EFFECTIVE TIME MANAGEMENT STRATEGIES

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1 EFFECTIVE TIME MANAGEMENT STRATEGIES This article was written for our students that find it hard to manage their time effectively. If you happen to be one of the few students that manage their time effectively, ignore this article and give yourself a pat on the back. If not, read on. There is no doubt that time is one of the greatest resource of all and something that everyone has an equal shares regardless of background and financial situation. But most experts will acknowledge that time is usually the most poorly managed and under-utilised resource of all. It is a well known that poor time management can negatively impact on your career, on you finding the balance between your study, work and social life not to mention an ongoing source of stress and tension. However, the good news is you can make the necessary changes to utilise your time effectively with the suggested time management strategies. Please note the author acknowledges that with all time management strategies, there is no one-size-fits-all system due to individual differences and as such these are only suggestions. Keep in mind that when you first start implementing these strategies, don t expect yourself to enjoy being organised; think of it just like having a shower or eating; it s just one of those things that you have to do. Please note if interested, we have created an Excel spreadsheet called To Do List & Timetable Template that you can use to write down your to do list, prioritize the tasks within the list and prepare a timetable based on the points raised in this document. STEP 1: KNOW EXACTLY WHAT YOU HAVE TO DO The first step is know exactly what it is that you have to do and any deadlines you may have then CREATE A LIST; do not rely on your memory. Furthermore, when you create your list, do not include those tasks which you cannot forget such as reminding yourself to have a shower or have lunch. There are two good reasons why you should create a list: 1. It ensures that good ideas and intentions are not forgotten. 2. More importantly, it reduces the likelihood of emotions or daily distractions affecting what you have to do on the day (i.e. it enables you to become objective and rational about the tasks ahead). In other words, it forces you to sort out the important tasks from the not so important tasks. STEP 2: RECHECK YOUR LIST FOR WHAT S IMPORTANT AND CROSS OUT THE UNIMPORTANT TASKS (PLAN) You now have your list and the next important task is for you to cross out the unimportant tasks by asking yourself: Is this task really important and what will happen if you don t do this task? STEP 3: BREAK DOWN THE DAILIES AND IMPORTANT TASKS INTO MANAGEABLE CHUNKS A: LIST DOWN YOUR DAILIES: The first thing in your To Do List is for you to list the daily routine tasks (i.e. DAILIES) that need to be done such as you may want an empty inbox every day, return phone calls, check messages left and so on. Here is an example from the To Do List template listing down the dailies.

2 Now once you are done with your dailies, the reality is you only have so many hours left in your working day. Remember; if you find that you have too much to do every day; you have over committed. In this situation, look to cut your commitments or slow down and manage the consequences of doing so. Just remember, in life, you just can t do everything; you have to make a choice. So here are a few strategies to deal with those non-daily but important tasks. B: PRIORITISE URGENT TASKS USING THE DEADLINE METHOD: Prioritise, prioritise and prioritise; we all know that this is important. But they say that whatever you do, do not priotise your tasks by using the letter or number method (i.e. A, B, C, etc;) as you may find it hard to motivate yourself for the C tasks as they don t seem to matter. Anyway, if left long enough these C tasks have a nasty habit of becoming urgent issues anyway. Instead, you should priotise your work by deadlines (i.e. when it s due) especially those tasks that have to be completed by today or tomorrow. In other words, your list of tasks will be deadline driven. C: AIM TO DO WHAT COMES TODAY TOMORROW, (UNLESS IT CANT BE HELPED). Remember doing what comes today tomorrow allows you to reorganize tomorrow s tasks and more importantly, gives you a clearer idea of the amount of work you will have to do. D: ALSO HAVE A LIST OF FUTURE TASKS: It s also a good idea to include a list of future tasks as a reminder of what needs to be done after tomorrow. STEP 4: REVIEW YOUR TASK LIST AT THE START OF EACH DAY At the beginning of each day, you should always check your To Do List to sort and rearrange your tasks. If you do this, it will help focus your day on what needs to be done and ensure that you have the big picture in mind. NOTE: In the sample Excel template, there is a daily To Do List (my Dailies) followed by Today s Tasks, then by tomorrow s task and a list of any future tasks (i.e. after tomorrows task) as shown below. 2 P a g e Prepared by Abraham Fong (Draft, 2013)

