topic. However, taking care of this aspect of your working life could make a huge difference when it comes to how you perform and how you feel overall.
A 2021 analysis published in Plos One found that time management can boost work performance and increase your life satisfaction. The results showed that this change is moderately related to a person's levels of well-being, job performance, and even academic ability.
So, how can you get on top of your time management and where should you start? In this simple guide, we'll take a look at ways you can take control of your time and make every second count.
1. Set time limits
Ahead of starting a project, do you ever estimate how long it will take? Too often, people make the mistake of failing to set time parameters around their work and, without a deadline, even the simplest of tasks can run on and on. With that in mind, the first time management tip you should know is the importance of setting yourself limits. Before you start anything, decide how long it should take you.
Of course, there's a chance that your project or task will run over the deadline. It may be harder than you expected or require extra research. Or, you may start the task and realise halfway through that you've done it incorrectly. These things happen (more often than you expect!), so don't be dismayed if you don't hit your self-imposed deadlines. The point of having time limits is not so that you beat yourself up if you go over them; it's to have something to work towards.
2. Figure out what wastes your time
What exactly are the things that drain your time? If you feel like the working day gets away from you, chances are that a few things are wasting your day. Finding the culprits will help you to streamline your work so you can complete the important stuff. Luckily, there are apps and tools that can help with that. Here are a couple you may want to try:
Toggl is a free in-browser tool that can help you determine which tasks eat up your time. Whenever you start something new during your workday ‒ be it a document or replying to emails ‒ you can start a new toggl track to monitor it. The platform keeps tabs on how long you spend on the task. Once you're done with a task, simply press "stop" or "pause." At the end of the day, week, or month, you can check out a report to see which tasks are taking the longest.
Similar to Toggl Track, RescueTime runs in the background of your browser, automatically tracking the time you spend on various tasks and sites. For example, it will track when you open certain social media pages (hello Facebook!) or your email. That means that you can quickly and easily see where your time is going.
Additionally, RescueTime has a "Focus Time" feature that blocks certain pages, such as social media sites, for when you really need to get something done.
Using either of the above tracking tools will give you a better understanding of how you spend your time during the working day. Armed with this information, you can look for ways to eliminate your time-wasters. For example, if you discover that you check Instagram 20 times a day, you could block it during work hours.
3. Plan your days in advance
Picture the scene: you wake up in the morning, grab a coffee. and stumble over to your computer. What happens next? If you sit down and start wondering how to spend your day, you might want to make a change.
One of the easiest time management tricks you can try is planning your days in advance. Set aside 10 to 15 minutes at the end of each working day to plan your tasks for the following day. That way, when you start the next morning, you'll already have a list of actionable tasks you can get started on.
4. Limit your email time
Did you know that the average professional spends 28% of their working life checking and responding to emails? Yes, you're likely to waste more than a quarter of the workday managing your inbox. Whilst some emails are doubtless crucial to your job, there's a good chance that many of those messages are a drain on your productivity and time.
Limiting how long you spend on emails is one way to improve your time management. Needless to say, there's a balance to be found here since you can't just close your inbox and pretend it doesn't exist. Instead, try allocating 10 minutes every hour to checking it. That way, you won't get interrupted by emails when you're in the middle of completing tasks, but you can still ensure that people get timely replies.
5. Prioritise your task list
Perhaps you're working, but not on the right things. Spending large chunks of time organising your calendar or changing your email signature is not effective time management.
Prioritise your task list. What are the must-do tasks and the nice-to-do tasks? You can start by making a list of all the things you have to do and assigning each of them a number to indicate importance. Try working from one to 10, with one being unimportant tasks and 10 being crucial assignments.
Begin the day by approaching the highest-scoring tasks on your list. You'll have more energy to tackle these activities and do them to the best of your ability first thing in the morning. If you have time at the end of the day, try some less important tasks.
6. Use time management tools
Technology can be the ultimate distraction. However, when used well, it can also help you to improve your time management skills. If you're finding it hard to stay on task and complete your work each day, there are online resources, extensions, and tools that you can try. Here are a few examples:
Todoist is an app, web app, and browser extension that you can use to manage your tasks in one place and keep track of deadlines. Write a list of all the things that you need to achieve in the coming days, weeks, and months. You can tag the tasks by importance, project, type, and more. When you complete a task, check it off. You collect "Karma points" if you consistently complete tasks on time.
Are you easily distracted? Does a single sound put you off your work? If you find it hard to concentrate on your work because of the noise around you, Noisli is an effective tool. This web app and Chrome extension offers chilled-out background noise to help you stay focused and calm. You can choose from a range of relaxing soundscapes, such as nature sounds and music.
Tracking your time is straightforward with the Focus Booster web and smartphone app. This one allows you to use the Pomodoro Technique, in which you work for a short period, stop, take a break, and go again. You can use the tool to monitor how you spend your time and to improve your overall productivity.
Better time management is within your reach
Strong time management doesn't happen by accident. It's a skill and, like all skills, it takes time and energy to learn. If you're looking for a way to improve your productivity and well-being, dedicating yourself to this task could be the place to start. Get started today and see what a difference it makes!
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