A lengthy to-do list causes worry, anxiety and frustration.
You are worried you won’t make the deadline, creating a cloud of anxiety when a possible penalty from a boss, client or co-worker looms around you. Frustration develops when you fail to live up to expectations.
Good time management is the answer, but how often have you tried sharpening that skill with countless apps and tricks, only to meet with no progress?
Erich C. Dierdorff, a professor of management and entrepreneurship at DePaul University, aptly explains why: “These tools presume a person’s underlying skillset, but the skills comprising time management precede the effectiveness of any tool or app.”
Simply put, not everyone manages their time the same way to get the same result. The tools and apps are helpful but not impactful until we sharpen the prerequisite soft skills required to be effective time managers.
So what are good time management skills? As Dierdorff points out, they are skills in awareness, arrangement and adaptation.
Awareness gives you a practical insight into how you perform with time as a limited resource.
Arrangement lets you structure work around your life and not the other way.
Adaptation fine-tunes your aptitude to make decisions and deliver in high-pressure situations.
What is time management & why is it important
Time management is among the behavioural skills employers find most critical for a productive workforce, according to IBM’s study on the global skills gap. It allows one to complete tasks efficiently without compromising quality. This would also ensure a good work-life balance.
So how can working professionals be better time managers?
How to improve time management skills
1. Set a time log
Record when you started and completed your tasks. This lets you be more aware of:
- The time you take to complete different types of tasks. This helps you realistically access your time — whether you are taking longer or lesser time than expected — and serve as a good gauge for future tasks.
- When you are most productive and least. By identifying your most productive time, you can decide which tasks (based on point 1) you should complete at what time so you make full use of every minute to deliver quality work. Remember, the aim is not only to achieve efficiency (your speed) but also effectiveness (how well you do the job).
2. Get feedback
Ask your peers or boss what to improve in terms of your performance. This way, you are aware of the gaps to fill. They could be anything from writing more succinct emails to learning online tools to speed up work delivery.
3. Prioritise using Eisenhower’s important-urgent matrix
Dealing with urgent requests is not uncommon as is the urge to complete them as quickly as possible. This is problematic, especially when you manage such tasks every other day, leaving you with less time to finish what you planned. To better arrange your tasks based on priority, follow the Eisenhower Matrix (see table below) on importance and urgency.
Urgency is time-sensitive and requires immediate action. Importance comes with long-term consequences.
- Prioritise tasks that are both important and urgent (i.e. a pitch deck for a big presentation in two days)
- Schedule a time to work on tasks that are important and not urgent (i.e. planning a team bonding activity taking place two weeks later)
- Delegate/push back tasks that are urgent but not important. (i.e. addressing a client’s edit in a document)
- Eliminate/keep to the last those tasks that are not important nor urgent. (i.e. Filing papers from the previous year)
Since it is a broad framework, the Eisenhower Matrix can be adapted to any industry and work situation, making it a popular time management strategy.
4. Apply the Pomodoro Technique
Procrastination and distractions are the biggest nemeses during high-pressure situations. Train your brain to adapt and complete tasks with a sharp focus. Here’s how you can do it:
- Get a timer and set it for 25 minutes.
- Work on only your assignments before the timer rings and then take a five-minute break.
The Pomodoro Technique has been a life-changing work strategy for millions around the globe as it effectively addresses the need for short breaks to avoid mental fatigue, and in doing so, it drives sustained concentration.
5. Establish contingency plans
Especially for important and urgent tasks, coming up with contingency plans is extremely important. You want to jump back on track when there are roadblocks, such as a significant rework that requires a good deal of time or an unforeseen personal issue you need to address. Adapting to such cases can be as easy as aiming to complete tasks one or two days before the deadline or partnering with colleagues on a project to cover you when needed.