Sometimes it can feel like there just aren’t enough hours in the day, especially when we’re working hard to achieve a goal. Luckily, there are tangible ways in which we can all become more efficient…
Studies show that people who manage their time positively feel more in control, happier, and more relaxed. (Strictly speaking, of course, we can’t ‘manage’ time, we can only manage the choices we make about how to use the available time.)
Although time management is a much-studied area, some key factors come up again and again. People who handle their time well tend to combine:
- Time-assessment behaviours
This involves having a realistic overview of your strengths and weaknesses, and identifying which areas to focus on to optimise your strengths and use your time effectively (rather than wasting time trying to develop areas that may not be worth your investment).
- Planning behaviours
Setting goals, making to-do lists and grouping tasks together are all examples of this. Clarifying your life goals is another example, as it helps you prioritise tasks and keeps you motivated.
- Monitoring behaviours
Keeping a time log is a good way to monitor your behaviour. Observing how you use your hours and minutes can help you focus on tasks and identify what changes you can make to eliminate activities that sap your time and do not help you to either achieve your goals or to relax and recharge.
Try not to spend so much time on planning and monitoring that it crowds out the actual tasks you need to do. Business experts often recommend limiting planning to 30 minutes at the start of the day. Be wary, too, of ‘analysis paralysis’, whereby you get so caught up in trying to optimise your plans that you don’t actually act on them. Time planning needs to be practical, not perfectionistic, to avoid procrastination.
Deciding on priorities
If you’re struggling to decide which tasks to prioritise, try evaluating each one using the decision matrix below. It’s based on US President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s remark that,
What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.
Crises and deadlines should come first, but usually aren’t very common. After that, goals and relationships take precedence over interruptions.
Emails: the four ‘D’s
Bombarded by distracting emails? Occupational psychologist Emma Donaldson-Feilder recommends that you try the following:
- Delete: About half your emails can go straight into your trash folder.
- Do. If it’s urgent or won’t take long, do it and get it out of the way.
- Delegate. Could anyone else handle it better?
- Defer. If you know you’ll need more time, schedule some in and set the email aside for now.
Time for a break
In 2014, the Draugiem Group, a Latvian social networking company, tracked their employees’ use of time. They found that the most productive didn’t work longer hours, but they did take an average of 17 minutes’ break time for every 52 minutes of work.
Should you multi-task?
The answer may depend on you. A 1999 US study by psychologists Carol Kaufman-Scarborough and Jay D. Lindquist, identified two styles of working: ‘polychronic’ and ‘monochronic’. Polychronic workers prefer to engage in several tasks at once, while monochronics prefer to perform tasks sequentially. Monochronics planned in more detail, but actually found it harder to follow through because it was more difficult for them to manage interruptions.
So if you’re not comfortable with multi-tasking, you’re likely to need more control over your environment to limit your distractions. When it comes to managing time, we each have a different personal style. The key is to have a clear understanding of what keeps you productive, and then plan your days to allow for as many of those behaviours as possible.
Success The Psychology of Achievement, available now from DK, RRP £14.99, www.dk.com