Why is time management important? Time management is what I call a career-limiting or career-enhancing skill. If you’re good at it, your boss will love you—that’s career-enhancing. If you’re bad at it, your boss will deplore your lack of time management skills—that’s career-limiting.
In my first post on time management (Jan. 2016), I gave unmanageable folks tips on how to get better at managing time. In this update, I’m going to focus on why time management is important for you. This advice can also help you managers with an employee that struggles to manage her/his time.
This article from Mindtools gives the background for the urgent-important matrix.
“In a 1954 speech to the Second Assembly of the World Council of Churches, former U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who was quoting Dr J. Roscoe Miller, president of Northwestern University, said: ‘I have two kinds of problems: the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent.’ This ‘Eisenhower Principle’ is said to be how he organized his workload and priorities.”
(NOTE: In case you’re not up on US history, “Dwight David Eisenhower was the 34th President of the United States from 1953 until 1961. He was a five-star general in the United States Army during World War II and served as Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Forces in Europe.” Thank you, Wikipedia.)
I figure if the principle worked for Eisenhower, it can work for you and me. Here is the urgent vs. important matrix that can guide your decisions and shows why time management is important.
Graphic saved from Naldz Graphics
How do you spend your time?
If you’re like most people, you spend a lot of time on the urgent but not important. And too little time on the important but not urgent.
How much time are you spending checking email? Or checking Facebook or Twitter? I know many people think they can multitask without penalty, but recent studies show that is not true.
Follow the tips below to help you manage time.
What’s truly important to you?
In our post on your core values we talk about you figuring out what your core values are. Would focusing on your core values help you manage your time better?
If one of your core values sound like these, how would it impact how you manage your time?
Remember our values drive our beliefs which drive our actions. Tie your core values to time management to see growth on your part.
How much does your time cost your employer?
As the photo below shows, time is money. How much does your time cost your employer? It’s more than you think. Ask your boss.
When your boss gives you a task, he/she usually knows how long that task should take you. For example, let’s say your boss asks you to put together a table showing the last five projects your team has finished. For each project, he/she wants to see how many hours your team spent on the project, how much time was budgeted for the project, and the outcome for each project. The team will use the data to do a cost-benefit analysis of each project.
How much time do you think you’ll need to put that table together? How much time does your boss think you’ll need? You can always ask, then make sure you focus your time accordingly. Turn off distractions and get your work done.
Time management tips you need to know
Why is time management important? Because we all have the same 24 hours, 7 days a week. Those who are good at managing their time can become stars at work. Those who struggle to manage their time might find their career path is bumpy.
Years ago, my mentor had me take a Priority Management tool. It showed that I struggled with time management—no big surprise to either of us.
My mentor, however, is a left-brained engineer who manages details beautifully. He told me I needed to take a time management course. When I got done laughing, I said, “No thanks.”
I am firmly convinced that most time management courses are designed for people like him–people who make schedules months in advance and manage their time with no effort. I’ve taken those regular time management courses and they just don’t work with my brain.
Therefore, I’ve spent years collecting time management tips to help me manage my time and workload. I share these tips with love for people who also struggle with time management.
Tip #1. Know what time of day you’re at your best
Are you a morning person or a night owl? Our energy levels are guided by our circadian rhythms.
I’m a morning person. I am at my best between 5 and 10 a.m. By 3 p.m., my brain is pretty tired. My husband is an owl. His body clock doesn’t get really going until late morning. Over 30 years of marriage, we’ve learned to balance who does what according to those rhythms. And it has worked well.
Classroom trainers and course developers know that there are three times when participants are likely to fall asleep or check out.
- 10:30-11:00 a.m.
- 1:30-2:00 p.m.
- 3-3:30 p.m.
Therefore, they schedule activities during those times to keep people’s energy up. If you are ever asked to be a speaker, avoid those times or you may find your participants dozing off.
Key to mastering how you manage your time and energy is to recognize when you are sharpest. That’s the time to take on the most challenging tasks. Leave other tasks to do when you are more tired.
2. Remove distractions
This means shut down your email, turn off your phone, and close your office door if you have one. If you don’t have an office, is there a workroom or an empty office you can use that will allow you to shut out others?
This one time management tip has dramatically improved my ability to focus. I had one project that took 2.5 weeks because I removed distractions. Had I not, the project easily could have taken a month.
Tip #3. Break projects into steps or phases
Some people find themselves overwhelmed when facing a big project. They find themselves paralyzed, figuratively, and are unable to get anything done. Thus, they put off starting and find themselves smack up against a deadline. Their anxiety keeps them up at night, which makes them even less efficient.
Take that project and break it down into steps, phases, or milestones. Map out what you have to do to meet objectives in each phase. Then focus totally on those objectives only. If you need to break a phase into smaller parts, do that. Don’t let the project overwhelm you before you even get started.
Tip #4. Prioritize your to-do list
This sounds so simple, but it isn’t simple for lots of folks. Do you start on the big task first or start with small tasks so that you can see some progress?
Think of this as if you were paying off credit cards. Some people start by paying down the card with the highest interest rate, even if that’s the biggest balance. For other people, they start by paying down the credit card with the lowest balance, so they can get to a win faster. Small wins can give you momentum to take on the bigger balance.
Another question to consider is what tasks need to be accomplished by a particular time, say by noon today? Obviously, you focus on those immediate tasks and leave others for the next go-around.
What tasks can you do by yourself and what tasks do you need a coworker to contribute to? If your coworker also struggles with time management, that’s going to have an impact on you. Remember, though, you can only control you, not your coworker or others.
And very importantly, if your boss tells you he wants something done NOW, do it. Don’t be like Joshua.
Tip #5. Organize yourself
Are you a filer or a piler? Do you file paperwork in a system so you know where you can find it when you need to? Or do you work surrounded by piles of paper, yet you can quickly put your hands on whatever you need when you need it?
I’m a piler. I’ve tried filing things in folders on or in my desk. I then forget the folder even exists, and I go crazy trying to find a document that I am sure I kept.
When I worked at the Government Accountability Office, before they went digital, the evaluators kept everything in well-organized notebooks. They could find anything at the drop of a hat.
When I started coaching executives, I tried having a folder for each client. That quickly became inefficient. So, I created a 3-ring notebook for each client. All my notes went in my copy of that client’s notebook. So did copies of any info I gave the client. I could always find what I needed in each client’s notebook. I also created a notebook for the client so he/she could keep track of our work.
For me, using notebooks helps me stay organized.
For more ideas on time management that fit your particular style, check out these books. (Click on the photos to buy from Amazon.)
Email me and let me know which time management tips help you become more efficient.
© Pamela A. Scott, 2017