How To Improve Your Time Management Skills
August 9, 2017
Over the past few weeks, and in various settings, time management has been the focus of conversation. The “experts” commonly recommend the following to improve time management skills:
- Stop procrastinating
- Avoid stress
- Start early
- Do the most important tasks first
Personally, I don’t find these suggestions helpful. Telling someone to avoid stress, while obvious, is kind of like telling someone to not be nervous before a job interview — easier said than done. What if there is no option to delegate?
Time management is a “soft skill,” a skill highly valued by employers and necessary in virtually all aspects of our professional and personal lives. So, I spent some time thinking about my own time management skills, and here is what I consider a sensible list of recommendations to enhance your time management skills.
Create a list
- I recommend compiling the list at the end of the day, so there is little chance you will forget the small but important tasks you didn't get to complete during the day.
- Put everything on the list, even those things you know you won't forget to do. This includes meetings, which will help you manage your tasks around events.
- I keep a running list in a notebook. When I have a couple of pages with one or two items on it, then I re-write the list on a new page and clip the old pages so that I am only working with my active list. This way, the list is on just a few pages rather than five or six that I have to keep leafing through to make sure I get everything completed.
Prioritize your list
- Look at the list and rank the items according to a priority ranking you devise. It could be "today," "tomorrow," and "next week" or "a.m.," "p.m.," and "tomorrow" — whatever best relates to the type of tasks you have and when they need to be completed.
- Work first on those tasks with the highest priority ranking, but there is often an exception to this rule: if you have five things on your list that will take 20 minutes to complete, then get those off of your list first. There is a psychological benefit to crossing multiple tasks off your list quickly, but make sure you focus on the toughest task next.
- About halfway through your day, look over the list to see if you need to reprioritize. For example, if you have a report due next week, but you receive an email asking you for the report tomorrow instead, you will need to adjust your to-do list.
- You may need to close your door or go sit in a conference room for a few hours to avoid office chit-chat. Put your cell phone on silent mode, so notifications don’t bug you.
- Declutter your desk. While messy desks are common during periods of creativity, they are detrimental to productivity.
- Avoid checking your email too frequently, as it interrupts your flow. Check your email every couple of hours, unless you are waiting for something important or have an important issue that needs your attention.
- It feels good when you finish that task you’ve been avoiding. Give yourself a little reward — eat the apple you brought in (avoid cookies and candy because you’ll quickly feel sleepy once the sugar high wears off) or a small piece of dark chocolate. If you want to avoid food, then perhaps a quick walk outside will feel good.
- When someone adds to your list, be open and up front about when you can complete the task. I.e., under-promise and over-deliver (but not in an exaggerated way).
- Keep stakeholders up-to-date as you make progress on tasks you are completing if it is a multi-faceted one.
- If you will be later than promised, be honest with the person waiting, and be specific about when you will complete the project, report, etc.
As I already mentioned, time management is an essential skill. If your skills are weak, then work hard to enhance those skills. Figure out what works best for you to stay focused and on track. Manage your time to excel in your career.
Anne Converse Willkomm
Director of Graduate Studies