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Time-management – the basics

Improving our time-management skills is often seen as the solution to increased workflow or workplace stress, however even the best time-management system has its limits. If we are currently under high work demands, how can we implement an effective and sustainable time-management system, when it just feels like another thing on our to-do list?

This is compounded by the massive amount of information out there on time-management systems – workshops, books, articles, diaries. With such a wealth of information available, where do we start?

First of all, KIS – keep it simple. Don’t add complexity onto an already overloaded system.

Secondly, personalise it. What may be ideal for your colleague, manager or Bill Gates, may not work for you. Find what works for you and then work it.

Thirdly, start small. Make small, manageable changes – if they work, keep them; if they don’t work, stop doing them. Then keep building.

Some basic time-management tips:

  • set aside planning time. First thing Monday morning or last thing Friday night, set aside half an hour to plan the week ahead. Or, if it works better, set aside the first 15 minutes each morning, or just before you leave work for the day, to plan the day’s priorities. Block out this time in your calendar.
  • clear your desk. Unless you truly do work better with clutter, most people function better with a clear working space. Again it can be useful to spend the last 15 minutes of the day clearing your space to give you a fresh start the next day (this also assists with our sense of control over our workload).
  • prioritise. What is really most important to achieve right now, rather than what (or who) is making the most noise?
  • take breaks. We function better when we are able to take regular time out from our workload. Breaks give us processing time, potentially opening the way for alternative options to emerge.
  • get the resources you need. If it works for you, do the research, go on a time-management course, buy a leather bound diary, a colour-coded filing system, invest in yourself, make a dramatic step change. Otherwise make slow, achievable changes.
  • know what works for you. Are you a visual, auditory or kinaesthetic processor? Do you work better with a spreadsheet of project timelines, or a list on the back of an envelope? Can you work through a list of 30 tasks, ticking them off as you go? Or do you need to clarify the top 3 priorities that you focus on each day?
  • record progress. Keep track of what you have achieved. Acknowledging progress allows us to build our sense that we are coping, and that we are able to achieve what we need to.

Finally – get clear. What really is achievable with focus, dedicated energy and improved efficiency, and what is simply not humanly possible?

Then give yourself a break, and get on with what is possible.

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