3 Then what I do is that on the next day when I get to review my tasks, is I right click on the worksheet tab then make a copy of that spreadsheet using the Move or Copy command as shown so as to let Excel create a duplicate copy of that spreadsheet. Next, we rename the worksheet and put today s date as shown. In the copied worksheet, I then re-arrange my tasks and complete a new list made up of uncompleted tasks from yesterday with the other tasks to then create a new To Do List of tasks for Today, Tomorrow and Other Tasks as shown in the Excel Template. Further, keep in mind that when you have completed or part completed a task, you can select from a list in the Outcome column the status of your tasks as shown below. 3 P a g e Prepared by Abraham Fong (Draft, 2013)

4 Furthermore, when you have finished with reorganizing and sorting today s task, you can also hide yesterday s task list by right clicking the worksheet tab then selecting the Hide option to then hide that worksheet so it does not clutter your To Do List template. STEP 5: DELEGATE WORK THAT DOES NOT BELONG TO YOU Always make sure that the work you do is yours; otherwise delegate it. STEP 6: COMMIT TO MINIMISING DISTRACTIONS Many people don t realise that in any given day there are many distractions, thoughts and activities that are capable of pulling your attention away from you completing your tasks. This is not helped by the fact that we live in an increasingly digital world with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, personal s, mobile phones, TV, etc. Many don t realise that sometimes there are just not enough hours on the day and if they add up the time spent on those distractions (Facebook, twitter, answering your phone calls, etc) plus the time spent trying to refocus on the tasks on hand and you multiply the times that it occurs in a day; it can add up to a sizeable chunk of your day. That is why many experts suggest that you should turn of the TV while studying, let your phone go to voic and have a set time to check your voice mail and handle those personal calls because what matters most in your work or study time is getting your work done. While on this topic, the other day, I heard about a famous author on the radio say that on work days when she wants to focus on her work and minimise distractions, she has her answering machine and her saying that she will only be available to check her and messages at a certain time (5pm I think). However, these are not the only distractions you will face when at work or trying to study. It s also important to have a work environment that is comfortable and conducive to you being more productive. So ensure that: Your work or study area is neat, tidy and free of clutter. Read step 10 for the reasons as to how clutter can impact on your productivity. The room temperature is comfortable. You have good lighting. Minimise any external noises that are likely to affect your concentration and focus. Sometimes you may have to wear headphones or close the door behind you. The work or study area has enough fresh air. Remember that oxygen is important which is why it is recommended that you don t forget to take a few deep breaths throughout the day. 4 P a g e Prepared by Abraham Fong (Draft, 2013)

5 Further, if you are a manager or you are at home and you have a deadline or you have some important work that you have to do; it may pay you to have a PLEASE DO NOT DISTURB UNLESS ITS URGENT THANK YOU FOR YOUR UNDERSTANDING sign outside your door. For some of you, you may find that you are unable to avoid these external distractions (e.g. children, staff, visitors, etc) so you may find it more productive to leave that environment and go somewhere where you are able to focus on the task at hand. STEP 7: TRY TO COMPLETE ALL THE THINGS YOU PLANNED ON A GIVEN DAY Apart from doing the dailies, your main aim in any given day is to complete all the tasks you planned to do in any given day. Remember that once you have dealt with the dailies and your urgent deadline driven tasks, then it doesn t matter in what order you choose to tackle your other tasks; as long as they get done. This doesn t mean that all tasks must be completed in that day but it does mean that you actually do some work on it. If you have a huge task list, a CPA article suggested that you divide your day into two-hour blocks for each particular task. Then move onto the next project. But whatever method, you use, remember that chipping away at tasks in blocks will help keep your mind fresh and engaged and ensure you re not letting things fall onto your too hard list. Just remember that important saying An inch is a cinch but a yard is hard. STEP 8: PLAN FOR AND EXPECT CHANGE Like any task, project or timetable, changes to your task list or timetable is something you should always plan for. A good strategy that project managers do is that when a client or a co-manager wants changes is to show them a list of tasks that you have to do for the day (why it s important to have a list) and ask them which task that they want to put on hold in order to complete their new urgent unplanned task. For your timetable, you should always factor in alternative times. STEP 9: TAKE REGULAR BREAKS For OHS reasons and to help you refocus, you should take attempt to take a short break (10-15 minutes) every 1 or 2 hours; even if you don t feel like it. When you take this break, get up, stretch, walk around, take deep breaths to get oxygen into your body and brain. If you have a deadline pending, you can still get up and walk around while still thinking of the tasks on hand. Doing this is not only good for your own health (sitting around in one position for too long has been shown to be detrimental to your health). You should try it. STEP 10: ENSURE THAT YOUR WORKSPACE IS NEAT AND ORGANISED I am the first to admit that my desk up to 2011 was really messy and it was not unusual for it to be piled high with papers, books, pens, my cup of tea from last night, etc. and I would always try to convince myself and others when asked, that the mess you were looking at was an organised mess. Then I also would have no hesitation in telling you that I work better in a state of organized chaos and I would also go as far to say that it didn t affect my productivity. 5 P a g e Prepared by Abraham Fong (Draft, 2013)

