Why would you want to become more efficient at managing your time?

Managing your time more efficiently means that at the end of each day you have:

  • spent time doing the important things in your life
  • not spent time doing the unimportant things
  • more free time for yourself to spend relaxing, doing things you love or with people you love
  • the ability to go to sleep feeling good about what you have achieved rather than worrying about all the things still not done

Can anyone become more efficient at managing their time?

There are two types of people in the world; those with a clock in their head (time watchers) and those without (time enjoyers). If you are a time watcher then, yes, time management skills will come more naturally to you. Time watchers can be chronically early and find it pretty easy to plan their day in their heads. They tend to achieve more than time enjoyers. Time watchers do, however, find it more challenging to remember to live in the moment and enjoy the journey. They find it hard to bring their focus back from the destination to the ‘now’. They live in the future rather than the present.

Time enjoyers can be chronically late as they are unaware of time passing and can really focus upon and enjoy the moment. As a result, however, they don’t always achieve as much as they might like out of life … and compared with time watchers, may feel that they waste time.

Fortunately both types of people can learn the traits of the other:

  • Time watchers can learn to enjoy the moment while still being aware of time. They can learn to be less driven by time while still achieving the same results.
  • Time enjoyers can learn to be make more efficient use of their time while still enjoying the journey and living in the present.

Regardless of which type of person you are, there are benefits to learning time management skills in our busy world.

Does managing your time mean you have to become rigid and lose the joy and flexibility from your day?

Not at all. If you are using your time management skills effectively, you will be:

  • Remembering to focus upon the joy in every moment of the day; no matter what you are doing;
  • Creating more free time for yourself in which you can be as joyous and flexible as you would like knowing that you feel happier having done all the tasks that needed doing in less time than it would have taken you previously.

What does it take?

There are 6 easy steps to managing your time and creating more free time for yourself:

  1. Set goals
  2. Prioritize
  3. Know where your time is currently going
  4. Prepare daily action plans
  5. Defeat time robbers
  6. Make efficiency gains

And the magical key to the whole process … HAVE FUN while you are doing what you are doing (regardless of what it is). It is wonderful to have time to enjoy the people and things you love, but it is a fact of life that there are any number of other things you will have to do in your daily life. The key is to be present and find ways to enjoy the moment while you are doing the things you both have to do and love to do. That way, not one single moment of your life is lost to unnecessary misery and you will have more joy and laughter in every moment.

Step 1: Set goals

Goals are the starting point of effective time management. Once you have them, you use them as your personal time management tool. If you find yourself doing something that doesn’t fit within your goals or doesn’t help you achieve the results you require, tell yourself that you don’t have time for it.

It is the time we spend doing unimportant things that steals from us the time we could better spend on the important things in life (whatever they are). It is when we are not finding the time to spend on the things that matter, that we begin to experience time related stress.

If you want to do this step really well, you will force yourself into that space of ruthless honesty we rarely enter. Work out what is really important in life to you; not other people, not ‘society’; but you.

Step 2: Determine your priorities

Working out your goals isn’t enough. Once you have set yourself some goals it is time to prioritize them. There are goals that are critical to your life and other goals that are just ‘nice to have’. One of the key secrets to being a great time manager is to focus at least some of your efforts every day on the critical goals; the things that will really help to shape your life, business or career.

Step 3: Know where your time goes

Budgeting your time is like budgeting your money. The first step to being good at it is to understand where it is currently being spent. How do you currently spend your day?

Did you know, for example, that research by the A.C. Nielson groups showed that the average American spends more than 4 hours each day watching TV and less than 3.5 minutes engaging in meaningful conversation with their children?  If you were unaware that such a large portion of your day was spent doing this activity, you might struggle to see how you could possibly fit in 30 minutes of exercise in your day.

How about the manager who keeps track and finds that he is spending 3.5 hours of every day in meetings, many of which do not produce outcomes or it is not necessary for him or her to attend? Knowing where the manager’s time is going, allows him/her to make choices about what is important to be achieved each day. If he or she made a decision not to attend even one of those meetings in a day, he or she may have an additional hour at the end of each day to spend with loved ones or relaxing.

Step 4: Daily action plans

Setting goals and prioritising them is not enough. You also need to plan the steps you will take to make them happen, the time you will spend on them and when you will spend that time.  You may need to have a big picture plan if your goals will take several weeks, months or years to achieve. As well you will need to plan what you will do every day. This type of plan is called a daily action plan.

A daily action plan:

  • Lists the tasks you wish to achieve today; AND
  • Prioritizes them so that the most important one goes to the top of the list and the least important one goes to the bottom of the list.

The key then is to start with the most important item on the list and work on it until it is finished or you have done everything you can. When the first item is finished, then you move onto the second item.

There will be many more fun jobs clamouring for your attention, but with a little bit of willpower you will be able to push them to the bottom of the  list, leave them there and focus your attention on the things that really matter. You will be able to do this because:

  • If the important things are done in your day, you have had the best day possible;
  • It doesn’t matter if the unimportant things aren’t done;
  • Doing unimportant things first means that you will have less time in the day to the unimportant things;
  • Doing unimportant things might mean that you have to spend an extra hour at working getting the important things done at the end of the day. This cuts into time you could have spent on yourself, doing things that are important to you or with people that matter to you.

Step 5: Defeating the time robbers

There are very clever sneaky things lurking in everyone’s day that attempt to rob them of time. Some of them are cunningly disguised as friends and work colleagues and others are cunningly disguised as ‘urgent’ tasks. There are two key steps to defeating time robbers:

  1. Become aware of who/what they are. Step 3 should have helped you here. They can be people who drop in and chat, they can be your inability to say ‘no’ when other people ask, time spent in airports or the number of emails you have to go through. In the words of a wise counsellor I know, ‘A problem well identified is a problem half solved’.
  2. Take steps to eliminate them from your life or reduce the amount of time they steal. There are any number of strategies you can use to defeat time robbers. Some are things such as, remove visitors chairs from your office to stop drop in callers staying very long, hold stand up meetings so they are shorter, use waiting time at the airport for planning etc.

The greatest time waster in many people’s lives is usually self inflicted … it is procrastination. Procrastination is a form of self inflicted punishment (usually guilt) before the reward (doing the job and feeling better). It is not a healthy activity to engage in. One way to overcome it is to be just as creative about finding reasons to do the job as you usually are about finding reasons not to do the job.

Step 6: Find ways to become more efficient

The last step to becoming more efficient at managing your time and free yourself up to become more efficient in the way you approach tasks. Don’t let the sound of this overwhelm you or make you feel bogged down in guidelines and rules. Becoming more efficient can be as simple as putting things back where you got them from, getting the children to clean up their toys after themselves etc. There is some amazing research showing the average number of days a year people spending looking for lost things at home and at work. You could, however, just bypass this process and put things back in the first place and free up the time you otherwise would have had to spend looking for it the next time you or someone else wanted it.

Other things you can do are simple things like batch jobs (do all of a similar type of job at the same time during a day), have clean working spaces, cook meals in bulk and freeze the leftovers and do all your shopping in one trip.

If you can implement these 6 steps for effective time management into your life, you will get more done in less time and free yourself up for the people and things that really matter to you.