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10 Proven Time Management Skills You Should Learn Today

10 Proven Time Management Skills You Should Learn Today

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.

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.

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The Productivity Paradox: What Is It And How Can We Move Beyond It?

The Productivity Paradox: What Is It And How Can We Move Beyond It?

It’s a depressing adage we’ve all heard time and time again: An increase in technology does not necessarily translate to an increase in productivity.

Put another way by Robert Solow, a Nobel laureate in economics,

“You can see the computer age everywhere but in the productivity statistics.”

In other words, just because our computers are getting faster, that doesn’t mean that that we will have an equivalent leap in productivity. In fact, the opposite may be true!

New York Times writer Matt Richel wrote in an article for the paper back in 2008 that stated, “Statistical and anecdotal evidence mounts that the same technology tools that have led to improvements in productivity can be counterproductive if overused.”

There’s a strange paradox when it comes to productivity. Rather than an exponential curve, our productivity will eventually reach a plateau, even with advances in technology.

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So what does that mean for our personal levels of productivity? And what does this mean for our economy as a whole? Here’s what you should know about the productivity paradox, its causes, and what possible solutions we may have to combat it.

What is the productivity paradox?

There is a discrepancy between the investment in IT growth and the national level of productivity and productive output. The term “productivity paradox” became popularized after being used in the title of a 1993 paper by MIT’s Erik Brynjolfsson, a Professor of Management at the MIT Sloan School of Management, and the Director of the MIT Center for Digital Business.

In his paper, Brynjolfsson argued that while there doesn’t seem to be a direct, measurable correlation between improvements in IT and improvements in output, this might be more of a reflection on how productive output is measured and tracked.[1]

He wrote in his conclusion:

“Intangibles such as better responsiveness to customers and increased coordination with suppliers do not always increase the amount or even intrinsic quality of output, but they do help make sure it arrives at the right time, at the right place, with the right attributes for each customer.

Just as managers look beyond “productivity” for some of the benefits of IT, so must researchers be prepared to look beyond conventional productivity measurement techniques.”

How do we measure productivity anyway?

And this brings up a good point. How exactly is productivity measured?

In the case of the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, productivity gain is measured as the percentage change in gross domestic product per hour of labor.

But other publications such as US Today, argue that this is not the best way to track productivity, and instead use something called Total Factor Productivity (TFP). According to US Today, TFP “examines revenue per employee after subtracting productivity improvements that result from increases in capital assets, under the assumption that an investment in modern plants, equipment and technology automatically improves productivity.”[2]

In other words, this method weighs productivity changes by how much improvement there is since the last time productivity stats were gathered.

But if we can’t even agree on the best way to track productivity, then how can we know for certain if we’ve entered the productivity paradox?

Possible causes of the productivity paradox

Brynjolfsson argued that there are four probable causes for the paradox:

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  • Mis-measurement – The gains are real but our current measures miss them.
  • Redistribution – There are private gains, but they come at the expense of other firms and individuals, leaving little net gain.
  • Time lags – The gains take a long time to show up.
  • Mismanagement – There are no gains because of the unusual difficulties in managing IT or information itself.

There seems to be some evidence to support the mis-measurement theory as shown above. Another promising candidate is the time lag, which is supported by the work of Paul David, an economist at Oxford University.

According to an article in The Economist, his research has shown that productivity growth did not accelerate until 40 years after the introduction of electric power in the early 1880s.[3] This was partly because it took until 1920 for at least half of American industrial machinery to be powered by electricity.”

Therefore, he argues, we won’t see major leaps in productivity until both the US and major global powers have all reached at least a 50% penetration rate for computer use. The US only hit that mark a decade ago, and many other countries are far behind that level of growth.

The paradox and the recession

The productivity paradox has another effect on the recession economy. According to Neil Irwin,[4]

“Sky-high productivity has meant that business output has barely declined, making it less necessary to hire back laid-off workers…businesses are producing only 3 percent fewer goods and services than they were at the end of 2007, yet Americans are working nearly 10 percent fewer hours because of a mix of layoffs and cutbacks in the workweek.”

This means that more and more companies are trying to do less with more, and that means squeezing two or three people’s worth of work from a single employee in some cases.

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According to Irwin, “workers, frightened for their job security, squeezed more productivity out of every hour [in 2010].”

Looking forward

A recent article on Slate puts it all into perspective with one succinct observation:

“Perhaps the Internet is just not as revolutionary as we think it is. Sure, people might derive endless pleasure from it—its tendency to improve people’s quality of life is undeniable. And sure, it might have revolutionized how we find, buy, and sell goods and services. But that still does not necessarily mean it is as transformative of an economy as, say, railroads were.”

Still, Brynjolfsson argues that mismeasurement of productivity can really skew the results of people studying the paradox, perhaps more than any other factor.

“Because you and I stopped buying CDs, the music industry has shrunk, according to revenues and GDP. But we’re not listening to less music. There’s more music consumed than before.

On paper, the way GDP is calculated, the music industry is disappearing, but in reality it’s not disappearing. It is disappearing in revenue. It is not disappearing in terms of what you should care about, which is music.”

Perhaps the paradox isn’t a death sentence for our productivity after all. Only time (and perhaps improved measuring techniques) will tell.

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

Reference

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