How to Improve Your Time Management

Kaley Amonett
June 2021
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There are only 24 hours in a day: This cliché phrase, usually uttered when someone is overwhelmed with work, is true. There are only 24 hours in a day — so it is important to make the most of them.

According to a 2014 survey by Salary.com, 89 percent of employees reported wasting at least 30 minutes of time at work every day, with approximately 26 percent of people wasting two or more hours (Salary.com, 2014).

To be a good steward of your time and up your productivity and opportunity for professional development, it is crucial that you manage your work day wisely, determining how best to eliminate distractions to focus more energy on your requisite tasks.

Use the following time management tips to help increase your efficiency and productivity at work.

Eliminate Anxious Distractions by Gathering Tasks in One Place

As much as possible, put all items that need to be addressed in one place. Consolidate email accounts to appear in one inbox. Consolidate voicemails by setting either your work or personal phone numbers to forward calls to the other. Write down any in-person requests in one notepad designated for tasks or in a note-taking app on your phone. (Using a smartphone app will make writing down tasks on the go much easier and reduce paper usage.) Keep just one box for all physical items you need to sort through (Crenshaw, August 2018). It is much easier to keep track of which tasks you need to accomplish when everything you need to address is in one place.

Knowing that everything is accounted for in these designated locations helps eliminate anxious distractions — those niggling worries that you are forgetting something important — from breaking into your focus (Allen, 2018).

Then, at least once per day, go through your inboxes, notepad, and physical items, organizing them by first asking yourself, “Is this an actionable item?” Is it an email you need to respond to? A phone call you need to return? A form you need to fill out or file? If so, it is an actionable item.

If there is nothing to be done, delete it. If there is nothing to do now, but it is an idea or task you might need to reconsider later, keep it but move on.

If the item is actionable, consider the following (Allen, 2018):

  • Can you do it now?
  • Can you delegate it?
  • Can you defer it until later?

Do It Now

If the next actionable item for your task will take less than two minutes, do it. You will take longer to schedule a time to complete the activity later than you will to just get it done.

Delegate It

Are you the right person for that task, or is there a staff member who would be better suited to complete it? If the answer is the latter, delegate the duty. (Be sure to keep a list of delegated tasks to check in on later!)

Defer It

If the action item takes longer than two minutes and is something only you can do, defer it. If the task needs to be completed by a certain date, schedule a time in your calendar to complete it. If the assignment needs to be done as soon as possible, put it on your priority task list.

Determining Priorities

When determining your priorities, ask yourself the following questions (Kaye, 2017):

  1. Will it move you closer to a primary goal?
  2. What are the benefits of completing the task?
  3. Does it have to be done today?
  4. What is the worst that could happen if this does not get done today?

You can also use an urgency-importance framework to help you determine which tasks should be done first (Dust, 2021).

  • Not Urgent/Not Important. These tasks do not need to be done — spend your time completing more important items.
  • Urgent/Not Important. If possible, try to delegate these tasks.
  • Urgent/Important. Schedule time to complete this task as soon as possible.
  • Not Urgent/Important. You need to schedule time to complete this task, but it can be done later.

To-Do List Recommendations

Some people find deep satisfaction in crossing items off to-do lists. However, one drawback of to-do lists is that by their very nature they don’t properly prioritize tasks. Yes, you can go down the list and check off tasks as you complete them, and you are getting things done — but not necessarily in the best order.

When formulating a to-do list, always keep your priorities in mind.

Highlighter Method

Once you have determined your priorities, your task list should reflect them. Identify three activities from the list as your top priorities and highlight them. As you complete a highlighted item, check it off the list. Identify your next highest priority task and highlight that. You should always have three highlighted tasks, and you should only work to complete those items. By using this method, all your tasks are in one place, but they are prioritized in a way that allows you to work more efficiently (Kaye, 2017).

Batch Tasks

One method of getting more work done more efficiently is batching — doing similar tasks one after another. Some examples of tasks you could batch include making every phone call on your to-do list, responding to all unanswered emails, etc. Allowing your brain to focus on one type of activity, such as making phone calls, allows you to focus longer (Kaye, 2017).

Focus on One Task at a Time

People often think they are multitasking, but what they’re actually doing is “switchtasking” — switching back and forth quickly between tasks (Crenshaw, August 2018).

