Managing Time Before It Manages You

Written by Beth Cochran

Peter F. Drucker once said, "Until we can manage time, we can manage nothing else." It has also been said that time is the most valuable and precious commodity. Like a commodity, time is used as an input in the production of other goods or services, but, unlike most other commodities, it cannot be replenished. People know that time is valuable and that if they squander it, they can never get it back. So, why do people have such a challenge managing it? There are a variety of reasons: they may not have the tools and techniques to manage it properly, they may be overloaded, they could be working on the wrong things, or there could be some psychology at play if procrastination is a common occurrence.

It is worth it for you to invest in getting to the root of whatever is zapping your time; you should be honest with yourself about procrastination tactics, whether what you are doing is truly effective or just busy work, or if you are simply taking on too many responsibilities.

Once you diagnose the underlying cause of the mismanagement, you will be more equipped to identify which technique will work best to get the most out of your hours.

There is no shortage of time-saving, productivity techniques, however, it is imperative for you to look at the types of tasks you are doing. Are you merely staying busy or are these activities actually producing the big movements you want? Busy does not always translate to effective. Remember the adage: work smarter, not harder.

Be mindful with your time management. Try tracking all of your activities in a journal or on your cell phone for a full week; write down how long it takes you to complete each task that you accomplish. Doing so has a few benefits: It will help you understand how much you can feasibly get done in a day or week, allow you to identify where you are spending your time, enable you to see how much time is spent on results-producing activities versus time-wasting or unproductive activities, and help you pinpoint which tasks can be automated or delegated.

Once there is a clear understanding of how long each activity takes and where time is being spent, you will be better equipped to plan out your schedule. The following techniques will help you manage your time more effectively. Keep in mind, however, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Through trial and error and an understanding of where and why you may be wasting your time, you will be able to craft a customized time management system suited specifically for you.

Start each day planning your schedule. Keep this planning session to 30 minutes or less. You might even end your day by jotting down the most important things you need to tackle the next day; this action will also help you rest easier.

Be realistic when creating your to-do list. People often fall into the trap of believing they can tackle more than they are capable of doing. While this belief can at times be motivating and kick them into high gear, in most cases, it has the opposite effect. When people see their to-do list mounting and each task is taking longer than expected, it tends to take the wind out of their sails. As a result, self-defeating thoughts creep in and the temptation to just call it a day increases. Therefore, it is important to be realistic in setting your daily agenda. Which 20 percent of your activities will produce 80 percent of the results? Not the other way around.

Eat the frog first. In more palatable terms, tackle the big, most important tasks first. Getting these out of the way early in the day produces a positive effect that tends to snowball throughout the rest of the day. You will feel accomplished and less stressed knowing the most important (and often most challenging) tasks are out of the way.

Before each task, take a few minutes to determine what results you want. Knowing what a successful outcome looks like will help keep you on point.

Focus intensely. Create a virtual (or real) "do not disturb" sign. This sign will apply to others, as well as the self-sabotaging habits we all tend to succumb to, such as perusing social media websites. Turn off notifications on your desktop and phone, do not answer calls unless it is an absolute emergency, close out other browser windows, and tell your team you are going into "do not disturb" mode so you can concentrate on the task at hand.

Do not get mired in the details. This tip is particularly challenging for perfectionists, but it is important to know where to draw the line.

Fixating on perfection can often lead to wasted time. Always ask if the extra time spent will truly make a difference.

Set a time limit on each task. Sometimes having a time constraint will force you to focus and work with greater efficiency.

Build in buffer time. In a perfect world, meetings do not run longer than anticipated, unexpected events do not pop up throughout the day, and everything gets done according to schedule. In reality, the unexpected often occurs, so be sure to build in buffer time between tasks so your schedule does not snowball.

Simplify. Are you saying "yes" to too much? It might be time to get ruthless with your time. Remember, it is your most precious commodity. What will truly produce more value for you, your business, or your family? Sometimes that involves saying "yes" to other's requests, but most often it does not.

Utilize downtime. Have a list of quick, three- to five-minute tasks saved in your phone or written in your planner that you can do while waiting for an appointment, riding the subway, or waiting for a delayed meeting to start. Having these tasks on-hand will allow you to maximize downtime.

Clear your head. Allow for time to breathe, meditate, walk, or whatever you need to do to center yourself. Running from task to task for long stretches of time will wear on you, so be sure to build time in to recharge.quote

Thanks to humanity's obsession with time and wrangling it into submission, there are numerous tools available to help you organize, delegate, automate, and simplify tasks.

For example, Todoist is a to-do list management tool that enables you to create, schedule, and check off tasks; Teamwork, Asana, and Basecamp allow you to create projects and then set tasks and subtasks within that project with deadlines and individuals responsible for completing them; and RescueTime is a time management software tool that operates in the background of your computer to show you where you spend your time and provides tools to help you be more productive.

In our digital world, there is a bevy of automation tools at our disposal. If you find yourself doing repetitive tasks at work related to customer management, marketing, or ordering, it might be time to invest in a software that can handle those tasks for you. There are numerous software systems out there that can automate appointment reminders, supply reorders, e-mail marketing, and more.
While there is not any one technique, tool, or system that will solve everyone's time-management challenges, there are plenty of options out there to help you find what works best for you. Experiment until you find the best solution. Remember, do not confuse being busy with being productive. Zero in on those 20 percent activities that will produce 80 percent of the results.

Beth Cochran is the co-founder and CEO of Wired PR, a PR and content marketing firm that specializes in business-to-business marketing, and founder of SuccessLab, a mastermind and resource for entrepreneurs.

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