Imagine if time was a bank account and each morning you were credited with 86,400 seconds. If, by the end of that day you hadn’t spent any of the credits they would instantly be deducted from your account. What would you do?
The chances are that you would make every effort to spend them. It’s amazing, isn’t it, how much we take time for granted, but then regret the moments we lose or waste?
In transport economics, the value of time is the opportunity cost of the time that a traveller spends on their journey. In essence, this equates to the amount that a traveller would be willing to pay in order to save time, or the amount they would accept as compensation for lost time. The value of time varies considerably from person to person and depends upon the purpose of the journey, but can generally be divided into two sets of valuations: working time and non-working time. That sums up life very well, and echoes the fact that it is important that we make a balanced investment in both work time and play time.
One of the biggest challenges that many people face is personal time management and the ability to prioritise. Let’s face it, we all have our own quirky little habits and we have all been guilty of putting ourselves and other people under unnecessary pressure by just not being as well organised as we could be. This can have a big effect on our stress levels too. The more efficiently we manage our time, the better we will feel generally.
It is also important to respect other people’s time and, if our own lack of personal organisation or timekeeping disrupts others, it is important that we take responsibility and do something about it.
Also, it is worth considering that no matter how organised we may be, there are always only 24 hours in a day. Time doesn’t change. All we can actually manage is ourselves and what we do with the time that we have.
‘A man who dares to waste one hour of life has not discovered the value of life.’
Time Management – Steps to Success
Value your own time and that of other people
Review where you are spending your time
Create time management systems
Avoid procrastinating and get things done
Be tidy and put things away
Plan tomorrow today.
Use these tips to help you manage your time more effectively:
Have you ever stopped and really analysed how you spend your time? It is a really useful exercise to record how you spend your time for 14 days, and see how you spend your 86,400 seconds each day. Keep a log, which will highlight any unhelpful habits that you need to think about changing.
Once you know how you are spending your time you will easily begin to see how you waste time. Very often you will be wasting time on things that you can change – being honest with yourself will help
It’s amazing how so many people don’t have a good system in place and work rather randomly, just reacting to whatever comes along. It is a far better approach to be proactive and have more control over your day. Making a priority plan will help you to stay focused. Learning how to manage emails can be helpful.
For example, one useful system is to make a decision on what to do with an email as soon as it arrives in your inbox, rather than opening it and going back to it later. Either action it, delete it or file it.
It is so tempting to put off what you don’t like doing to another time or even to another day or week. Do what you least like doing first. Get it over and done with and you will feel lighter and more motivated. There is nothing worse than having something hanging over you. It slows you down and makes you feel heavy.
Some people are their own worst enemy because they want to portray the image of someone who is infallible and capable of taking the whole world on their shoulders, just as a cartoon superhero might! Of course, you are not a superhero, you are human, and therefore you are not infallible.
There really is only so much you can do. Learning to negotiate – and on occasions even to say no – is not only necessary, it is essential, and will take the pressure off, leaving you less likely to stress yourself out and let people down.
The tidier and the more minimalistic you are the easier it will be to find things – this can save lots of time. Being tidy is also good for your mind because it will help you to focus and feel more in control. People who work alongside you will also appreciate your tidiness as it will make life better and easier for them too.
Time Management Toolkit I: Planning
One of the biggest challenges that many people face is personal time management and the ability to prioritise. Use these strategies to plan your time more effectively:
- Identify the individual tasks that will ensure you achieve your goal.
- Put them in a logical order (identify those which have to be completed before the next can be started, and those that can be done in parallel).
- Identify the critical path – the sequence of events that dictates the fastest time in which an entire plan can be implemented. Work backwards from the last task to the beginning of your plan.
- Add estimates of resources – (costs, people, and time) and be realistic.
- Put your tasks on a timeline and estimate the completion date.
- Check that the resources are sufficient to run the plan – if not can you delay some non-critical tasks to smooth the resource demands.
- Identify risks in your plan and build in contingencies.
- Make it clear which tasks are contingencies – you can remove them later to gain more confidence in your plan.
- Identify who needs to know what to make your plan successful. Decide how are you going to keep them up to date.
- Keep your eye fixed on the overall goal and add shortcuts along the way – be flexible.
- Make your plan enjoyable so it is more likely to succeed.
- Design your plans so that they can be changed easily if necessary.
- Review your plans on a regular basis to check your progress.