6 But now after discovering the joys of being neat and organized, I realize that there are clear benefits to being organized and they include the following: I found that less clutter in my immediate work environment and knowing where things were meant fewer distractions and less stress. I also found myself motivated to get stuck into my work, I was able to stay focused for a longer period of time, I got more done in less time (i.e. I was more productive) and I felt more in control of my work. In contrast when I am surrounded by clutter and the so called organised mess of the old days, I don t often know where to start or if I did, it would generally take longer to do. But there is also another good reason why you should think about getting your work area neat and organised and that is the impression you as a professional give to other people. Let me explain it this way. Imagine that you had to go to the mechanic to have your car fixed. When you got to garage, you noticed the workshop had tools everywhere, saw dust was on the floor, oil spills was on the floor, car parts was scattered everywhere, papers was scattered on the desk, etc. Then the mechanic says to you: Come in, ignore the mess and don t worry; we will do a good job. Would you be able to relax in such a situation? Would you feel confident in the mechanics ability to fix your car? I would say probably not. NOTE: If you are sick and tired of working with the so called organised mess or working in a state of organised chaos, you will find some useful tips in the next article that we wrote called: Organising Your Work & Study Spaces. STEP 11: PREPARE A WEEKLY TIMETABLE As part of the time management process, you should also prepare a timetable. Remember goals without a plan in which your timetable is a big part is just wishful thinking. A timetable is useful as its lets you and others know that you have work, study and family commitments; ensures that you have a good balance between your social life, health, work life and/or study life and ensure that you stay focused on your goals and not over commit especially with the many daily distractions in our day to day life. Now as the timetable is normally based on your life goals or aspirations, it is important that you take into account the following when preparing your timetable: To ensure you stick to the timetable long term, you should include not only your work or study activities but also health (e.g. exercise) and social activities to ensure that you have a balance in life. To avoid any unnecessary resentments from those close to you (i.e. partner, family, etc), it is suggested that you should also try and include them when formulating your timetable. Some of the benefits include a feeling of involvement on their part plus you may be surprised as to how helpful they become in giving you quiet time for study, doing chores for you, etc. That is also why we suggest that you print out a copy of your timetable for all to see or at the very least, give a copy to those affected. Remember that you are not a robot, there will be times when you will get tired, sick or you just want to do something different, which means that there has to be some flexibility in your timetable especially for social items. In other words, do not try to fit activities 6 P a g e Prepared by Abraham Fong (Draft, 2013)

7 into every minute of the day or you will lose motivation and feel restricted and it will most likely result in you giving up on your timetable and goals. Experts say, that it s better to start with your compulsory or must do commitments (e.g. study, work and health) in your timetable (just like your DAILIES in the To Do List), then allocate time for your social items with a few alternative times so you can feel that you have a bit of freedom to do other things if required. You must always plan for change. So if there is something you are unable to do in regards to your compulsory commitments because of family, health or work reasons; remember that you can swap and change your timetabled items. The main thing is that they get done. Review your timetable every 3 or 4 weeks to cater for any changes that are happening in your life. STEP 12: HAVE A YEARLY PLANNER THAT YOU CAN SEE AT A GLANCE Remember that yearly wall planners and a timetable that is large enough (and in plain view) is really useful as it will create a sense of urgency, ensure you do not over commit (this is actually a huge problems for many people) and give you a big picture overview of what s going on for the week, month and year. In conclusion, we know that there is no one-size-fits-all system but if you manage your time well, you will find that most tasks will be completed on time, the pressure of deadlines will be alleviated, you will not feel overwhelmed by the number of tasks in a day, you will experience less stress in your work day (even when emergencies crop up), you will be able to get a balance between your work, study and social life and more importantly, you will go a long way towards achieving your life goals and aspirations. 7 P a g e Prepared by Abraham Fong (Draft, 2013)

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