Being able to manage your own time is a crucial skill in the workplace.
If you work for yourself, it’s even more important – poor time management could spell the end of your business, or at least make you less successful than you’d hoped.
Poor time management can be at the root of many problems.
If you find yourself taking work home in the evenings, for instance, it might not be because you’ve got too much work but because you’re not managing your time well during the day.
And if you’re often stressed out and frustrated by your work, this might be a time management issue too: no-one likes feeling disorganized and behind with things.
#1: Use an Organizer
It doesn’t matter what kind of organizer you use – some people like a paper diary, others use Google Calendar, and others have a favorite software program. What’s important is that you have an organizer and that you use it.
Your organizer should let you keep track of your appointments. If you’ve ever forgotten a meeting, or double-booked yourself, you’ll know why this matters!
You’ll also want to keep a note of key reminders (“Buy anniversary card for spouse”). It’s also useful if there’s space for a daily to-do list or similar…
#2: Write a To-Do List Every Day
How do you begin your working day? Many people start off by checking their emails, and then begin tackling whatever happens to have come in. It’s easy to end up spending the whole day on minor tasks, rather than tackling the work that really needs to be done.
At the start of each day, take five or ten minutes to write down a list of what you want to accomplish. You’ll probably have a few mission-critical items (“Finish client’s report”) and a few things that are essentially just reminders of small tasks (“Phone Joe”).
Writing down the big items helps you focus on them right from the beginning of the day; writing down the small ones means you don’t have to use up valuable mental energy trying to remember them.
#3: Prioritize by Importance
How do you decide which tasks to tackle first? If you go for the ones that seem most urgent – with the closest deadline, or the pushiest client – then you might end up shoving aside more important things. Sometimes, prioritizing by urgency makes sense, but as a general rule, you should be tackling the important tasks first.
One way to do that is by dividing your day into two halves: work on important, longer-term tasks in the morning, and on urgent tasks in the afternoon.
If those urgent things truly need to get done by 5pm, you’ll probably manage them just fine — without spending the whole day caught up in them.
#4: Understand Your Peak Times of Day
Are you a morning lark or a night owl? Do you find it easier to focus at 8am or 8pm? We all have peaks and troughs of energy throughout the day – and it’s useful to get to know when your best (and worst) times are.
For me, mornings are the best time: I use them for my most creative and energy-demanding work, which is writing. Afternoons are when I deal with editing, admin, emails, and other smaller tasks.
I have a slump around 4pm – 5pm, when I’m grouchy and unable to focus. I can easily accomplish twice as much between 9am – 10am as between 4pm – 5pm. Your ups and downs may be very different from mine – but by figuring out when they are, you can plan your work and manage your time more effectively.
#5: Take Regular Breaks
This might sound a little counter-intuitive – but are you taking enough breaks? If you’re aiming to improve your time management, you might try to do so by working steadily for hours without stopping … but this isn’t going to make you more productive. By taking regular breaks, you give yourself a chance to switch off and recharge.
Most people can only focus for around 25 – 45 minutes before needing a brief break (even if it’s just five minutes to get up, grab a glass of water, and move around a bit).
Planned breaks are crucial: don’t simply work until you get stuck or run out of steam. If you know you’re going to take a break at 11am and it’s 10.40, it’s easy to stay focused – you may even find yourself working harder to get a task completed before your break.
#6: Check Email Less Often
Do you keep your inbox open constantly? Or do you find yourself checking emails every half-hour? If so, you’re destroying your ability to get into the zone with your work. Yes, your clients and colleagues might like it that you always reply promptly – but if this pulls you away from your actual work, you aren’t doing anyone any favors.
Try checking email a bit less frequently. That might mean every two hours, or just once or twice a day, depending on your industry and the expectations of your boss or clients.
You’ll find that you’re not only more focused, you’re able to get through your emails in less time, because you can tackle them as one batch.
Do you have any great time management tips to add? Or do you have a particular time management problem that you’re struggling with? Share your thoughts in the comments below.