If you’re like me, you may find the term “time management” a bit archaic. I remember taking a time management class when I first became a supervisor over 15 years ago. I don’t remember what was taught, but since then I have fostered a way to manage my time to the best of my ability. It is always a work in progress. So when I thought about starting a blog for leaders in various phases of their careers, time management was one of the first topics on my list. Although I am an organized person, that alone has not ended the necessity of managing my time effectively. This post is a refresher to myself and hopefully to you that when it comes to time management we all can use some help. Like others, I struggle at times, but these tips I share today keep me on track.
For some, running late may have become habitual whether with family, friends or even at work. Showing up fashionably late isn’t as fashionable as you thought and arriving in enough time to interrupt your peers’ presentation is definitely not winning you any brownie points with the team! Each of these scenarios are a result of poor time management. I have journeyed down this familiar path to re-ignite the importance of time management. Let’s start with where our time goes. Does it ever seem to be enough hours in the day to complete ALL necessary tasks and goals? If you said no, I agree. Between commuting, working eight (8) hours or more, preparing dinner (more like purchasing dinner in my case!), a load or two of laundry, slipping in a miniscule amount of exercise, checking in with social media sites, working on launching a new career, time with husband, and trying to get eight (8) hours of sleep…well let’s face it – there’s just no way. How do we take those 168 hours each week has to offer and get the absolute most accomplished? I have three (3) quick tips to share that I believe are actionable steps you can take right now to get the most accomplished day after day.
Tip 1. E-Lists
E-Listing is simply a tech version of the old paper ‘To Do’ List. Remember when we were told to make a ‘To Do’ List using Post It Notes or even a notepad? It’s the same concept except your ‘To Do’ List is on your phone. Yes, we all have the memo app on our smart phones, but do we utilize it? I personally started using electronic Post It Notes several years ago on my desktop instead of jotting my lists down on paper. I had the horrible habit of writing on the back of any piece of paper I grabbed at the time. You know what happened next, right? You guessed it – it wouldn’t get done. That’s when I started using the desktop Post Its. I found the reminder, in direct view each time I looked at my computer home screen, increased my task completion dramatically. My success at work with the electronic list caused me to begin using my phone’s memo app for my grocery lists which worked pretty well. I needed to find a way to keep the list in my line of vision or else it was out of sight out of mind. So, I discovered that I could pin it to my homepage and that’s when the magic happened. Having a list on my home page has worked out great. Think of how often you check your phone. Having your tasks right on the home page is THE perfect reminder. I love checking off each task as it gets completed because it gives a sense of accomplishment. If you need guidance finding the widget for your home page check out Youtube for help. I would offer directions, but there are just way too many phone models and I would hate to focus only on Android users. I don’t want to show favoritism (wink wink).
One more thing about the E-List I will mention is prioritization. Tons of articles recommend placing your ‘To Do’ Lists in order of task importance. I honestly cannot say that I do that. I like to get everything out of my mind and onto the list just so I don’t forget anything. Once it’s all out, I prioritize by doing. I do the most important thing first. Everything else is completed in the next order of importance. I do think writing the tasks in order of importance is a great tip so give it a try, but I can’t say that it is something I personally do.
Tip 2. Schedule Interruptions
About two years ago, I accepted the position of Chief Deputy Recorder of Deeds for Saint Louis County Missouri (fancy title for Office Manager). I had the pleasure of participating in a class along with all of the supervisors and managers from our division. It was a one day workshop presented by Fred Pryor Seminars entitled Managing Multiple Priorities, Projects and Deadlines.
One of the takeaways for me was to ‘schedule interruptions’ into your daily ‘To Do’ List. I thought this was sheer genius. As a manager, there is a 99.999% possibility that you will be interrupted from the task at hand. When I got back from that conference, I immediately added a column to my ‘To Do’ List entitled “Touch Base”. Now, this heading was just in case someone saw my list on the desk or desktop. I didn’t want to have an employee’s name jotted down for an impromptu discussion under the heading “interruptions”. Somehow I thought that might cause a problem. I generate my ‘To Do’ Lists for the office a little different than my personal schedule on my cell phone. I inevitably end up ordering paper ‘To Do’ Lists from someone’s child during those school fundraisers that float around during the holiday season. I also have a large black calendar that I jot my lists on sometimes, but the most used are the electronic Post It Notes and I simply pin it to my desk top. All have proven useful to me to stay on track.
Tip 3. Judge Your Time
This next tip is near and dear to my heart. Believe it or not, it is a true statement that some people simply do not have a sense of time. I have read this in a number of blog posts and online articles, but never gave it much thought until I noticed one of my close family member’s lack of time management (she would kill me if she read this article so please keep this between you and me!). My relative is habitually late to everything. Yes, everything including work. Our family is so accustomed to her tardiness until we all select a time to be somewhere, but provide an ‘alternative time’ for her just so she makes it on time. That is really how bad she is. I finally had a conversation with her as to why she is always late and she honestly thought that she was doing her best. She told me she doesn’t know how to judge time. In other words, she misjudges how long it takes to personally prepare i.e. shower, hair, etc. She doesn’t calculate travel time well and she feels like as long as she shows up she is not in the wrong. Wow! I was floored. That conversation felt like I was having an out of body experience because I just never knew she had such challenges with time and respect. Yes, respect.
Point one. Arriving late is disrespectful. Whether it is work or family, tardiness says you disregard the other person’s time. While the individual is waiting on your arrival they are in a holding pattern. Their time is equally as valuable as yours and they could have been making use of those precious 168 hours in a more productive manner. I can speak to this as a manager, but I can also address it as a former offender. I was chronically late to work in the past. Why? I knew my boss wasn’t going to say anything because he hated conflict and I was excellent at my job. That was disrespectful. He should have used company progressive discipline principles and walked my little cocky self out the door. Thank goodness my mentor’s keen eye pointed out my flaw and I eventually matured. I changed my behavior because I decided I wanted more out of my career. Yet, there are some who just don’t get it. Leaders – do what you have ‘To Do’ even to your top performers. We must be fair as leaders. For example, you have a poor performer with a tardiness issue and take action to discipline or even terminate that individual. However, you ignore the tardiness of your top performer and take no action. You, sir or you ma’am, may have opened yourself up to a discrimination suit. So be careful and be fair.
Point two. In order to be prompt, you need to learn how to properly calculate blocks of time. How long does it take you to get ready in the mornings? I’m fast as lightning according to my husband. I can be up at 6:30AM and out the door at 7:00AM. How long does it take you to commute to work? My commute time is at least 25 minutes. I have to be there by 8:00AM and would like to arrive 10 minutes early. If I want McDonalds coffee and a sausage biscuit add on 10 minutes! Each of these is a block:
30 minutes grooming
25 minute commute
10 minutes additional for breakfast
Arrival time 8:00AM
Based on my blocks, I would get up at 6:30AM. Leave my house no later than 7:15AM. Arrive at work at 7:50AM.
To help work through this, I found several interesting tools used to help individuals track their time for the purpose of managing it better. Author Laura Vanderkam offers a free worksheet that will make this task easy for you. If you find that it doesn’t cover your exact needs or you prefer categories of time instead of hours, I have created a PDF for you to download which can be used to log your entire week. As Ms. Vanderkam says, “If you want to lose weight, you keep a food diary. If you want to get out of debt, you record your spending. Likewise, if you want to use your time better, you should keep track of your time”.
There are literally hundreds of techniques for time management. Some more complex than others. Master your time with these simple proven techniques. I use them and they work. I would love to hear from you and if you have more tips that really work for you please share in the comments.