- Monitor what really happens as you go along. It will indicate whether your planning is accurate or needs amending to fit reality.
- Make sure the level of detail in your plan is useful.
- Use other people – delegate to people that can do a specific job better than you.
- Make a list of your current projects and make time every week to review progress.
- Check your strategies for identifying the highest priority tasks.
- Develop a clear set of criteria by asking yourself ‘what is important to me about this?’
- Check your estimating – estimate how long something will take (for example a phone call) and then record how long it actually took.
- Ajust your estimates if necessary. Improve your estimating by checking your accuracy and adjusting accordingly next time. This will improve your planning skills.
- Identify the critical tasks and likely trouble spots in your plan before you start.
- Design monitoring systems to alert you before a problem arises so you can take action.
- Have focussed and specific contingency plans ready to help you achieve your goals.
- Focus on how great it will be once a task is completed rather than how much you hate doing it.
- Break up tasks you do not like doing into very small packages and do them on a daily basis.
Time Management Toolkit II: Organisation
We have all been guilty of putting ourselves and other people under unnecessary pressure by not effectively managing our time or not being as well organised as we could. Here are few tips that may help:
- Make sure you keep it up to date.
- As soon as you agree to do something, put it in your diary.
- Put reminders into your diary, such as insurance renewals and events you are likely to forget.
- Put the files you use most often near to you; the ones you hardly use can be stored in a separate room or can be archived.
- When it takes too long to find a document, reorganise that file into smaller files.
- Create a file for regular meetings. This will save you time when preparing for the meeting.
- Work out what you really need in a filing system – for example, do you really need to be able to retrieve information while you are on the phone?
- Analyse what is causing you the biggest problem and concentrate on that first.
- Work out a regime to get rid of that huge pile and work on it a little every day.
- Unsubscribe from mailings and newsletters that do not interest you.
- Decrease the volume of emails you send by only replying if you need to comment – do not reply unless necessary.
- Use flags to highlight emails that are a priority.
- Do not pass on an email just to get it out of your inbox.
- Make sure there is an agenda and send it to people in advance.
- Allot time to each agenda item.
- Make your objectives clear.
- Give people an idea of how long you expect their contributions to be and time them.
- Make sure you give everyone a chance to speak to reduce interruptions.
- Monitor the time carefully – if it starts to overrun explain the fact and ask people to be brief. If necessary reschedule some items.
- Get all actions and agreements minuted and read each out at the end of that agenda point.
- Send out the minutes within a few days of the meeting.
- Be clear about your objective for reading a document before you start.
- Read the abstract and conclusion with your objective in mind – throw it away if nothing there helps you.
- Skim large documents as often the important information will be in one section.
- Keep documents you want to refer to later in one file.
- If you travel with work often, use this time to read.
- Throw away anything you can and plan the reading you need to do.
- Work out how long your reading will take.
- Work out who interrupts you the most and why – what can you do to prevent this?
- If people ask you for the same information all the time could you produce it in written form? Or is it that you don’t explain it properly? Could they get it elsewhere?
- Let people know when it is convenient to be interrupted and when it is not.
- Plan regular fixed meetings with the people who interrupt you frequently so they can save their questions instead.
- Check your body language – do you sit down when someone interrupts you? This gives them the power – stand and walk towards them instead.
- Get back to people when you say you will. This reduces the likelihood of those people interrupting you.
- Do you tend to offer people help before they ask? This may make them dependent on you and give you extra work.
- When someone interrupts you say ‘I have two minutes, if it will take longer, lets arrange a time’. Get your diary out.
- Are you a control freak? Not all decisions have to be made by you – delegate!
- Turn off your email alert and check emails several times a day rather than when you receive them.
- Use your voice mail to avoid being interrupted.
- If you have trouble saying no, negotiate. Ask people what needs to be achieved.
- Never wait for your manager to come to you to complain about something – always tell your manager about problems yourself.
- Always imagine things from your manager’s perspective.
- Keep your manager informed of your plans and progress.
- Let your manager know in advance if your schedule is going to slip.
- Ask your manager how they would like to be kept informed of your progress.
- Ask your manager what you could do to improve your service to them – then do it!
- Find out what is important to your manager – once you know, focus on that aspect of your work.
Setting personal goals and tracking them effectively and efficiently means that you can manage your time more effectively and stay focused on what is important.