Managing and controlling time is simple in theory but can be difficult to do. North American culture is very hectic. Meeting the demands of home, community and career can be extremely challenging. Better use of time can help. However, no one is able to manage time - we can only manage how we use it.
Still, our own behaviour can make effective time management difficult. For instance, we may choose to do what we like before doing things we dislike. We do things we already know how to do faster than those we do not. We choose what interests us before what bores us, and we try to meet the demands of others before our own needs. We all have unique personalities and our own way of making decisions and ordering tasks. Examining the way we manage our time can help change established and ineffective patterns.
We also allow many time wasters into our daily lives. They include long phone calls, unproductive meetings, unclear goals, failing to delegate, and ineffective communication. It is common to want to please everyone and have a hard time saying no.
You can better manage time using the following strategies:
Time management starts with reflecting on and determining your goals. Consider your values and what is important in your life. Think about what makes a difference to you and those you love. Goals are like dreams with deadlines. Without clear goals, it is very easy to coast through life making no definite commitments.
For goals to be successful, they must be realistic, simple, measurable, and flexible. Decide what goals you want to achieve. Prioritize them based on their importance and value to you. If you juggle home, career and community involvement, decide on the priority each holds in your life and then set goals for each area.
Developing both short and long-term goals is also important. Short-term goals can be achieved within a few hours, days or months. Long-term goals take more time, possibly years. For instance, your short-term goals may include re-organizing the kitchen cabinets or reading two articles for work. Long-term goals might involve repainting the house or writing a proposal for a new position at work.
Decide whether the goals you have in mind are urgent, important, busy work or really only time-wasters. You know your own body rhythms. Plan to use your best time of day to tackle more difficult and important goals. Save less important, busy tasks for times when you are less productive. For instance, you may want to be in top form when planning an important event with complex details. On the other hand, routine jobs like cleaning the bathroom can be done when you are tired or have limited time.
Use the following questions to help develop your goals.
Once goals are established, prioritized, and divided into short and long-term goals, decide which ones can be delegated. You cannot expect to be able to do it all yourself. It is often our own inability to give up control or a desire not to burden others that limits us.
Many people are available to help. Some people in your life may be easily able to take on a few extra tasks and lighten your load. They might actually be thrilled to be asked for help and enjoy being involved. Kids really enjoy helping parents and taking part in projects. This helps build their self-esteem and encourages a community building and helping philosophy. Get your family and friends involved.
Excellent time management tools are readily available. If you are not using a calendar or day planner, get one and try it out for a few months. Making 'to do' lists is essential and help provide direction. It is also very satisfying to finish tasks and cross them off the 'to do' list.
Timing some of your activities will give you a realistic idea of how much time each one actually requires. You can also pinpoint where you are spending too much time on unimportant activities. Sharing your schedule with your family will help in planning and delegation.
You must also set aside time to plan. Take a few minutes each day or at the beginning of each week. Establish your priorities and how you plan to accomplish your goals. A daily plan with a detailed schedule and your 'to do' list helps in managing time well. Group similar activities together and note quick tasks that can be done in ten-minute periods. Set aside longer blocks of time for more complex activities. Try setting deadlines to guide the time spent on each activity.
Keeping your space organized and tidy is very helpful. If you know where things are, you spend less time looking for them. Establish certain places for items that you use regularly. If this is not your usual habit, make a map or inventory and try to put things back in the same place each time. Get rid of extra paper and clutter, and clean up regularly.
Interruptions from the phone, having people drop by, spending extended periods of time surfing the Internet, watching TV or e-mailing can all waste time you could spend more productively. Although it is good to socialize and relax, it is easy to fall behind on meeting goals and increase your stress level. If this is true for you, try reducing the amount of time or set aside specific time for these activities.
Respecting the time of both yourself and others is important. Do not let others abuse your time. Role-model your respect for time of others, as this sends a clear message that time is important to you.
Time spent waiting for appointments, for other people, on hold on the phone, and in line-ups can be used to plan, make lists, and read or write short notes.
Faced with a big project that needs to get done, you may be too stressed to focus. Try doing simple, routine tasks first to gain confidence and reduce your stress.
Try to end each day on a positive note by successfully completing a task. Choose one that you know you can finish in the time remaining.
Flexibility needs to be built into your schedule. The unexpected happens and priorities change. Having open time in your schedule reduces the stress of having to redo all the previous planning. If the time remains open, keep a list of tasks that could be done on short notice. Be prepared to revise your goals as things change in your life.
Remember to reward yourself for a job well done. It is hard to become organized if it does not come naturally to you. Take the time to acknowledge your success as you become organized and manage time more productively.