By Stephanie Harbison ~
Anyone who knows me probably knows I’m a little neurotic when it comes to time management, and almost everything goes on the calendar. I’m a pretty organized person by nature, so I always have to-do lists and carry around a cute planner.
But it wasn’t until I started my career at Northwestern Mutual that I started to take time management really seriously. In fact, everyone around here takes it really seriously! When you are managing a client base and meeting with several clients a day, you can’t afford be anything but purposeful with your time. I realized I wasn’t going to be successful if I didn’t have a plan going in to each day, and a way to evaluate my progress at the end of the day. At Northwestern Mutual this is actually called posting & planning, and it has been an absolute life changer. I’ll talk more about this later.
Time management is one of those terms that is tossed around, but what does it actually mean and how do you become good at it? A person may think he has good time management skills and work well under pressure at the last minute when in fact, that is just called procrastination!
When I think of someone with good time management skills I’m always envious of the person who always seems at ease but at the same time seems to be involved in everything! Now I know no one can be involved in everything and be good at it all, but it’s okay to dream, right?
My favorite definition of time management, according to Wikipedia, is “the act or process of planning and exercising conscious control over the amount of time spent on specific activities, especially to increase effectiveness, efficiency or productivity.” I appreciate that it emphasizes it is a process and one has to use conscious effort to be more productive. In other words, it takes work!
I am one of those people who used to say I was a good “multitasker,” and took pride in being able to work on lots of tasks at a time. Until I realized that I was NOT a good multitasker at all, and I am just very easily distracted! Each time I start working on something I get a text from my husband letting me know of a change in dinner plans, or another email notification, or Facebook reminds me that it’s my best friend’s birthday, or someone walks into my office.
It is easy to want to tend to those things right away, but then it just feels like I’m fighting fires all day long and nothing meaningful gets accomplished! I’m sure most people can relate to this. One of my favorite quotes to sum up this exact scenario is from performance coach and author, Jason Selk: “The noise of urgency creates the illusion of importance.” The truth is those distractions are never going to go away, so we have to work at managing our behavior so we can recognize what is an actual priority and what can wait.
As I learn from my own mistakes, and see others struggle to manage their time, I notice there are many culprits that keep people from being more productive. There is the tendency to over-commit oneself. This person finds herself saying yes to every opportunity or social event that comes up and ends up feeling like she can’t give 100 percent of her attention to anything.
Then there is procrastination, which everyone probably experiences once in a while. When there is a big or daunting project it can be tough to get started so we wait until the very last minute to pump out mediocre work.
And then there are those who are guilty of trying to do everything on their own. I see so many business owners and managers who are too afraid to delegate, then when they should be with their family or need to take a day off, they can’t because there is no one else there to step in and pick up the slack!
Maybe you struggle with one or many of these time management busters, but there is hope! I don’t claim to have all of the answers, but these are just a few tips that have been helpful for me improve productivity and effectiveness in both my life at work and at home.
- Identify your goals
It’s tough to know where you should be spending your time if you don’t have any established goals. Take time to understand what you are actually trying to accomplish in the short and long term, and then ask yourself if your current behavior and activities will actually help you accomplish those goals. Beware; this may bring some harsh realities.
Once you’ve determined your goals, break them down into manageable daily processes that will help you reach those goals. This is a concept I learned as I worked with performance coach Jason Selk. These processes should be your top priority every day (your most important tasks), and you may need to rearrange some things in your schedule to make sure they happen. These things, done consistently, are what will help you get closer to those goals.
- Get a good planner
I’m not even going to talk much about this one. If you rely on your memory to remind you of an appointment in 3 weeks, or assume someone else will remind you, you’ve got to get a planner! These are not expensive, and they don’t have to be fancy. If you don’t have a planner, chances are you are not following through on all of your commitments, and probably disappointing people around you.
- Have a planning day each week
Take a few minutes at the beginning of each week to write down everything you have going on that week. Are you hoping to fit in 5 workouts? I know from personal experience, if you put it on the calendar you are much more likely to actually do those workouts. This also helps you visualize all your commitments and make necessary changes ahead of time if you know you can’t fit everything in.
- Post and plan each day
This is that term I mentioned earlier. Take time at the end of each work day to evaluate your progress and plan for the next day. Did you complete all of the most important items on your list? What things do you need to have prepared for tomorrow? Don’t leave last minute preparations for a meeting for tomorrow morning. If you spend a few extra minutes before you head out to prep for the next day, you will get to work feeling much more confident and ready to tackle your most important tasks.
- Schedule time to focus
If you know you have a big deadline or know you are guilty of procrastinating, schedule time in your calendar to work only on this task, and eliminate distractions. If you wait until you feel like it to start working on that big research paper, you will most likely end up waiting until the last minute, once again.
- Don’t try to do everything all in one day
I am super guilty of pressuring myself to do everything on my to-do list all in one day, and then I feel disappointed when I only complete a few of them. Keep focused on those most important tasks you identified, and avoid creating self-imposed deadlines for tasks that can most likely wait.
I could probably write 10 more posts on this subject, so this list is in no way exhaustive. You may have some tips or tricks that help you stay on top of all of life’s demands. I would love to hear what works for you!