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10 Proven Time Management Skills You Should Learn Today

10 Proven Time Management Skills You Should Learn Today
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

More by this author

David K. William

David is a publisher and entrepreneur who tries to help professionals grow their business and careers, and gives advice for entrepreneurs.

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Last Updated on July 21, 2021

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)
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No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to Make a Reminder Works for You

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

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Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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