Mastering Time Management
Career advice is far-ranging and can lead in many different directions. In every person’s career, however, there are a few subjects that apply universally. Mastering time management is one of those topics. It applies to every person’s career, and arguably life, no matter if they work on the assembly line or in the C-suite.
While everyone has a great deal of potential, sometimes taking the steps to reach that potential can take time. Pursuing that next level of education may take years and tuition dollars. Landing that promotion can come down to circumstances and timing. Time management is something that everyone can study and make improvements on almost immediately. There may be some habits that take time to fully change, but small, incremental changes can start to take shape almost immediately. Furthermore, by managing time better, there is a likelihood that improvements will result in other areas of your life and career. Perhaps the timing for that next career move or promotion will be sooner than once thought.
Managing Time is Managing Values
The first thing to recognize is that time is a form of currency. We should protect and spend our time the way we do our money, on things that matter to us. Your time bank is deposited with 1,440 minutes every day. The major way this lesson translates in the workplace is that people that manage their time ineffectively are often focusing on the wrong areas or tasks.
Most people rank family as one of the areas they value the most in their lives. They plan family outings, they look forward to time together and actively work to make that time fulfilling. The same can be done at work. In terms of productivity, too many people spend too much of their time doing “busy work.” These are activities and tasks that do not add a great deal of value. It’s like planning a family dinner then having everyone glued to their phones and tablets at the table. When someone is committed to what they are doing, there are no points for showing up, it is about quality time and productivity. In the workplace, it is time to weed out these menial tasks that add little value so the precious time you have can make a positive impact on the organization.
Measure What Matters
If you feel like you could be using your time more effectively, the good news is that there is a remedy. Consistent with the banking example, when someone wants to identify ways to save money, the first step is to track their expenses for at least a week. In time management, keep detailed records of how you spend your time. It is surprising to some when they realize they are spending 120 of their 1,440 minutes watching Netflix every evening. At work it can be eye-opening to find out the number of distractions, interruptions and unnecessary meetings that take place and how much time they eat each day.
Don’t get the wrong idea when tracking your time. Sleep, for instance, is important. It may take up 480 or more minutes of your day, but without it how effective are you going to be? The same goes for spending time each evening talking to your spouse or reading to your kids. These are investments in relationships and your future and might be the best time spent all day.
Once you have an idea of how your time is being spent, you can then figure out where opportunities exist. If you aren’t already, consider using your calendar to “appointment-ize” your day. Set aside blocks of time to devote to certain value-adding activities. Put them on your calendar and stick to them like you would stick to a meeting with the CEO. Someone pops in to shoot the breeze? You have an appointment. They can make an appointment or pop back in later when you have “office hours.” Consider setting aside office hours for these types of interruptions. To illustrate this further, many effective sales people set aside “phone time.” They know it is easy to put off phone calls, especially cold calls. By making the appointment with themselves, they stick to it, make more contacts and end up making more sales. Email is another distraction many people think they are stuck with. Consider checking your email at set intervals each day, maybe mid-morning and mid-afternoon. You may want to let others on your team know that you will be making this change so that if there is an emergency, they call or come find you.
Identify Resources and Hacks to Fit Your Needs
There are so many resources that exist today to make work and lives easier. Services like Dropbox and Trello make information more accessible and can make entire teams more productive. News aggregators can deliver to you the content you need (or want) so you don’t waste time scrolling through irrelevant news. What works for some will not work for others. It is important to research and experiment with different apps and services until you find what meets your needs.
On the non-technological front, some time management hacks may mean setting the alarm for an earlier start to the day, creating an exercise schedule or even outsourcing some of your personal errands. Just like there are apps to manage and organize your to-do list and passwords, would it make sense to hire someone to deliver your groceries or have Blue Apron deliver meal ingredients to your door? If these errands or decisions about what to make for dinner are stressing you out or you find it difficult to make time to get to the store, these are the small distractions that you can remove to be more focused and productive at work.
It is easy to see how mastering time management will lead to improved performance at work. No one has to give you permission to embark on a quest like this to increase your effectiveness. The day to day grind can lull anyone into routines and habits, good or bad. Individuals who possess good time management skills are recognizable in the workplace and are able to translate that focus and energy into successes in business and life.