Most employees begin projects with the best of intentions, wanting to finish well and certainly on time. They understand the tasks that need to be accomplished and have the training to complete them. But getting the job done – that’s a different story. This is especially true if you’re starting your own business.
So why do some people breeze through a difficult task while others with the same amount of experience and education struggle to even get started until it’s crunch time? The answer lies in their personal concept of time, planning, and change.
The Concept of Time
Many people can think of at least a handful of ways to free up a chunk of time during their workday to focus on higher priorities. Unfortunately, we tend to hang onto busy work that makes us feel valued but adds little long-term value to our workplace.
Improving your time management skills begins with thinking more realistically about your time as a precious commodity and assessing how you can best use the limited time you have.
- Hitting Your Peak: Figure out your peak performance time. Are you an early bird who gets your best work done in the morning, or does your brain shift into high gear in the afternoon? Understand how your personal time clock is wired and adjust the tasks you need to get done each day accordingly. Remember that there’s no “right” way to do things — everyone is different, and you just have to do what works for you.
- Time Means Money: Start budgeting your time like you make your money. Consider what your must-do tasks are for the day, for tomorrow, by the end of the week, and the end of the month. Prioritize your tasks based on both urgency and importance. Remember that some tasks may seem urgent but may not necessarily be as important in the long term as others.
- Check the Clock: Evaluate how much time it really takes you to perform certain tasks against the original time you thought it would take. Be honest with yourself if you consistently underestimate how much time it will take you to complete a project, and make sure to adjust your schedule accordingly.
- Get a Head Start: Avoid the temptation to procrastinate by actually starting a project early. If you finish it ahead of schedule, reward yourself for a job well done.
- Take a Break: Thinking realistically about time doesn’t mean sitting at your desk for five hours without taking a break. Taking reasonable breaks helps your body and brain reset and reassess where you are at with a project and what additional tasks need to be accomplished to reach your goal.
- One at a Time: Although employers often tout multitaskers, studies have shown that most people are more productive when they focus on one task at a time.
The Concept of Planning
Effectively planning your time at work involves setting and organizing goals, developing plans to meet those goals, identifying the tasks required to accomplish the plan, and scheduling timelines for the entire process.
For detail-oriented workers, this makes perfect sense and gives them the structure they need to prioritize their day. For those who prefer to jump headfirst into a project with little direction, learning to embrace some basic planning will help you avoid creating unnecessary work and wasting time.
- Make Meaningful Lists: Go beyond writing a to-do list. Prioritize which tasks are the most urgent and most important first. Alternatively, you could try to get the easiest tasks out of the way first before focusing on more difficult tasks. At the end of the day, it’s up to you to find a strategy that works for you.
- Use a Calendar: Record due dates on a calendar or scheduling app as soon as they are set. Some people prefer physically writing things down on a desk or wall calendar while others totally rely on a virtual calendar like Google’s. Again, it’s all about finding a system that works for you — even if it means using both a physical and a virtual calendar.
- Use Time Estimates: Do your very best to avoid underestimating time for projects. If you chronically miscalculate the time, it will take you to complete a task, automatically add a half-hour to an hour of time to the projected completion time.
- Break Down Goals: Break long-term goals into smaller, easier-to-attain mini-goals. Doing so will help you avoid procrastinating and give you something to celebrate along the journey.
- Time and Technology: Use technology aids to help keep you accountable. For example, you could set a timer on your phone for 30 minutes and try to get as much work done as possible within that 30-minute timeframe.
- Workspace Organization: Make sure to organize your workspace in a way that will help keep you focused and efficient. Also, make sure that your workspace is aesthetically-pleasing and designed to promote productivity rather than prohibit it.
The Concept of Change
Although change is inevitable in both our home and work lives, many people often have a hard time dealing with it.
If you tend to lose your cool under pressure or shut down when your workload is off the charts, consider some of the following suggestions to help you better cope with stress.
- Ditch the Distractions: Being a business owner and working from home often means that countless distractions can keep you from focusing on the task at hand. If the sight of the refrigerator tempts you to leave your desk to search for a snack or you are distracted by your co-worker’s telephone conversations, try closing the door or using a sound-silencing headset.
Evaluate how many times you pick up your cell phone during the workday to read a personal text or check your emails. Do you have a big project due that needs your undivided attention? Tell your family or colleagues not to disturb you for a specific period of time so you can avoid distractions and devote your energies to the task at hand.
- Maximize Your Time: If a difficult, lengthy project becomes overwhelming, try to commit a half-hour of concentrated effort to it instead of spending two hours of lackluster effort that yields no results. Breaking any long-term project into smaller sections will help the job feel more attainable and your time more productive.
- Celebrate the Wins: Whenever you reach a goal or complete a set of tasks, celebrate your accomplishments. Send a congratulatory email to your team members. Go out to lunch. Take a walk outside during your lunch break.
- Keep Your Cool: When you are under high pressure to complete a task or you’re forced to change course in the middle of a project, accept the change instead of wasting time agonizing over it. Your challenge is to learn to handle such situations without getting upset or distracted. Alter your plan, identify any new tasks that must be completed, and move forward.
Making better use of your time ultimately involves an honest assessment of how you view the concepts of time, planning, and change. Accountability is also a huge factor in better time management. Business experts like Greg Gillman can help you stay accountable and guide you on how to run a successful business.