While most people who are switchtasking think they are accomplishing more, typically, they are not.

Instead, when switchtasking (Crenshaw, August 2018):

  • The time it takes to complete a task increases. Research has shown that even brief mental blocks created by switching between tasks can cost as much as 40 percent of a person’s productive time (American Psychological Association, 2006).
  • The quality of work decreases. When your focus is split between multiple tasks, you are less likely to notice errors such as typos and miscalculations.
  • Stress increases. Because your productivity goes down with switchtasking, the increased amount of time taken to complete tasks and the decreased amount of time that remains to complete other duties can increase stress.

Fight Procrastination by Breaking Down Large Tasks

Individuals sometimes procrastinate because they feel anxiety or dread about important tasks that await them (Swanson, 2016).

Instead of putting off a big job because it seems overwhelming, break it down into smaller, less intimidating tasks (Kaye, 2017).

For example, a lot goes into planning an alumni event. Instead of looking at the function as one big task, divide it into smaller bits: determine the date, develop a budget, decide what programs to offer, etc. These smaller tasks will feel much more manageable.

Allow Time for Emergencies

When you have an extraordinary number of unfinished tasks, you may be tempted to schedule out every available minute of your day — but don’t.

Set aside time each day for unplanned items that come up throughout the workweek and must be completed right away. Reserving this time allows you to address issues as they arise without throwing off the rest of your schedule. There is peace of mind in knowing you already have time set aside that you can dedicate to the unexpected (Kaye, 2017).

Bonus: If no high-priority tasks come up, you will have extra time to dedicate toward accomplishing other goals.

Do What Works for You

Time management methods are not “one size fits all”; each person has a different preferred way of doing things. In fact, time management experts suggest there are up to 10 different time management styles. How you opt to manage your time likely varies, depending largely on factors such as whether you prefer your work to be consistent or to have variety in what you consider a success — such as finishing tasks, brainstorming new ideas, making genuine connections with colleagues, etc. (Crenshaw, July 2018).

When you are trying to form new time-management habits, do not fret if something is not working. Adapt your process in the way that works best for you, and remember — it takes a while for new habits to stick. Be patient and allow yourself grace as you try to build these new time-management skills into your daily life.

Are You Wasting Time at Work?

Most people waste time without ever realizing they are doing so. To bring attention to ways you might inadvertently waste time, keep a log of your daily activities. Then write down each time you change course. Do this for a few days to discover your biggest time wasters (Tulgan, 2021).

Example:

8:00 a.m. — Sat down at desk and checked emails

8:15 a.m. — Got up to get coffee

8:20 a.m. — Sat back down and started writing daily task list

8:30 a.m. — Got up to use the bathroom

8:35 a.m. — Sat back down and started drafting email response to staff member

8:40 a.m. — Incoming phone call from friend

9:00 a.m. — Resumed drafting email response to staff member

Kaley Amonett is the communications specialist for the American Camp Association.

References

Allen, D. (2018, October 12). Getting things done (Video). LinkedIn Learning. Retrieved from linkedin.com/learning/getting-things-done

American Psychological Association. (2006, March 20). Multitasking: switching costs. American Psychological Association. Retrieved from apa.org/research/action/multitask

Crenshaw, D. (2018, July 2). Finding your time management style (Video). LinkedIn Learning. Retrieved from linkedin.com/learning/finding-your-time-management-style

Crenshaw, D. (2018, August 13). Time management fundamentals (Video). LinkedIn Learning. Retrieved from linkedin.com/learning/time-management-fundamentals

Dust, S. (2021, January 21). Four ways to improve your time management. Psychology Today. Retrieved from psychologytoday.com/us/blog/what-we-really-want-in-leader/202101/four-ways-improve-your-time-management

Kaye, S. (2017, October 16). Managing to-do lists (Video). LinkedIn Learning. Retrieved from linkedin.com/learning/managing-to-do-lists

Salary.com. (2014, March 19). 2014 wasting time at work survey. Salary.com. Retrieved from salary.com/chronicles/2014-wasting-time-at-work/

Tulgan, B. (2021, April 15). How to work hard and work smart. Psychology Today. Retrieved from psychologytoday.com/us/blog/navigating-the-new-workplace/202104/how-work-hard-and-work-smart


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