5 Steps to Effective Time Management

As much as everyone likes to think they're highly effective, the simple truth is, most of us aren't.  I've definitely got my own days where things just don't get done, even though I feel I've been busy the whole day and in fact, these days can often translate into weeks.  So how does one get effective?  Generally speaking, I think there are three aspects to becoming a more effective worker.  These are Work Style, Time Management and Task Selection.  I might wright a bit on work style and task selection later, but for today, I'm only touching on Time Management.
Effective time management, like most things, needs to be simple and while I keep tweaking my own style, so far, it's working quite well for me.  In a nutshell, here's what I do (in 5-10 minutes while eating breakfast) to schedule my work day:
  1.  List the top 5-10 tasks that I think need to get done.  This could be things that are due today, or towards a project 6 months from now.  Have your calendar handy when you do this (preferably sitting in your smart phone) and know your schedule.
  2. For each item, be brutally honest with yourself and ask "does it really need to be done, is it just busy work, or should it be delegated (note: if the answer is delegated, you may still want a task to delegate it).
  3. Beside each, write down how much time you think each will take to get done, or if it is something that requires extensive effort, write down how much time you will spend on it today.  If it will take more than a couple of hours, I tend to put 2 hours. A simple fact of the brain is that it tends to lose focus and I find I'm more productive breaking a large task up across a few days than I am trying to power through a singe task.
  4. Prioritize the items.  I wait until I've written down the times for each as I like to take into account a "bang for the buck" on my time when prioritizing.
  5. And the latest tweak of mine that has made a significant improvement on my effectiveness by eliminating time waster: Schedule your day based on these priorities and time estimates.  Note:
    • I recommend doing this on an index card or something equally easy to carry around. I prefer this over putting it into my phone as I can set it beside my laptop where it's more visible.
    • This may well mean dropping some of the tasks.  This is why we prioritized them.
    • A short priorty 8 may get scheduled over a long priority 5, depending on how much time priorities 1, 2, etc take.
    • Schedule some time for checking email, facebook, twitter, lunch, etc. and only check these items in their scheduled time.  This touches more on work style, but if you're a highly efficient multi-tasker who can do these things while working... well, you're still about as efficient a poor unitasker - get over it (perhaps that'll be another post some day).
By the time I'm done my morning meal, I'll end up with a list that looks something like this:
  • 8:00 - 10:00 - Work on Risk Management Plan Template
  • 10:00 - 10:30 - Purge team document folder of duplicates
  • 10:30 - 12:00 - Write guidelines for checking out & checking in documents to the team folder
  • 12:00 - 1:00 - Check email / Lunch
  • 1:00 - 2:30 - Work on lesson plan outlines for online courses
  • 2:30 - 3:00 - Conference call with team
  • 3:00 - 4:00 - Read
  • 4:00 - 4:30 - Check email
Then I simply work through the day focusing on each task, switching at the appropriate time.  If the first task needs more time than planned, I still stop, switch to the next one, and simply schedule time to return to it the following day.

In the spirit of brevity, I'll leave it there for now and leave you with some further reading if you're interested:

Further Reading:


Anonymous said...

Great post - too bad I am reading it at 2:53 a.m. becuase I failed to effectively manage my time today while I worked on my day off again!

Oh well...I am thankful that I am getting better all the time. thanks for the recommended reading list too!

Powerfully without authority in Edmonton

Douglas Keil said...

Nice insights from another Doug K. Thanks for some good organization pointers. I've got lists in various forms all over the place- what a sense of fulfillment to cross something off! I like your idea of postcard schedule organization. I think it is an effective way confront a day. If you like art, check out the other Doug Keil (pronounced Kyle); I have finished new paintings frequently lately. It was nice visiting, I'll be back. -Doug