Time Management 101: Recognise and eliminate your time wasters

By Alison Hill

It seems we have never felt as swamped by our responsibilities, at work and at home, as we do now. There’s even a new noun for it: ‘overwhelm’.  We’re constantly being asked to do more, be more and have more. Twenty-first century technology contributes to the feeling that we are expected to be ‘always on’. But how much of this busyness really works for us?

In November we are focusing on time management and productivity skills. The first step to controlling our time rather than being controlled by it is recognising our time wasters and working out a strategy to overcome them.

Most of us are aware that we waste time on social media, are caught by the person who chatters too much in the office kitchen, attend multitudes of meetings with no clear purpose, and spend time on tasks that seem urgent or important at the time, but ultimately don’t make much impact.

Here are some time wasters that may be familiar, and some ideas for managing them.

  1. Being controlled by technology. We could most likely legitimately spend the entire working day responding to emails, instant messaging and texts. Set aside a fixed time when you read and respond to emails – and stick to it. Let colleagues and clients know to contact you by phone if a matter is really urgent. Reciprocate by not copying in anybody who does not absolutely have to receive your emails. And keep them short. If what you have to say runs for more than a couple of paragraphs, edit it down to the essentials and create an attachment that contains the detail.
  2. Failing to prioritise tasks. Many of us spend huge amounts of time on tasks that don’t get us, our team our or company where we are focused on going. Create a to-do list, and rank the tasks with reference to company, team and individual goals. Then work systematically on the tasks with the highest impact. This can be tricky, so it’s worth checking in with your team leader that you are on the same page about goals and how best to align your efforts with them.
  3. Focusing on being busy, rather than being productive. This is related to failing to prioritise. We can answer every single email, attend loads of meetings and take copious notes, and format all our documents beautifully, but if our efforts are not focused on productive tasks they are not good use of our time. Concentrating on high-impact tasks and leaving the rest for a quieter period makes for good time-management. The upcoming holiday season, which in most organisations sees the pace slow down, is a good time for updating the filing system or rearranging the work space.
  4. Not delegating where possible. Many of us – especially those with a perfectionist streak – hang on to tasks that could be done by somebody else. This is particularly difficult for new managers. Empowering team members and trusting them to do the job is in the best interests of all of you. Be clear about what the task is and when it should be accomplished by. It may not be perfect the first time, but by empowering team members you are freeing up time for tasks only you can do.

Over the next couple of weeks, try these strategies.
Keep a note of the time you save and let us know
how much more productive you are able to be.