Eight tips to improve your time management skills to survive the silly season

Yesterday was Melbourne Cup Day, in case you need to be reminded. Once the race that stops Australia working has been run, the office sweeps have been won and that hangover is under control, thoughts begin to turn to Christmas. The holiday is synonymous with ‘deadline’ in workplaces around the nation.

Challenge Consulting could relate to this blog post from the Law Institute of Victoria’s Young Lawyer blog.

Already the cries are ringing out around the office, ‘it must be done by Christmas!’ So before you get caught up in the crazy silly season busyness, we thought we’d share our top time management tips to help you survive the next 49 days. You’re welcome. 

Use the right tools for the job. We can’t emphasise enough that lists, schedules and setting reminders are your best friends. Use your Friday afternoon to review your schedule for the following week. Block out time for big ‘concentration-required’ tasks in addition to meetings, trips to the gym, time to catch up with friends and family. Set up reminders based on your schedule. Then review your ‘to-do’ list for the following week, and prioritise it (As, Bs, Cs). Now update that list each day before you leave work so your mind in calm knowing your next day is planned and under control. 

Factor in interruptions. So you’ve scheduled everything, set reminders and have even colour-coded your to do list. But for one reason or another your list has only grown and you are feeling stressed. Unfortunately it is a fact of life that interruptions happen and plans don’t always go to plan.  Allow a buffer for the boss’s crisis, unexpected gossip session in the corridor, fire drill, dog’s emergency trip to the vets… Plus you need to take a bit of a breather between tasks rather than schedule things back to back. Take a quick walk, grab a coffee or have a chat with someone who is easily distracted and hasn’t read this blog, then you’ll be refreshed enough to refocus for the next task. 

Ditch it if it doesn’t have an outcome. Why are you doing that task? Is it important? Will it achieve a positive outcome for you? Or is it just ‘busyness’? If there’s no clear outcome stop wasting time on it. Stop. It. Now. 

Ignore stuff. Not long ago I had my partner accuse me with great indignation of ignoring his texts and emails. He KNEW I was receiving them, so the only conclusion was that I was wilfully avoiding him as some kind of cruel punishment. Well  I was, but I think that’s ok – I was working on writing a piece that I really needed to focus on, and I don’t think that responding to ‘White or red with dinner babe?’ was really mission critical. Just because we have the technology to be contacted anywhere and anytime, it doesn’t mean we should be and we need to set the expectations of those around us (work colleagues, friends, family) that we can’t always be available. We need time to focus on a task without being interrupted – it will get the job done faster and better. Which leads me to…

Minimise your distractions. So who on earth can concentrate with email pop-ups, noisy text alerts, Messenger pings, app updates, and 23 browser tabs open simultaneously? You might think you’re a master of multi-tasking, but Mythbusters busted that AGES ago (spoiler alert – we’re all really bad at multi-tasking, it’s just not possible). So shut your office door, tell your cubical buddy to keep it down, turn off all your whirl/ping/beeps and just focus. You will achieve a much better result and feel a lot calmer for it.

Get up early and knock off your most important/hardest task. See how I saved time by combining those two tips into one there? Well, what’s the point of getting up super early to get stuck into work and using that precious, quiet, uninterrupted time to read and respond to emails?! Stick to the big ticket items and you will have time for the elevator gossip session break.

Set your limits, learn to say No and just do less. OK – you’re young and desperate to impress. But saying yes and taking on too much work is not the way – especially when you fail to deliver because you’re over-committed or what you do deliver is less than stellar. Review your schedule and priorities and assess if you can take something else on board. Let your boss/peer know you’d love to help out; it’s work that interests you and you want to be a team player, but you just don’t have the capacity right now unless something can be transferred off your plate. Doing a bit less means you will have time to complete tasks you have to the best of your ability while still enjoying life.

Master prioritising. I recently found myself planning a couple of days’ overtime to compensate for extra work that had appeared to be completed before the dreaded Christmas deadline. Then I stopped, did a double check, and just reprioritised my workload. Suddenly, no overtime required. Good prioritising is the ticket to freedom. While everything is ‘important’, that importance is sliding scale and if you look at your to-do list and really challenge yourself, I’m confident you can reprioritise your workload to become more manageable too.

This article first appeared at Young Lawyers blog.