How to manage your time better – part 2 – Life Hacks & Career Counselling – collage of clocks

How to manage your time better

A 4 minute read • Part 2 of 3 • Alan A

Part of our life hacks and career counselling series. In part 1, we looked at the “time management mindset” and at a simple technique for sorting tasks and setting priorities. Here in part 2, we cover how to handle time pressures imposed by other people (e.g. your boss, partner or family), how to stay on track – and how to be as productive as you can.

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The things we have to do each day come from a range of places:

Task sources

  1. Self – things you choose to do to meet your objectives or perhaps just for fun
  2. “System” – tasks that are imposed on you by the “system” such as a compulsory training course at work or filling in a tax return
  3. “Boss” – the jobs your boss (or partner) asks you to do
  4. “Subordinates” – the things asked of you by those you manage or supervise. Could apply to your kids too

You can use the tools in part 1 to sort and set priorities for all of these. But here are some additional tips:

Dealing with imposed tasks

System-imposed tasks are often non-negotiable, but it’s sometimes worth checking whether they apply to you. For example, if your tax affairs are simple, the tax office may agree that you don’t need to complete a full tax return this year. Be prepared to ask questions of the system, but also don’t be surprised when nothing gives.

Boss-imposed tasks are clearly important for your career (or relationship), but can be managed by involving your boss in the prioritisation process. Make sure your boss has some visibility of what’s on your plate, and ask which of your tasks are most important to her. By doing this, you’re also helping to manage her expectations. If she’s involved to an appropriate degree in the process, it’s much harder for her to take issue later with the choices you make.

Subordinate-imposed tasks are sometimes known as “reverse delegation”. Often, it is a good thing as you’re being asked for help when the person is stuck in some way. As a responsible and experienced individual yourself, you’ll want to help them get unstuck. Remember that it may be better for that person if you provide them with guidance – rather than actually doing the thing for them.

How to stay on track with time management

So if you’ve filtered and sorted your to do list, you are ready to go. How do you make sure you stay on track? My first tip would be to block out some quiet time to work on your tasks – but also leave some gaps and flexibility for unexpected things that turn up.

Ideally, you shouldn’t be disturbed when working on important things. If you’re at work, block out your calendar, put your phone to voicemail and close your office door if you have one. Let people around you know that you need to concentrate for the next couple of hours. At home, perhaps ask your family to give you some space for a while.

Whatever lengths you go to to get some quiet time, you’ll still find you are interrupted sometimes. When you are, ask the person whether it’s urgent and offer to come back to them later if it’s not. You can also say no when appropriate. Here’s a useful technique:

Saying no the USA way

  1. Understand – what you’re being asked to do by listening and asking questions
  2. State – repeat back what you’re being asked for so that the person knows you were listening and have understood
  3. Action – this part is up to you. The U and S stages should have given you a little thinking time. If you decide to help, say so but remember to do it on your terms (for example, say you can help them this afternoon, or next Tuesday etc.). If you say no, explain why you can’t help them. Offer alternatives if there are any

How to be highly productive

There are a few easy things you can do to be more productive. Firstly, I recommend rejecting “multitasking” as much as possible. In spite of the perception that multitasking is a sign of efficiency, each time you switch context between tasks, you waste a little time1. It takes longer than you may think to get back on track when you return to the original task. Lots of context switches lead to lots of wasted time in my experience. Work on one thing at once as much as you can until you get to a suitable point to move on to something else (or until you get bored and need a break).

Batch together tasks such as reading and responding to emails or making phone calls. This helps you get into the right frame of mind and focus on the task in hand. If you respond to every email as it arrives, you’re allowing yourself to be interrupted and deflected from your important tasks.

Don’t feel that you have to reply straight away to be seen as responsive. I’ll let you into a secret, as a director, it always concerns me a little when my team members respond almost immediately to my emails – as I expect them to be managing their time properly and concentrating on their important tasks. Having a few times per day when you deal with email is probably enough in most situations.

My final tip for this article is to get organised with your workspace and computer. Have a system for storing information where you can easily find it, whether it’s on your computer or on paper. You’ll save a lot of time by thinking about this up front.

Time management productivity tips

  • Block out quiet time – to work on important tasks undisturbed
  • Deal with interruptions – use the USA technique
  • Reject multitasking – context switching wastes time
  • Batch together similar tasks – such as email or phone calls
  • Get organised – sort your space and know how to find your stuff quickly

In conclusion

I’ll leave you with one final thought. Our time is precious and finite; don’t we owe it to ourselves and our loved ones to make the most it?

In part 3, we look at the time manager’s nemesis: meetings – why they often suck and what to do about it, and also how to use time management to help combat stress.

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