How well do you manage your time? If you are like many of us, your answer may be “Not too well.” You may often feel like there is not enough time in a day. Perhaps you even find you constantly have to work late hours to hit your deadlines. Maybe you even feel too busy that you miss meals and sleep. These are all classic signs that you may not be managing your time effectively.

Benjamin Franklin once said that time is money. Just like money, time must be managed properly. If you manage time properly you find the right balance between your work, leisure and rest time. You effectively accomplish the things that matter most in your life. On top of that, you reduce your stress level and feel a lot happier. To help you manage time more effectively, here are ten proven time management skills you should learn today.

1. Set Goals

Goals give you a vision, focus and destination to work towards. They help you have a clear mind on where you want to go and how best to manage your time and resources to get there. By setting goals, you are able to identify what’s worth spending your time on and what’s a distraction to avoid.

Start by asking yourself where you want to be in six months time. You can go further and look at where you want to be in the next year or even decade from now. Set personal and professional goals that are realistic and achievable. This is a  crucial step toward ensure you manage your time better.

2. Prioritize

Prioritizing cannot be overemphasized when it comes to effective time management. It can be difficult to know what tasks to tackle first, especially when a flood of tasks all seem urgent. It is, however, relatively easy to prioritize activities if you have clear goals already set. Ask yourself three basic questions to know what tasks should take first priority:

  • Why am I doing this task or activity?
  • How does this task help me achieve my goals?
  • To what extent does this task I’m doing help me achieve my goals?

Do the most important things first.

3. Keep a Task List

A task list (or “to-do list”) is a reminder system that tells you when you need to do what. Keeping a to-do list helps you remain organized and on top of things. It helps break things down into small, manageable tasks or steps so that you never forget to do the important stuff. Don’t try to remember everything you need to do in your head. In most cases, trying to remember everything won’t work. Instead, keep a to-do list. A simple daily, weekly or monthly planner on a note pad or diary can do.

Write down the things you need to do, including meetings, appointments and deadlines. Prioritize items on your list by listing items in order of importance from high priority to low priorities items or highlighting urgent or important tasks on your list with an asterisk. Cross out completed tasks as often as you add new tasks on your task list to ensure you keep moving forward.

4. Schedule Tasks

“A schedule defends from chaos and whim,” says author Annie Dillard. If you are a morning person and find you are at your most creative and productive early in the morning, schedule high-value tasks in the morning at your peak creative/productive time. If your creativity and energy picks up when the sun is setting, schedule high priority tasks then. Your “down” time can be scheduled for less important tasks like checking e-mail or returning phone calls.

Understand your rhythm of peak and dead times and schedule tasks appropriately to make the most of peak times. Remember you don’t find time for important things; you make time for important things best by scheduling.

5. Focus on One Task at a Time

You get more done in the least time possible when you toggle between talking on your cell phone, browsing the internet and jotting down notes, right? Wrong! According to a study published by the American Psychological Association, you actually spend between 20 and 40 percent more time when you multitask. Besides costing you time and efficiency, multitasking can also reduce the quality of your work.

Forget multitasking. You don’t get on top of your workload by multitasking. Focus more on completing one task at a time. Completing tasks in sequence one at a time leads to better use of time, says the study researchers. Switching from one task to another does not usually lend itself to good use of time.

6. Minimize Distractions

Whether it’s client e-mail alerts, phone calls from friends or IM chats with prospects while working, distractions are a hindrance to effective use of time. Distractions break your concentration, lower your productivity and often prevent you from completing important tasks on time. They can also cause stress.

Identify what is distracting you from doing core tasks and put a stop to it. Kill that television and turn off your Internet connection and IM chat. Put up a “Do not disturb” or similar sign at the entrance of your dedicated work space to prevent interruptions. Just do whatever it takes to minimize distractions. This ensures you take control of your days and maximizes your productivity.

7. Overcome Procrastination

Edward Young, the English poet best remembered for Night Thoughts, once said procrastination is the thief of time. Don’t put off tasks that you should be focusing on right now and let procrastination steal your time. Remind yourself that the best time to do somethings is usually NOW. Push yourself a little harder to beat procrastination and get what needs to be done DONE.

An effective strategy to beat procrastination is to tell yourself you are only going to embark on a project for a few minutes, say ten minutes. Once you start the project, your creative juices will start flowing. You will then find you want to continue with the task and quite possibly take it to the end. The trick to beat procrastination can be as simple as devoting a small amount of time to start. Just that!

8. Take Breaks

Unless you are Superman, you can’t sustain working long hours on end without burning out and sacrificing on quality. However tempting it may be to work to a deadline for 8-10 hours straight, take breaks in between work. This way you give your brain valuable time to rest and recharge. Taking breaks from work is not time wasting. It is smart time management. You produce top quality work when you are well rested.

Squeeze short breaks in between work for down-time. Ideally, take a five minute break every hour or two to rest and think creatively. You may set an alarm to remind you when your break is due. Stop working and just sit and meditate at your desk or go out for a cup of coffee or short walk. Don’t forget to give yourself ample time for lunch too. You can’t work optimally on an empty stomach.

9. Say “No”

One skill that many high achievers like President Obama, Bill Gates and Richard Branson have mastered is the gentle art of saying “no” to things that are not a priority. Saying “no” to things that are not a priority allows you to focus on those things that are really important. You only have exactly 24 hours in a day to do the things that matter. If you don’t learn to say “no” to things that are not important, other peoples’ priorities will precede your own and you will be swamped with far too many projects and commitments.

Say “no” amicably to everything that doesn’t support your values or help you achieve your goals. You have the right to say “no” no matter who you are talking to. When you get better at saying “no,” you put you time to good use and defend yourself from rushed work, poor performance and work overload.

10. Delegate Tasks

The old adage by 17th century author John Donne that no one is an island still holds true today. You can’t manage everything on your own. Sometimes it is prudent to let other people help you with tasks, especially when you are swamped. You save time, reduce stress and accomplish a lot more when you assign tasks to the right people.

Relinquish your grip on the wheel and grant authority with responsibility to qualified people. Delegating is not dumping. Give tasks with consequences. This way you promote accountability and ensure goals and deadlines are met.

It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments: The Gentle Art of Saying No

Featured photo credit: Close up view of the Pocket clock on old paper via Shutterstock

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