How to Improve Time Management

Time Management"If your time management strategy involves a flow chart, then it's probably too complicated for everyday use."

Know your goals

Knowing what is expected of you goes a long way. Time is more efficiently spent on things that we can visualize and understand.   All too often many of us take a full speed ahead approach only to realize that hours have gone by, and nothing was accomplished.  If you are experiencing difficulty with a task, take a step back, shut your eyes and visualize what it is you are trying to accomplish.  By giving ourselves time and permission to think, we often gain valuable insight into how to accomplish the task at hand

Make a list

I personally know many successful people who use lists to keep them focused and on track.  A List offers a simple, yet elegant way to remind us what we should be doing. And staying on track reduces stress and improves productivity. Lists can also offer a hidden perk; it offers you a reason to kindly tell the "Excuse Me" person you very busy at the moment and to try back later... 

"One hour of planning can save you 10 hours of doing" - Dale Carnegie. 

The research behind lists

Interesting research was conducted in 1920's by a Russian phycologist Bluma Zeigarnik studied peoples ability to remember things.  She found that incomplete tasks "such as todos" are generally easier to remember than tasks that were already considered complete.  This became known as the Zeigarnik effect. The Zeigarnick is still used by researchers and phycologists today and may offer a good explanation on why lists are helpful for remembering and ultimately completing tasks. 

How to make your list

At the beginning of each workday, consider setting aside 5-10 minutes to create a simple list of items you need to accomplish. When creating your list, it is important to keep the list manageable, generally limited to 5-6 items.  If the list too long, it may cause your day to become fragmented and increase stress levels.

Here are some things you may wish to include for each task:

  • Description - What is the task. Describe it "consisely".
  • Estimated time - how long will it take to complete.  I find that I'm a rather optimistic person, therefore I generally double my estimate to allow a buffer. If it takes less time, then great.
  • Any special needs - Is there anything you may need in advance (tool, software, documentation, materials, etc) to do be able to complete this task in the time you alotted.

Taking the time to prioritize work items will improve your work performance, structure, and focus.

Excuse Me?

Also known as Work Place Interruptions. A recent study found that people spend an average of 11 minutes on a project before they are interrupted.  Also, it takes a person up to 25 minutes to recover from a simple 11-second interruption.  So if that's true, how can we handle this serious issue?  For starters, we can turn off personal devices 'or turn off notifications', check email less frequently by minimizing the window.  You may also request that co-workers do their best to answer their own questions before asking someone else.  Every little bit can contribute to a more productive and relaxing workplace.

Don't be Reactive

Have you ever received an expected call from someone and their problem becomes your problem? This is true for most of us, it happens all the time.  Our immediate response is to stop what we are currently doing and resolve their issue.  This is called 'Being Reactive', if done too frequently, it can rob us of our precious time.  The good news is there are a number of ways we can handle these situations by asking these questions. 

  • Evaluate the severity of the situation.
  • Determine if there are alternate solutions to resolve the issue that doesn't require your immediate involvement.
  • Ask yourself, is this a want or a need? In other words, someone is declaring their issue to be an emergency but is it really an emergency or a need. It's possible there may be some emotional tie and they need to get it off their task list, and they are relying on you to do it for them.

Get plenty of Sleep

Nearly a third of Americans get less than the recommended 7-8 hours of sleep in a day. This is called sleep debt, and it builds up over time which causes us to lose our mental edge.  Getting the required sleep will allow you to be more productive in life. Find out more about why sleep is important.

Set realistic expectations

Let's face it, things come up, distractions occur, then we get stressed because our original tasks are not making progress. Nothing kills productivity more than being pulled in a million directions.  

Hopefully, the above items will help to refocus and re-balance your work efforts.

OnTheClock has been providing the business community with accurate time management software since 2004. 


For more information on time management studies and the cost of workplace interruptions

The Russian Memory Study,

6 facts about workplace interruptions,

Cost of Distractions,

Cost of Distractions,

About Sleep Debt,

How much sleep do we need?:

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