Raise your hand if you’ve ever felt like there’s not enough time to finish your tasks at work. It seems like there’s too much to do, but not enough time to do it. You may even work late trying to cram even more things into your day – hoping that it’ll relieve the pressure, anxiety, and overwhelm. Only to find that it seems to be doing the exact opposite!
We’ve all heard the phrase, ‘there’s a difference between being busy and being productive.’
Productive is when you feel a sense of accomplishment at the end of your day. You’re able to knock out tough tasks but without being overly stressed or losing your cool. Productive is that feeling when everything seems to be running smoothly and time is flying by in a positive way, rather than the clock being a constant source of panic. You end your day knowing you nailed it and look forward to the next day, rather than dreading what’s to come.
This is where time management skills come into play. Getting to that feeling of achievement, rather than anxiety, all comes down to how you prioritize your tasks.
Here are my 4 steps to helping you improve your time management skills:
1. Get real on deadlines.
What I see happen often is that people add pressure to themselves based on arbitrary deadlines. How often are you stopping to define the deadline before you add something to your to-do list?
I get it. We’re in a society where everyone seems to want quick results, so we think we have to constantly turn things around at rapid speed. But, how many times has it happened where you deliver your piece to a person – an email, a report, a presentation to review – and they didn’t even look at it for a few days, or worse, even at all??
It’s time to get real on deadlines and stop making assumptions. You do this by specifically asking for clarification. Of course if you just ask someone when they want something, they’ll say ASAP. So ask better questions! For example, ‘I’m going to get started on this report, when will you have time to review it?’ Remember, they’re managing their own time too.
2. Get organized.
I always start by asking myself, ‘what would happen if I didn’t do this today?’ I can eliminate a ton of pressure when I realize that doing this later won’t have an impact on the result or outcome. Sure, it would be nice to get it done sooner for the client, my boss, or my colleagues. But if I didn’t, would that change the decision that will be made with this information? Would it change the perception they have of me? Would it change anything at all?
Now, I’m not saying procrastinate and blow things off – and certainly if you told someone you were going to do something by a specific time you want to follow through. But…when you have competing priorities you need a way to decide what’s important and urgent. This is where the time management matrix comes into play and helps me answer my daily question.
The second question I ask is ‘am I the only one who can do this?’ Unfortunately, many people struggle with delegating for multiple reasons, including but not limited to: not trusting other people to do it as well, they’re not good at communicating clear expectations and often are frustrated with others, they think it’s faster or easier to just do it themselves rather than show someone else how. The fact is, if you struggle to delegate you’ll always struggle with managing your time effectively and it’ll hurt your career growth. How can you take on more responsibility if you can’t manage your time now?
3. Execute without distraction.
Once I know what I need to do, it’s just a matter of effective execution. There are many psychologies about doing the tough tasks first or vice versa, but I’ve found that it’s really based on you. Your style and your mindset.
What helps me the most is batching my time. Instead of focusing on the toughest task first, or the easy wins, I batch my tasks together based on how they need to be accomplished. It’s a mindset shift to thinking of the process rather than the outcome. When I batch my time, it saves those few minutes between switching tasks, programs, or thought processes. Those minutes add up! Plus, batching is much less stressful or draining.
Another helpful tool is the timer on my phone. Once I know what I can batch together, I will give myself a set amount of time to finish those tasks. That way I’m focused on only those things during that period and not worried about emails, phone notifications or the like. The key here is setting reasonable batch times in your schedule. For instance, I wouldn’t batch something in a 2-hour block in the middle of the day when I know I need to stop for lunch or need to keep an eye on other incoming requests.
So you got through the day. You decided to just put your head down, grind through and get it done at all costs. Here’s the thing, when you do that day-in and day-out without evaluation that’s what leads to burn out. If you want to improve your time management skills (and your stress levels) you have to actually track what is working for you and what isn’t. What are you spending time on throughout the day? What can you do to mitigate distraction? Was it better for you to start with the hardest thing and have momentum throughout the day? How did the delegation turn out? What are you going to do differently tomorrow and the next day?
Time management and prioritization are key skills to learn for any career.
As you take on more responsibility you need to be a pro at deciding what needs to get done, when, and by whom.
Time management and priority setting are both about forming success habits. Our brains can only make so many decisions a day before we start to fatigue. Once you start to work on your time management skills, the objective is to come up with your go-to plan or routine each day. That way you don’t even have to think about, debate, or strategize how to do things. You will be on auto-pilot which will help you stay productive and limit the impact of distractions on your day.
For me, I focus a lot on improving my time management skills because it directly impacts my sleep. If I feel overwhelmed or anxious about work, it causes me to have really bad insomnia. I can fall asleep with no problem, but I will wake up in the middle of the night and my brain starts thinking of all the things I need to do for the day, long before I’m ready to get started, and I never fall back asleep. The irony is that if I just got a good night’s sleep I would have more energy to tackle my day. Instead, as I get more and more tired throughout the week, I become less and less productive.
Over the years I have learned how to mitigate this by using emotional intelligence to help manage my workload more efficiently. Yes, EQ can help you prioritize even more effectively. EQ helps you know exactly what works for you and what doesn’t. It helps keep those unhelpful emotions and anxiety at bay, or flip them around when they start. It also helps with delegation and collaboration without the frustration.
If you need more help on how to prioritize your tasks, then take advantage of your first free solution session with me!