How to manage your time better
A 3½ minute read • Part 3 of 3 • Alan A
Part of our life hacks and career counselling series. In part 1, we introduced the “time management mindset” and a simple technique for sorting tasks and setting priorities. Then in part 2, we covered 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. Here in part 3, we’ll look at the time manager’s nemesis: meetings – why they often suck and what to do about it, and also how to deal with stress through time management.
10 tips for effective meetings
Although meetings are sometimes necessary and even useful, in my experience they can often be a waste of time. I would go as far as to say that most workplace meetings are inefficient or ineffective (or both), and they can often be frustrating or even stressful for those attending. However, they are a fact of life in most workplaces.
So how can we make meetings work in our favour and reduce the time wasted?
10 tips for effective meetings
- If you are invited to a meeting, consider whether you need to accept the invitation. Is the meeting relevant to your objectives and/or important for your company or organisation? Are you in a position to really contribute? Use the USA technique from part 2
- Does the meeting have a stated objective and an agenda? If not, ask the organiser for these. If they can’t provide them, the meeting is likely to be inefficient and ineffective. Decline the invitation if you can
- If you are organising a meeting, make sure you clearly state the objective(s) and agenda. Also, only invite those people who need to be there. And keep the length of the meeting to the minimum necessary (tools like Outlook tend to default the length of meetings to an hour – don’t blindly accept the default; think what’s really needed)
- In your agenda, identify contributors against each item so that people know why they have been invited and tell them what you expect from them as preparation and at the meeting. This will allow people to prepare better and should help the meeting run smoothly
- For each agenda item set a time limit in advance. Specify the decision or ‘deliverable’ you want from that item
- During the meeting, keep track of time and make sure you get through all the key agenda items. If you don’t manage to cover everything, deal with residual items after the meeting (perhaps by email or one-to-one discussions)
- If you’re chairing a meeting, make sure you give everyone the chance to speak. If you don’t, why did you invite them? Don’t allow the more talkative individuals to hog the meeting. Quieter participants often have the most important things to say in my experience
- Notice the ‘repeat loop’ and move on. If the meeting gets stuck on a particular topic and the discussion is not moving forward, try a different tack or go on to the next thing
- As a participant in a meeting, always try to come away feeling you have made a contribution. That’s why you are there
- Finally, there is one particular scenario in which calling regular meetings may be more advantageous and productive. If your work is often interrupted by one or more individuals, scheduling regular meetings with them can help avoid the interruptions and allow you to focus on your important tasks at other times. Remember to keep the frequency and length of such meetings to the minimum necessary (start with shorter meetings more widely spaced out and adjust if needed)
Dealing with stress through time management
Poor time management – or lack of control over your time – can contribute to your stress levels. Equally, good time management skills can often help you here.
At a high level, your time could be divided into:
- Support activities (e.g. eating, doing washing, shopping etc.)
- Leisure (e.g. relaxation or simply having fun with friends or family)
If the balance between these areas is out of kilter for a period of time, this can lead to you feeling less fulfilled and more stressed. Think about how much time you want and need to spend on each area. Remember that there are just 168 hours in a week. No more and no less!
How you experience stress may be particular to you, but I suggest you learn to recognise your symptoms early. Perhaps you tend to become irritable or tired? Or maybe you get headaches? Do you feel ‘rushed’? Whatever early warning signs apply to you, use them as a trigger to take a step back and review whether the balance between the above areas has become skewed. How can you make adjustments?
Also, check out our article 10 tips for managing stress which includes a wide range of useful suggestions.
Finally, let me remind you where we started our time management journey in part 1, with the time management mindset:
Time management mindset
- Do the doable
- Control the controllable
- Don’t feel guilty about not getting it all done
- Be kind to yourself
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