Time Management Techniques
The Benefits of Time Management
Despite the relentless march of technological progress many of us are busier and more pressured than ever before. Take the cell phone as an example. Just a few years ago if we were out, we were out of contact, and that was that. Now we’re contactable 24 hours a day, wherever we may be. And, more often that not, that out of hours contact brings yet more to be done.
If you do have too much to do in too little time, be pleased. At least you are special and in demand. It also shows you are living life fully, if not necessarily in the wisest fashion.
A less frequent, and possibly worse, problem is that of not having enough to fill our time. The over-worked and over-stressed may think this is an enviable position to be in, but think again. If we cannot fully utilize our time we begin to question the very reasons for our existence.
Fortunately the ideas of time management can help in both situations.
How to Prioritize
A key time management strategy is that of prioritization.
Prioritization means ranking your many demands, or opportunities, in some kind of order. This ranking will establish which demands are most deserving of your attention, and the proportion of time best devoted to each. We all need to share our time between different, competing, priorities. But taking the time to analyze and list these ensures that our time is being used most effectively, and brings the sense of satisfaction that comes from knowing we are doing so.
Priorities should be re-assessed at periodic intervals, probably at least once a month, but not more often than once a week (or whatever works for you). It may help to keep a written priority list in a diary or on computer. Devote around half an hour or so at each review to ensure your list is up to date. Doing so will create a sense of meaningful purpose and satisfaction, especially as you are able to cross things off the previous list.
There will be a number of, possibly many, things on our priority list that cannot be pursued at the present time. It is still worth noting these as there priority may rise as other tasks disappear from our list.
Importance and urgency play a key role in establishing priorities.
The Difference Between Important and Urgent
Recognize the difference between important and urgent. Important things have great significance. Filing a tax return is important. Get it wrong and you pay too much tax, or face jail. But if there’s six months to the filing deadline, it isn’t urgent. The competition on the back of the cornflake packet may be urgent if the closing date is tomorrow, but if you’re not keen on winning an electric nose-picker, or whatever, it is not important. The longer an important thing is left, the more urgent it becomes.
Learning to Say No
“No” is one of the most important words in the English language.
Many things are asked of us. Sometimes more than we can reasonably cope with. Many of us find it easy, even pleasurable, to say no to the pushy salesman. But it can be much harder to reject the requests of friends and family for fear of hurting feelings, seeming unkind or whatever.
But we are finite beings, living in finite time with finite energy. We simply cannot oblige every demand life makes upon us. If driving cousin Jane to the airport next Tuesday is gonna screw up your exam revision, tell her so. In most cases (real) friends and family will understand. If not, then the problem lies with them!
Planning, Discipline and Flexibility
Good planning is an essential component of effective time management.
Basically, plans are the things we need to do (along with the order we need to do them) in order to achieve our life goals.
Plans should be made for varying lengths of time. You may plan what you have to do on a single trip to town, in a day’s work, for a week, a month or ten years. The shorter the timescale, the more detailed the planning will be. Detailed plans shouldn’t just state what is to be done, but also how long it should take. The most thorough plans might have both estimated and maximum available times.
Once plans have been made, discipline is required in order to stick to them. It’s all too easy to give more time to more enjoyable things without spending enough on less pleasant, but still important others. As said above plans are the means of achieving goals, so by sticking to our plans, even the plain nasty jobs, we move closer to where we really want to be. This should give a warm glow of satisfaction, but in the event it doesn’t, allow yourself a little reward.
Treat plans as road maps rather than computer programs. Computer programs consist of a tightly defined set of instructions for carrying out a given task. In contrast, road maps show you a variety of ways from getting to A and B, and if for some reason your first choice isn’t feasible they show you alternatives.
The Best-laid Plans of Mice and Men Often Go Awry
Life is unpredictable. The only thing that’s certain is uncertainty. Don’t battle it; it’s the nature of things. Accept uncertainty; embrace it as bringing excitement and adventure. Build slack into your plans. Don’t treat plans as set in stone, rather as written in light pencil. Be prepared to change. Be flexible, changing circumstances often bring new and unforeseen opportunities. Learn to look for the silver lining inside every cloud.
There are two schools of thought on contingency planning.
The first is “don’t plan for failure” because “thinking makes it so”.
The second is based on sod’s law, “anything that can go wrong, will”, so we’d better have an idea of what we’ll do if (or when) it does.
There is truth in both. While we should never plan to fail we must be realistic and accept that not everything will run as smoothly as we’d like. There are many ways to achieve a desired result. In choosing our prime strategy we should at least be aware of the alternatives and be prepared to switch to one if need be.
Do you dread deadlines? Bad memories of college assignment submission dates? Or perhaps your line of work involves the meeting of deadlines.
Stressful? Sure. But deadlines DO get you working at your best. With a deadline hanging over you, you tend to produce.
Use deadlines to your advantage. Set yourself deadlines. Give yourself a small treat if you meet them, and/or some (small)”punishment” if you don’t.
But don’t get too stressed. Remember, most deadlines are not life and death. If you can’t meet them the world will still keep turning, and life will go on.
Relying on Others
One of the hardest elements of time management is relying on other people. You can keep to your schedule, get your tasks done on time etc. But what if others don’t do what you expect of them? It can be very frustrating.
First thing here is choose your associates carefully. Never place more responsibility in the hands of another than you have to. If people aren’t doing what they should, don’t be afraid to tell them so; or, if need be, replace them. This is one area where contingency planning is definitely recommended.
In short, make sure you do whatever’s within your power to ensure your dealings with others goes as smoothly as possible. This won’t always be entirely smoothly as others have their own priorities of which your needs are just one. But the point is you’ve done, and continue to do, all you can to make the relationship effective, and having done this you can’t do any more. So don’t stress about it.
All Work and No Play…
Time management is tough. It requires a lot of self-discipline. By practicing time management you will ultimately achieve far more than those that just drift along taking things as they come.
But sometimes you will feel that the more “casual” more fun than you.
Fun is an important part of life. It’s the sweetener that makes the more difficult stuff easier to swallow, as well being valuable in its own right. Build fun and chill-out time into your time management schedules. It will make the harder parts easier to fulfill, and lead to better results.
- Life is precious. By employing a few simple time management techniques we help ourselves get the most from it.
- Set priorities. There are many demands on us from all angles. Recognize the most important.
- It’s OK to say no.
- Make plans for different intervals. The shorter the interval, the more detailed the plan.
- Remember to include slack time
- Be flexible. Uncertainty is the nature of life. Be prepared for the unexpected, especially where your plans rely on others.
- Remember to include plenty of chill-out time, it’s the oil that makes the wheels turn smoothly.