I sometimes joke that I am married to the man with the worst time management skills on the planet. My mother in law begs to differ though. Admittedly, the time management nightmare she puts up with from her husband is probably twice as bad as anything I experience – so clearly this is a family thing. There seems to be no magic phrase, or emergent situation that will put a hustle on this particular father / son duo. Not “The kids are waiting,” not “We are going to miss our plane,” not “We planned for this weeks ago”. No matter what is waiting for them on the other side of that car ride, they always appear to be stumbling out the door at the last possible second, despite having days, weeks, even months of warning ahead of time.
I share this little jab at my husband and father in law not just to throw them under the bus (okay, maybe a little), but to show you that poor time management is learned behavior. These two lived together and worked together in the family business for years before I ever met them. In that time, they came up with their own rhythm of being perpetually late and perpetually rushed. It was just normal to them. The good news is that just like poor time management can be learned, good time management can be learned too. My husband had to learn to step it up once he began working in the business world 10 years ago, and then a little more once we had kids (nothing gets you on a schedule quite like a baby!) While he is definitely still working on it, I am happy to say that he has improved dramatically since we met. What are some of the tactics he has used? Let’s take a look…
If you have trouble with time management, chances are you have trouble with organization too. These two things go hand in hand so much that you simply can not only work on one without also working on the other. Let’s imagine that you have a project to complete in one hour, and you are led into a room in which to work. One room is neatly laid out, with all the materials and information you need readily accessible, and clearly labeled – while the other room is a generally disorganized mess with crucial project components missing, or mis-labeled. Which room is the better room to work in?
Disorganization begets disorganization. The more time you spend looking for the things you need, the more you trash your workspace in an effort to find them, etc. Organization is a chore, there is no doubt about it, but learning how to properly organize your workspace, your calendar, your home, it can all lead to better time management. When you spend your time productively working, and not trying to undo a mess left over from last time, you will be finished sooner, and can then enjoy more down time afterwards.
Plan Ahead, and Use Your Schedule
Sometimes, time management problems arise because we accidentally took on more tasks than we realized. You signed up to bring cupcakes to your son’s graduation party at school, but you forgot to go shopping for the ingredients, and now it’s too late because you’re already sitting in the dentist’s chair… etc.
This stems back to organization again, and having a visual reminder of what needs to happen, and when, can really help to keep you on track. Use whatever means you feel most comfortable with. My sister prefers to use those giant desk calendars, because she prefers to physically write things down. Although today, you might find it more convenient to use an online calendar to keep you organized.
Another hugely valuable aspect of using a calendar or schedule is that it helps give you the power to say “no” – which is another thing some of us struggle with. If someone asks you to take on a task due by the end of the day, but you are already booked solid, you can politely decline, and have a good reason for doing so. Taking on more tasks than you can handle directly contributes to time management issues.
Learn to Prioritize
It happens to the best of us, you had every intention of mowing the lawn, but on your way out front, you remembered that you were supposed to make a phone call. Next thing you know, you got distracted again with some small task, and by the time you remember that you meant to mow the lawn, it’s dark out. Now, it’s not that you did nothing today. In fact, you were quite busy the whole time. It’s just that you focused more on the things that did not need immediate attention, and let the more pressing matter go.
Prioritizing is an extension of scheduling. When you have all the tasks you need to complete in a day in front of you, you can then begin to plan out which tasks need the most urgent attention. Time management has a lot to do with prioritizing, because you learn which things need to be accomplished, and which can wait. It is realistic to assume that you can sometimes not get everything done in a day – but when you prioritize, you also get to decide which are the tasks that can wait to tomorrow without too many consequences.
Avoid Getting Overloaded
When you are behind on a deadline, what are some of the first things you ignore in the hopes of making up time? Sleep? Meals? Your personal hobbies and leisure activities? While these might sometimes seem like the “right” things to cut out in an effort to get more done, in reality, planning time for rest and relaxation is a key part of your overall productivity. The more sleep, exercise, healthy foods, and relaxing activities you miss out on, the more stressed you are likely to be. When you are stressed, you are not working at your best. It’s an uncontrollable spiral.
Remember your scheduling and prioritizing, and don’t forget to plan some time for just you. A properly planned schedule will always take your personal needs into account, and you should be able to enjoy them guilt free. If you tend to feel stressed after a certain amount of time spent working, allow for breaks in your schedule. Burn out is a big contributing factor to time management issues. Sometimes, you think that pushing yourself even harder is the solution, when in reality it is only doing more damage.
Yes, I went there. Somewhere along the line, the term “Multitasking” – once referring to a strange ability held by few – became this expectation of everyone, no matter how they prefer to accomplish their work. By its very definition, multitasking means “doing too many things”, and this does not, in fact, lead to any kind of time management solutions. By splitting your focus among too many things, you wind up focusing on nothing.
Everything mentioned in this blog so far: organization, scheduling, prioritizing, and taking time out for yourself, they all fly in the face of the concept of multitasking. Even though it may be a business buzz word right now, it is far more important to focus on one thing at a time, if your ultimate goal is to get better about time management. Approach your task, finish it, move onto the next one. You may find that you are actually accomplishing far more than your multitasking colleagues.