Time Management Tips: How-to

As an active recruiter (I am the owner of HIREghana – www.HIREgh.com), my associates and I come daily through several candidates -from all sorts of experience levels- who claim to have time management skills, but unfortunately fail to demonstrate so during our prescreening activity. But the truth is that we all have these skills and we use them from time to time actually very effectively, but not as a ‘formal methodology’ at the workplace.

Over the years, I have seen a lot of training- offerings on time management, but my personal take on it: if you are a complete novice to the concept, you wouldn’t need more than maximum 4-hr training including hands- on exercises; I also never understood all those heavy books of 100+ pages on such a powerful but yet simple topic.

Based on the several Time Management trainings that we gave during the last 12 month, I would like to offer you an overview of the Best Practices in Time Management.

What is Time Management?
Time management is the act or process of planning and exercising conscious control over the amount of time spent on specific activities, especially to increase effectiveness, efficiency or productivity.

Tip #1: Start with a Plan
Time Management is obviously by definition a planned process. So you need to plan ahead what you need to do during your day. Actually this is a very old practice. Historians claim that the most successful Japanese Samurais were those who will wake up 3 hours before each battle and spend this time contemplating, planning and visualizing every single one of their moves.

All Time Management techniques and methodologies have this in common: that you should plan your day! And unless you physically write things down, you don’t have a plan. So, no mental planning please.

Best Time Planning Practice: Plan all your tasks at least 3 days in advance.

Tip#2: Plan the Right Amount.
Just keep it simple: Plan 3-5 activities during your business day. If you plan 7-10 items, very soon you will end up with huge unfulfilled ToDo Lists.

Best Practice on Choosing Tasks to Plan: Make sure that all tasks have the same granularity. I.e. Task No1 can’t be ‘Save the World” and task No2 be something as simple as ‘wash my tea cup’.

Tip #3: Prioritize.
When you make a final list of Today’s Tasks or even while you are doing that by compiling a list to choose-from, prioritize which tasks need to be performed first.

Tip #4: Urgent & Important: The Distinction

Make sure that you understand the difference between an urgent and an important task, so you can set priorities accordingly.

Just because a task is important, it does not make it urgent. For example, when your business clothes get dirty, it is important that they get cleaned. But if you have other business clothing that you could use, then however important, this is not an urgent task.

Tip #5: Use a Planning Tool
Anything will do: use Google Calendar or Outlook or anything else that you want to use. If necessary, do it manually with pencil & paper- but just do write your time- plan down.

Set the right reminders, so you would not lose track of time.

Again, unless you physically write things down, you don’t have a Time Management plan.

Keeping a time- log is the helpful way to determine how you are using your time.

Tip #6: Delegate/ Outsource Tasks
Delegate the responsibility for task completion to someone else, freeing up your time for tasks that require your expertise & experience. So, identify what tasks others can perform and then selecting the appropriate people to do them.

Delegation is not about micromanaging, so be very specific in defining the tasks to be done and your expectations, but allow people the freedom to execute task in their own way and focus on their deliverables and not on how they are executing the tasks.

Outsourcing is another way to “buy” time by obtaining goods or service that save you a time investment. For example, paying someone to screen your calls (e.g. a personal assistant or an answering service).

Tip #7: No Multi- tasking.
Most studies – even recent ones, have shown that multi- tasking does not actually save time. In fact, the opposite is frequently true. People tend to lose time when they switch from one task to another.

Also, routine multi- tasking may lead to difficulties in concentrating and maintaining focus when needed.

Tip #8: Manage your Email & Voicemail too

How do you do that?

  • Set aside a specific time to view and respond to your e-mail.
  • Set aside time to listen to your voicemail and also set aside time to return calls.
  • Turn off the instant messaging features on e-mail & voicemail.
  • Stand up while you talk on the phone – then you are more likely to keep the conversation brief.
  • Take all relevant necessary action immediately following the call.
  • Set aside times of the day for receiving calls and let others know when you are available.
  • Avoid small talk. Stay focused on the reason for the call.
  • If applicable to you, keep phone numbers available near the telephone.

Best Email Practice: Avoid for the 1st hour you are in the office to read your email. If it is an emergency, you will know about it even without reading that email.

Tip #9: Run Efficient Meetings

  • Define or Know the purpose of the meeting in advance.
  • Arrive on time and expect the same for all.
  • If you chair the meeting, start it and end it on time.
  • As a rule, don’t run a meeting more than 20 minutes long.
  • Prepare an agenda and stick to it. Use a timed agenda, please. If you are just invited to a meeting, ask for a clear agenda and relevant documents so you can prepare for it.
  • if necessary.
  • Don’t schedule meetings unless they are necessary and have a specific purpose or agenda.

Tip #10: Your Availability
The old tradition: define & communicate blocks of time when you are available for visits.

It is ok to tell a visitor politely that you cannot meet with them at this time and schedule the visit for a more convenient time and set a mutually agreeable time limit for the visit.

Kind suggestion: when someone comes to the door, stand up and have your meeting standing.

GTD (Getting Things Done)
GTD is a Time Management technique based on the idea of:

  1. first finishing all the small/ easy tasks and
  2. then attack all big tasks by dividing them into smaller tasks; and then you go on reiterating this process.

The basic thinking behind it, is to avoid information overload which is likely to occur when one is faced with hundreds of tasks. This is just one of many techniques on Time Management and some practitioners swear by it.

Pomodoro: My Favorite!
The Pomodoro Technique is a late 80s Time Management technique developed by Francesco Cirillo; it uses a simple timer (a kitchen clock will do fine – this is what most people use) to break down work into intervals, traditionally 25 minutes in length, separated by short 5-minute breaks.

These intervals are named pomodoros (=tomatoes in Italian), after the tomato-shaped kitchen timer that Cirillo used as a university student. The method is based on the idea that frequent breaks can improve mental agility, which is actually nowadays an ergonomic principle: almost all work- environment productivity specialists suggest a 10 minute break every 50 minutes of real mental activity.

How- to use Pomodoro?

  1. Decide on the task to be done (obviously it assumes that you have done your task- planning).
  2. Set the pomodoro timer (traditionally to 25 minutes – personally prefer 50).
  3. Work solely on that single task until the timer rings – a pomodoro is indivisible. If a distraction pops into your head, write it down, but get back on that task immediately.
  4. After the timer rings, put a checkmark on a piece of paper.
  5. If you have fewer than four checkmarks, take a short break (3–5 minutes), then go to step 1.
  6. Else (i.e. after 4 pomodoros) take a longer break (15–30 minutes), reset your checkmark count to zero, then go to step 1.
  7. When interrupted during a pomodoro, either the other activity must be recorded and postponed (inform – negotiate – schedule – call back) or the pomodoro must be abandoned.

Pomodoro assumes that you have planned and prioritized all your tasks, so you have an estimate of the required time effort.

As pomodoros are completed, they are recorded; that gives a sense of clear accomplishment and provides ‘raw data’ for subsequent self-observation, better time-estimates & productivity improvements.

Once again: Plan & Manage Your Time!
Yes, we all have entertained the idea or wish of having more than 24 hours in a day, but that’s all we get. Actually if you take into account, sleeping, commuting, eating, family obligations etc., it’s even a lot less.

And time management is both about professional and personal life.

How we spend/ use our time depends on our planning skills, evaluation of priorities and self-control; we can’t procrastinate and actively perform time management!

Just like money, our time is both valuable and limited so let’s ‘protect’ it and use wisely, please.

Good Luck.


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