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Beat the Clock With These 14 Easy Time Management Tips

In Human Resources — by Riia O'Donnell


“Time management” may be the biggest misnomer in the world. Who can really manage time? Time travel isn’t possible yet, and neither are Zack Morris-style time-outs. So since we can’t really manage time, we need to consider managing ourselves.

Time is moving forward whether we’re on the bus or not. We do, however, have control over how we use it. Stop thinking of time as the enemy, and start thinking of time in more positive terms: a resource to be used, a commodity to be conserved.

A CareerBuilder survey found that three of the top four productivity killers at work all revolve around digital distractions (the fourth killer: gossip). But there are ways to save time at work beyond laying off Facebook and cutting back on water cooler conversation. Here are some easy time management tips to start using your precious resource wisely.

[Tweet “Cell phones, gossip, the internet and social media are the top 4 time-wasters at work”]

Take Out the Clocks

Yes, there’s a clock right here in this blog post. But if you have dozens of clocks in workspace, get rid of them. The only one you need is the one on your computer screen. If you’re a time-waster, you probably look at (and stress over) them dozens of times a day. The clock faces stare back, taunting and unsympathetic. Clocks are an unnecessary distraction – especially that one on the wall that ticks loudly when it’s quiet!

Start and Stop Smarter

Start your day with at least 15 minutes of settling-in time – no meetings, no phone calls, no emails. Spend time planning the day, the upcoming week, organizing the materials you need, etc. And end your day the same way: with 15 minutes of wrap-up time, to ensure you start tomorrow without the usual morning panic.

Miss the Meeting

Do you spend endless time in meetings to which you contribute nothing? The Monday morning manager’s meeting was always mine. We spent hours sitting around listening to what happened in everyone’s department last week. Too late to offer help or advice, we all just waited our turn to report and make a run for it. If you’re really not offering anything but your own department’s statistics, send an email. If a body’s required, send a staffer. They’ll be thrilled to be in the big league, and your valuable time will be saved.

And if you’re the meeting organizer, ask yourself if the meeting is absolutely necessary, or if digital communication – be it email, Slack, or Google Hangouts – would suffice. Unless simultaneous input is required, why is everyone dropping what they’re doing to meet?

Think Like a Shrink

Therapists rarely meet with patients for an entire hour. The appointment usually ends around the 45 or 50 minute mark. If you host individual meetings in your office, take a cue from them and turn the hour you’ve scheduled into 50 minutes of actual face time. Then use the last 10 minutes to write up notes, plan any follow-up, or deal with issues discussed.

[Tweet “Think like a shrink and hold 50-minute meetings, instead of a full hour”]

Strategic Scheduling

Every office has one or two people who drone on endlessly and never get to the point. If you need to meet with one of the more verbose members of your team, be strategic with your scheduling. Organize the meeting right before lunch, or immediately before another appointment. Either their grumbling tummies will tell them it’s time to go, or you’ll have a built-in excuse to wrap things up. Never schedule a meeting with the office gap at the end of the day – unless you’ve brought a change of clothes for tomorrow!

Clear Desk, Clear Mind

A cluttered workspace can result in stress and distraction. Take 10 minutes and organize your office. It’s an after-school project that result in major league benefits.

Take a Break from Your Inbox

Email. We couldn’t operate without but man is it distracting. So turn off your pop-up and sound notifications. Set aside a couple of dedicated windows of time each day to deal with email, and then close it out. It’s much more time-effective to fire off 15 two-minute emails in a 30-minute chunk than it is to interrupt your work and send those emails at disparate times of the day.

Be Particular with the Perks

Some workplaces – notably some well-known startups – have awesome perks: juice bars, pool tables, arcade games and the like. Such perks are undoubtedly cool and you hope that employees feel like they can take full advantage. But if your morning break bleeds into lunch time and you’re still there, you’re wasting time. Remember: It’s a pick-me-up perk, not a procrastination station.

Me Time

In addition to supervising, you actually, you know, have your own work to do. Schedule “me time” every day – hopefully during a part of the day that has a lull. One of the smartest things I ever did as a manager was scheduling my lunch after my staff returned from theirs. I had a bit of quiet time when they were gone to do my work, and they were able to get assignments done while I was out of the office – everybody wins. I didn’t get to eat lunch with the crew often, but I didn’t take a pile of work home every night either.

Multitasking is Overrated

You might be able to navigate that software program while you’re engaged in a phone conversation, but chances are you won’t do either well. Some multitasking is great – checking your email when you’re on hold, for example. All too often, though, you end up making more work for yourself. I’ve spent way too much time going back and correcting mistakes I made while multitasking – errors I never would have made had I been focused on just one thing at a time.

[Tweet “Multitasking can lead to mistakes that cost you more time than you saved to begin with”]

Procrastination Elimination

Procrastination is a major source of wasted time. There are endless tomes about the reasons we procrastinate:

  • Fear of failure
  • Lacking a clear goal
  • Fear of success
  • Too large a task
  • Perfectionism

But whatever the motivation, procrastination is a huge-time waster, and it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. The more time you spend worrying about not having enough time to get things done, the less time you’ll have to do them. Close your eyes and charge forward. Getting it wrong is better than not getting it done. It’s unlikely that you’ll miss the mark completely, and at least you’ll have made the effort.

Project Paralysis

A huge project is staring you in the face and you’re terrified. You are convinced you don’t have the time, the energy, or the inclination to get it done. But it’s on your desk, mocking you just the same. You can wrangle it into control and get it done by writing down a game plan on how you’ll tackle it. The key to taking on a big project and is breaking it down into smaller, more manageable sections.    

Make Mini Deadlines

If you have a large project due in a month, it’s all too easy just to put it off until the last week. Divide your work into smaller tasks and assign each task a strict (but reasonable) deadline, so you can stay on track and get the overall project done on time. If one task is taking too long, you know where to apply pressure. If another is done before deadline, you have a bit of breathing room. If you’re depending on others for input, give them deadlines as well. Don’t let others’ procrastination derail your work!

Dear Diary

If you’re still looking for ways to get time under control, create a day diary. You know how when people are watching their weight, they sometimes write down everything they eat? Well, this is the same with time. It takes discipline, and people may look at you funny, but write down everything you do and how long it’s taken, all day long for a week. Analyze the information to see what your biggest time wasters are, and strategize ways to eliminate them.

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