Where did the time go? 5 tips for handling your only finite resource

When talking about daily challenges, one of the most frequent comments I hear revolves around time management. “There’s just so much to do”, “I can’t get things done because of this slew of emails I’m getting every day”, “I’m drowning”. Sound familiar? Time really is the only resource you have that is finite. And everybody gets the same amount of hours per day. It’s just that some people have a better handle on utilizing their time than others. Let’s take a look at some things you could consider to help with time management.

Track your time

I know, I know, it’s a cliché. “If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.” But it’s the truth. If you don’t know where you spend your time, you won’t know how do manage it more effectively. The first step towards better time management is to understand exactly how you’re currently allocating your time. This can be done in a variety of ways, such as by manually logging your activities, by using built-in timers that are available in systems like Jira, or by automatically tracking which applications you’re using through software like RescueTime or DeskTime. I find the latter eye opening, especially if you compare your own estimates of your allocations with you actual ones. I recommend capturing your estimates on a regular basis, as it gives you an idea of your perception versus reality and helps you become more accurate and more mindful of your time. As an aside, you may also want to check how much time you spend on your phone. If you have an iphone, go to Settings -> Battery and click on an app under “Battery Usage”. Or you can download one of the apps available, such as Moment or QualityTime (for Android). After seeing the results, you’ll most definitely promise yourself to do better.

Analyze: Too much, enough, too little

In one of my previous posts, I outlined a quick method of assessing staffing needs. Group your most common activities into three columns: things that you’re doing too much of, enough of, and not enough of.

What changes can you make in order to find the best possible balance? Which items in the “too much” columns can be delegated or scaled down? Are there any process improvements that would help eliminate some of your involvement? The three column method can help you visualize where the time sucks are and where you need to increase your activities, and it can jumpstart initiatives for change.

Post “did” and “do”

I’m a huge advocate for daily stand-ups. They get you focused in the morning, allow you to discuss any challenges that are coming up for you or your teammates, and to celebrate wins from the previous day. They also force you to review what you had set out to do and what you actually ended up doing. Similarly, posting your accomplishments from yesterday and your priorities for today helps you better understand where your time management is lacking, so that you can work on focusing on the right things.

Find your own methods for handling emails

There’s a slew of articles on time management with regard to emails. Most of them recommend that you block out time for emails and that you don’t check your inbox first thing in the morning. However, I think that there’s no silver bullet when it comes to email management. Some people do better with dedicated blocks for email, while others set up filters to help prioritize items. I typically try to stay on top my inbox, as I find it more relaxing to minimize the number of unread messages. If something takes less than two to three minutes to respond, I tend to respond immediately. Otherwise, I flag the email and come back to it when I have finished the task on which I’m focused at the time. A good rule of thumb is to stick with whatever approach causes you the least anxiety.

A couple of tips I can share:

  1. Don’t be shy when it comes to requesting to be removed from a thread if you don’t need to be involved.
  2. Keep your responses short whenever possible. Sometimes, a “sounds good”, “go for it”, or “ok” is all that’s needed.

Get the “dreaded” stuff out of the way

If you have some things on your to do list that are uncomfortable, tedious, or difficult, get them out of the way first whenever possible. If you don’t, then you might subconsciously want to stall by spending more time on other tasks than you really need to. If you tackle the “dreaded” stuff first, you typically work faster in order to get it out of the way and get to the more pleasant priorities.

Time is a precious, finite resource. Be keenly aware how you’re spending it and track your progress, but don’t let time management itself eat up too much time.

What about you? What time management tips would you like to share?


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