The three elements of time management: Making the most of your day

Speak First Avatar

12 January 2023
Written by Speak First Linked-in icon

Hourglass on laptop computer concept for time management (1000x667)

The Doctor, of TV’s ‘Doctor Who,’ has all the time in the world (or any world they decide to visit!). Flying around the universe in their time machine, The Tardis, The Doctor is able to take as much time as they need between adventures, sometimes leaving for years or decades, before appearing right back at the moment they started.

Similarly, when Marty McFly – hero of the ‘Back to the Future’ series – sits in his DeLorean car, wishing he had a little more time to save the day, he suddenly realises: “I got all the time I want. I got a time machine!”

Unfortunately, in real life, we can’t manipulate time to give ourselves longer to do all the things we need. Our workdays are a finite number of hours, putting us and our productivity at the mercy of the ticking clock. You may not be able to stop the seconds from passing by, but learning to properly manage yourself, others around you and your tasks, will help you make the most of the time you do have.

 

1. Managing yourself

The most important element for time management is understanding yourself. We all work differently – some people are most productive in the morning, while others find they do their best work later in the day. Similarly, there are those who prefer working in silence and there are people who need some music or background chatter to feel most focused. When you’re aware of how and when you’re most productive, you can begin to deliberately replicate this over and over, developing your own perfectly personalised working environment.

This also means understanding your motivations and willpower. People all have different reason for doing their jobs, and whether it’s helping their organisation achieve its goals, development opportunities, small personal challenges, genuine enjoyment of a task, the satisfaction of ticking something off the to-do list, or any of the myriad of other incentives at work, it’s important to find yours.

To manage your time most effectively, you need to be able to inspire yourself to get things done. There’s plenty to enjoy about work, and even when a particular task feels like a slog, it’s helpful to remind yourself of why you’re in this job and why you’re doing this specific piece of work. If all else fails, try giving yourself rewards for completing each task, or ordering things so you get the jobs you’re least excited for out the way first, leaving you with something nicer to look forward to.

 

2. Managing others

No matter how well you plan your day or aim to work with your nose to the grindstone, other people will often create unexpected distractions. Answering calls, replying to emails, chatting to colleagues and attending meetings are all important parts of work, but they easily add up to steal your time away. Before you know it, an entire day’s over and you haven’t done any of the work you needed to.

You can reduce these distractions by setting aside time in your day to fully focus. This means leaving emails and messages unread, asking to call people back at a more convenient moment and organising meetings for a different time (if you’re able) or planning around them.

As much as possible, this should be designed around the best times and methods for your productivity (as discussed above). Also, this time must be protected and respected by yourself and others. Set a clear ‘do not disturb,’ and let people know you’ll reply later. Of course, you should use this sparingly, because if you’re always signalling you’re not to be interrupted and you don’t create time to speak to you, people will stop respecting it. Additionally, if something critically urgent comes up, it has to take priority. But, these are typically few and far between – most things can wait until you’ve finished your planned tasks.

 

3. Manage your tasks

Everyone has responsibilities they enjoy more and ones they enjoy less, and it’s human nature to procrastinate on the ones we’d rather not be doing. In an ideal world, we’d all be able to focus solely on the most engaging and interesting tasks. However, in reality there are always going to be other things that need prioritising. It’s crucial to be able to understand the different levels of importance and urgency for everything on your to-do list. We’ve previously discussed practical methods for this in this article.

This also helps make your workload easier to manage. When you’re feeling swamped with too much to do, or not knowing where to start, it can lead to stress and burnout. When you properly prioritise and know the importance and deadlines of each task, you create a much more digestible to-do list for yourself.

Be mindful of how you order your work and what you put off. Often, the small tasks you don’t want to do end up taking longer than the bigger jobs, because you drag your feet or get distracted. Like ripping off a plaster, just sitting down and doing the things you’d rather avoid gets them over and done with quicker than the time you’d spend arguing with yourself.

 

Ultimately, time management is really about understanding the work you’ve got to do, knowing how you work best and finding the dedicated time to do it. It’s much easier said than done, but with a few small steps, you’ll find you’re achieving so much more in a day, your colleagues might think you found a time machine after all!

 

For more ways you and your people can increase your Personal Effectiveness, take a look at our Learning Solutions.