Managing time better is a goal for many of us. Whether we want to increase our productivity in the workforce to gain advancement or to get through daily tasks faster to spend additional time with family and friends, enhancing our time-management skills can help us all to get more out of life. As Benjamin Franklin said, “Lost time is never found again.”
The question is, how do we accomplish this?
These are the five steps I think are critical for optimizing time management for most people:
- Set short- and long-term goals.
- Prioritize and plan ahead.
- Just say “No.”
- Eliminate distractions.
- Take care of your health.
Let’s take a closer look at them.
Set short- and long-term goals.
Some of these goals need to be fun or relaxing to you. All work and no play makes for a dull, boring and unhealthy person. You have to ensure you are engaging in activities that support your goals. Things that do not support your goals are time-wasters and need to be eliminated.
Prioritize and plan ahead.
One of the worst things to do is jump into the day without a clear idea what needs to be done. The time you spend thinking ahead and planning is nothing compared to the time you will waste jumping from one thing to another. At the start of the day, write down your three or four “important and urgent” tasks that must be completed. As you finish each one, check it off your list. This will provide you with a sense of accomplishment and can motivate you to tackle the remaining items.
Just say “No.”
Personally, this is one of my biggest weaknesses in optimizing my time. We all get pulled in different directions by bosses, coworkers, friends and family. If you need to decline a request in order to focus on what is important, do not hesitate to do so. We all fear letting someone down by saying no, but you have to find the courage and willpower. By saying no, you are forcing yourself to focus on the goals you identified in Step 1. Even Steve Jobs understood this fact. One of his famous quotes is “Focusing is about saying no.”
While this can be the most difficult goal to accomplish, it’s also the most important. First, identify the distractions. Start paying attention to interruptions when you are in the midst of an important task. Track self-induced interruptions, particularly those of the social media variety. Yes, your smartphone is extremely useful. But let’s face it, it is also addictive and among the most menacing time-wasters known to mankind. It’s now estimated that the average American spends over five hours a day on his or her mobile devices, with most of that time being used for something other than communication. From social media to online shopping, the capabilities of these devices are keeping you from focusing on your goals and therefore from being productive.
It may take outrageous amounts of willpower, but shut your door or move to a quiet spot and turn off your phone. Instead of being “always on,” plan a few breaks in the day to catch up on email, texting, phone calls or social media. You might find that you recover hours in your day that have been missing.
Take care of your health.
Be sure to eat healthy, rest and exercise. Your body converts just about everything you eat into glucose, which provides the energy our brains need to stay alert. When you are running low on glucose, you have a tough time staying focused and your attention drifts. If you are moderately sleep-deprived, you will have a 50 percent slower response time and a lower accuracy rate on simple tasks than someone who is under the influence of alcohol, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Exercise, meanwhile, helps trigger endorphins, which improve the prioritizing functions of the brain. Maintaining your health is so important in achieving your goals.
By working to incorporate these five steps into your routine, you can improve your time-management skills. And by improving your time-management skills, you can increase productivity, reduce stress and live a happier, healthy life.
By Christy Burge
Christy Burge is an instructor in Bellarmine University’s Rubel School of Business. She is also an active business consultant in the areas of accounting, information systems, organizational behavior and personal development for local organizations.