As a busy professional, it is vitally important to manage your time. There are some broad principles, approaches, that you need to learn and apply. The first is to take the view that your time is precious, and should not be wasted. By the way, relaxation time, leisure time, relationship time is not wasted, it’s important, valuable time that you need to plan into your life. These broad principles include, you need to take control. That is, to take control of your time and the way in which you approach the activities that you have to be involved in, such as work activities and family commitments, and ensure that there is also time in your life for the personal activities that you wish to be involved in, such as leisure and relaxation activities. You need to plan ahead. This is vital. Being successful means being busy, and to manage being busy you need to plan ahead. You don’t have to perform at genius level. If you work hard and as efficiently as you reasonably can, you are doing well. You need to prioritise. You need to rank activities into an order where you can see which activities, what work, which tasks, are the most important and need urgent attention or a specific amount of time spent on them, and which activities are less important and can be pushed back, or worked on over a longer period, or delegated to others, or even abandoned.
Look at your current situation. This is important. You need to evaluate, to analyse, to consider, what condition are you in now? how well, how poorly, do I manage my time at the moment?. The only way to do this effectively is to maintain a log, a diary, a record, of what activities you are involved in, how much time you spend on them, how many interruptions do you suffer from, how many targets do you achieve, how many targets/deadlines do you miss, what activities (work, personal, family, social) are you not involved in which you would have liked to be involved in?. The way to evaluate this is to keep a log, a record, ideally for a month, but if that’s too long, then at least for an absolute minimum of a week. Try to keep this record for at least two weeks, and if there are unusual events, disturbances, interruptions, that do occur occasionally or irregularly, that haven’t occurred during the period that you have kept your log, then make a note of them. You can then analyse this record, to obtain a picture, a snapshot, of how your time is taken up, how your time is consumed, and what influences, what events, are disturbing and disrupting your activities.
Remove obstacles, barriers, conflicts, time-wasting activities. When you have analysed your log, your record, you will have identified many negative influences that affect your management of your time. These can include: colleagues coming to talk with you on important matters, but at unscheduled times, when you are trying to concentrate on other activities; telephone calls that are not ones that you should deal with; emails that are not important, or not relevant to your main priorities, but you feel obliged to answer; colleagues visiting you because they are bored or just want to chat; distractions that you generate, such as searching the internet for leisure or social interests, when you should be working or studying; accepting new tasks or projects when you know that you should be focusing on existing activities.
The next step is to take action to eliminate or reduce these time wasting events or activities. This can be as simple as telling colleagues that you are too busy to talk at this moment (but you will get back to them later), or more subtly, standing up as they enter your space and saying that you are on your way to an appointment or meeting, and can only spare a few seconds, to just being more disciplined about not drifting off into cyberspace when you should be working on a project or task on your pc. It should also include the more serious, and more difficult, action of saying, No, to new activities, new workload, new projects, when you are fully aware that you need to give your full attention (time, effort, energy, intellect, expertise) to existing work commitments. No-one will thank you if you say,Yes,to additional work and then manage it poorly, make mistakes, and cause problems, because you don’t have enough time, effort, energy, to manage that extra workload effectively. They will only blame you for being over-confident, at best, and inefficient and incompetent, at worst!
One of the most effective ways of managing interruptions, disturbances, and unexpected activities, is to take preventative, pre-emptive, action. This is the time management equivalent of prevention not cure, as promoted by those in the Quality Management field. In time management terms, this is taking action to prevent other people and other events from causing you difficulties. One simple example of how this approach can make a major difference is in thinking, in advance, of all the people that are likely to interrupt you, or to ask to see you, and, instead of waiting for them to decide when they want to come to visit you, email you, or telephone you, or ask you to come to them, you plan when you want to see them, or email them before they email you, or telephone them when it is convenient to you.
Use physical tools to help you manage your time. This includes an electronic or paper personal organiser, Filofax style, or a computer package, such as comes with Outlook. These will help you to be visibly organised and get you into the habit of thinking about how to plan and manage your time. If you are by nature a forgetful person, use post-it notes to make reminders and place them on your desk or work station, and review them and act on them regularly.
Set goals, objectives, targets and aims. This is not so easy, but essential. Work targets, objectives, are relatively easy, as they are often imposed upon you. With workplace activities, you need to plan, prioritise, schedule, and manage these, but of course, taking into account the targets and deadlines imposed by your organisation. Personal development or career development objectives, goals, targets, are not so easy to set, as they need to be ones that you, only you, have decided on. With these, you need to decide what activities will help you to achieve your personal and-or career development goals, ambitions, targets, objectives, and schedule space, time, for these activities into your plans. Make action needed lists. Set priorities, tasks to be completed, for each day, and for each week, and for each month. For each daily list, ideally, do this at the end of the previous day, so that it is waiting for you at the start of the next day. Follow this approach on a weekly and monthly basis for the weekly and monthly lists. Prioritise jobs and activities, and eliminate, discard, activities which are not of any use to you. Then concentrate on the important jobs first.
Managing your time effectively is not easy. It is a task in itself, a discipline that has to be learned and applied consistently. But it can make a tremendous difference to your life, at work, at home, whilst studying, and at leisure. If you follow the advice given here, you will have made a good start on the road to managing your time more effectively, and making time for the important activities in your life. These can be work related activities, but can also include study time, relaxation time, relationship time, and, as important as any of the others, time simply for yourself!