Time management is a skill that you see on job descriptions and almost every top ten list of essential skills to have as an employee. We all want to get better at time management, the hard thing is figuring out how to improve your time management in our work and in our personal life.
It’s true – time is an important thing to be able to control. After all, you can only get so much of it. Your day contains just 24 hours. A business might be open for 10 of those. As an employee, you might spend 5 hours a day helping customers or on calls and meetings. But where does the rest of your time go?
It’s inescapable – time is a constraint that you must accept. Due to the laws of nature, you can’t physically access more time in your day. But, if you improve your time management skills, you can free up your schedule to better utilise the time that you do have.
In this post, we’ll show you why time management is so important and how you can use some simple techniques to win back more time in your busy schedule.
What is time management?
Indeed.com defines time management as the ability to be efficient in how you perform your activities.
If you’re good at time management, you’ll be able to decide how much time to spend on each task, prioritise what should get done first and therefore get more done each day.
The tricky thing about time management is that to be good at it; you need a variety of other skills. These include organisation, prioritisation, planning and even leadership and delegation skills. Further, when the tasks on your to-do list add up, you need good stress management abilities.
So when you want to write down “excellent time management” on your resume (and it’s probably a good idea), be sure that you understand what you’re suggesting. It takes lots of practice, skill and effort to manage your time expertly!
Should you manage time or manage output?
If you’re preparing to improve your time management at the workplace, understand that there are two standard practices that businesses use to monitor employees.
The first method is quite literal. Employers ask their workers to track time by keeping timesheets. It’s especially useful for retail shops or restaurants where employers need to know when their employees show up and to ensure that a representative is always around to help customers out.
There are some downsides to tracking only hours, though. For one, tracking how much time is spent at the workplace doesn’t provide any insight into productivity. The number of hours worked won’t tell an employer how many customers you helped during those hours, how good the service was or if the business cash flow projections have been completed.
So how do employers measure productivity? Some employers choose to manage goals, our output, rather than track hours. In this scenario, employees have actions to perform each day, week or month based on goals set for the team. These actions can be measured for example in the number of clients served, or on a much higher level by the completion of a project by a certain date. By tracking actions towards a goal, not time, the employer can see what activities or tasks have been completed during your working hours.
This method is becoming more common as businesses offer employees a greater level of flexibility. With this approach, the number of hours spent at work becomes secondary to the output from those hours.
Related: What are the most important financial key performance indicators for your business?
How do you improve your time management skills?
Whether your employer is tracking time spent at work or output is a decision that depends on each unique business. In either case, there are lots of great techniques that you can use when figuring out how to improve your time management skills.
Here are some of our favourites:
Set SMART goals
The best goals feature every element of this popular acronym: specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely. Create SMART goals for yourself to help you focus your activities towards reaching those goals. That will increase your chance of achieving them.
Divide and conquer
Train yourself to separate the signal from the noise by dividing your tasks into manageable to-do lists. What do you have to accomplish during this shift? What about at home before you go to bed? Establishing a good record is an excellent way to prioritise and keep track of your professional and personal lives.
Even a great list and SMART goals don’t consider how distractions can detract you from managing your time better. An important part of time management is to decide which tasks you won’t or can’t do. Either because they are not helping you reach your goals, or because you don’t have time. The next step is to learn how to delegate these tasks to someone else or decide they are not important enough to be prioritised at all. The earlier you can identify what’s a distraction and remove it, the better your productivity.
Complete the most important task first
Rank your to-do lists. Some do this by numbers from most-important to least important; others divide into things they need to get done, and things they want to get done. Find out which method works for you, but find a way to arrange your tasks. It’s a great habit to get into. Do the essential and challenging tasks first so that you’re sure you have enough time to finish them and can give them the attention they require. These are fundamental principles of prioritisation, one of the most critical elements to improve your time management.
Don’t forget to relax every once in a while. Resting can boost your productivity once it’s time to get back to work. If you’re stuck on something, try to get up from your desk and walk around for a bit. See if that clears your head.
Do a time audit
If you want to get methodical in your approach to improve your time management, you should do a time audit. It involves keeping a logbook of how you spend your time. For a few weeks, note down what you do every 30-60 minutes at home and at work. Note how you feel doing it, and whether it’s complete or in progress. The result can tell you what activities are most time-consuming, which activities you enjoy most and which ones you can scrap.
Use time management tools for help
In a way, even a simple to-do list is a type of tool. Others include digital planners, diaries, sticky notes and bulletin boards. There are so many ways you can use them to monitor your activities, so be as creative as you want. And don’t forget to use one of the most important time management tools – the calendar! Remember, though that management tools are not everything, many of them look very nice and have nice features. But, remember the purpose is to find a tool that helps you reach your goals faster. If they don’t do that, don’t keep using them for the tool’s sake.
Sometimes, you can’t do it all on your own. If that’s the case, try assigning responsibility to someone else. It can free up your own time and even expose others to new experiences.
In other words, try to avoid multitasking as much as possible. Every time you switch between tasks, you lose time. Instead, try to remain focused on one action until it’s complete. Then, remember to check it off your list, take a break and move on to the next one!
Learn from a mentor
Observe the world around you to pick up some good practices of your own. Whether it’s a manager, a close friend or a professional business coach, sometimes learning from a skilled time management expert is the best way to improve your abilities.
Free up your schedule
So whether you’re tracking your actions as part of your work or noting down your time in a logbook, don’t forget to practice some of these time management tricks. Before long, you’ll be managing your time better than ever before.
If you want to learn other ways that you can upgrade your career skills, book a free 15-minute call with one of our career coaches today.