Five ways to take control of your time management

Time management

There’s not enough time in the day. My to do list just keeps growing. I’ll never get on top of things.

If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone. Every day we struggle with time management, as our to do list grows and stress levels climb. But what’s the real problem? Is it lack time or is it the choices we’re making? Determining that will empower you to restructure your time with a whole new perspective. Here’s how to get started:

1. Determine the real problem

Often, time management isn’t really the issue – it’s more about the choices that we make. Start by keeping a diary for a week that documents your personal and professional tasks. Firstly, were there any tasks that you could have delegated. Are there activities that you wanted to say no to but couldn’t and if so, what were they? Which activities weren’t a good use of your time? And did you prioritise work activities that fall within your brief, or were you caught up in other tasks that ate away at your time? Often, we’re our own worst enemies when it come to time management, so an honest assessment is critical if you want things to change.

2. Be proactive

We all know the story. You’re constantly being diverted from proactive tasks to reactive ones. Fighting fires is part of any job but it can also affect our proactive goals and the time we have available for them. From your weekly activities, highlight which are reactive and which are proactive. Identify those that could have waited and those that could have been handled by someone else. Were all of them time sensitive or did you feel the need to deal with them then and there? Those that could have waited should go on a list – if you allocate a certain amount of time in your diary each week to deal with them, you’re less likely to get distracted from your proactive work.

3. Reassign tasks

In looking at how you can be more proactive, you’ve likely spotted tasks that could be delegated. Now it’s time to work out who and how? Delegation might mean you need to relinquish control of some of the tasks that are bogging you down. Do you have team members who can step up and carry more of the workload? Are there a group of tasks that you can allocate across your team? It might be uncomfortable at first, but it will immediately lighten the load and allows you to strategise your other priorities.

4. Identify time use of time

If you have 20 items to do in a day, getting them, all done doesn’t mean that you’re using your time efficiently. It may be that 15 of those items aren’t an effective use of your time. What are the key objectives of your role and how many of the tasks that you identified in your one-week diary fit within that? None of us have the luxury of focusing only on those key tasks but we often find ourselves moving further away from our goals. Once you’ve identified items that are an inefficient use of your time, you can work out how to tackle them – whether it’s via delegation or automation.

5. Say no

Whether it’s a commitment to help someone else at work when you really haven’t got the time – or a dinner invitation that you didn’t feel you could turn down, we all find ourselves saying yes when we really mean no. People who manage their time well are people who know how to say no. Of the tasks you identified over a week, how many of those were things you wish you had have said no to? You might feel awkward or guilty when you say no but it’s important to remember that others respect us when we have boundaries. “I’d like to help you with that, but I just don’t have the time at the moment”, is perfectly alright. Being respectful yet firm in your delivery is key to mastering the no.

Once you’ve finished delegating, deleting, and reprioritising, you need to implement those changes, to take back control of your time. Key to success is responsibility for your own choices and actions – so if you start slipping back into old patterns, commit to revisiting that weekly activities diary. Are you following through on your new strategy? And are you remembering to say no? We end up feeling time poor through our own choices – so a reminder of what we’re trying to achieve is helpful. A commitment to better time management is a commitment to a more efficient and less stressed you.

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