How to develop effective time management skills

Time Management SkillsTime Management Skills:

Developing effective time management skills is an essential ingredient for success, and I’m sure you’ll agree. You can’t add real value without making the best use of your time.

However, making the best use of it is not always easy in practice, is it?

So, how good are you, dear reader, at managing your time?

Do you have a reputation for being ruthlessly efficient and productive, or are you someone who’s always struggling to keep up?

When someone asks you to do something in the office, do you accept their request without question and simply add the task to your ‘To Do’ list? If you do, you’re not alone. Many people will do that, in my experience.

Alternatively, perhaps you’re the type who thinks carefully relative to your priorities before you accept such a request. Now be honest. We’d all like to think we’re the latter, when in fact far too many people are the former I think.

Productivity is what matters:

In the world of work, it’s easy to confuse being busy with being productive, but these two concepts are not the same thing at all, are they?

For instance, you can be busy doing things that don’t need doing at all. Whereas being genuinely productive means delivering real results from high-value tasks, which can only be done by someone with your skills.

And let’s face it, reputations are built by being productive, not merely by being busy. It’s the results you deliver, not the energy you expend, that matter most.

Time is your most precious resource:

How often do you hear someone say, “Oh, I would love to do that, if only I had the time.

And yet we all have the same amount of time, i.e. 168 hours per week.

Time is simply a resource like money, although it’s more important than money. I say that because you can get more money, but you can’t get more time. None of us can do that, can we?

So you must learn to use your time wisely. Time is your most precious resource, so you must develop effective time management skills.

High-value tasks must take precedence:

Modern pressures mean it’s easy for us to try to do too many things. We can all be a bit like that, including me, dear reader.

Our lives are cluttered with too many activities, too many objectives, too many distractions, and far too many demands on our time.

The result is that we tend to lose focus on what matters most and in the end we don’t do anything as well as we should have done.

In my experience, in most jobs, you’ll find that 90% of productivity is down to completing the top three or four major activities within that job. What I call high-value tasks.

If you take the top three major activities – the high-value tasks – associated with your job and focus on those to the exclusion of just about everything else you’ll almost certainly maximise your productivity and efficiency.

Most common time management mistake:

The problem is, when we’re working, we seem to find it easier to focus on minor tasks and random actions requested by other people.

We feel obliged to accept requests from others. It’s a common mistake of which we can all be guilty.

Now, while tidying up all those minor tasks might make us feel like we’re achieving some quick wins, we’re usually fooling ourselves.

By the end of the day, we’re usually left with a sense that we haven’t done all we should have done, and that leaves us feeling stressed.

And that’s when we start to think about how we might improve our time management.

We can’t do everything, nor should we try:

We must recognise that we can’t do everything, but we can be selective about what we choose to do.

And if we’re going to get those major tasks of higher value completed, then they must take precedence over those low-value, minor tasks, which can always wait if necessary.

High-value tasks should always take precedence over low-value tasks.

Work smarter:

People often think of time management as a skill that would allow them to work faster. Well, let me tell you this: that’s not the idea at all.

Effective time management skills allow us to work smarter rather than harder.

Instead of getting lost in the minutiae of everyday life, with effective time management skills, we focus on and prioritise those things that will add the most value to our productivity. In other words, we focus on high-value activity.

The law of three:

So. if time management is an issue for you, dear reader, start by taking a good, hard look at your list of daily activities and asking yourself these three questions:

  1. What single task can only I do and, when completed by me, will add the most value to the business?
  2. What’s the second task on my list that only I can do, and when I’ve completed it, will allow me to add the most value to the business?
  3. What is the third task on my list that only I can do and that, when completed by me, will add the most value to the business?

Once you’ve identified your list of three major, high-value tasks, that’s where your focus should be each day before you touch any other minor tasks or accept random requests from other people.

Most powerful time management tool:

The point of work is to deliver results. You’ll deliver the best results if you concentrate on your top three major tasks first.

And never forget that you’ll be judged by the results you deliver. No one cares what you have to do for someone else, they only care about the results they expect from you.

Your time is your time, and you must decide how it is to be used most effectively.

Just because someone asks for a piece of your time doesn’t mean you’re obliged to give it to them at the expense of your productivity. Never be afraid to deploy the most effective time management tool of them all.

And what is the most effective time-management tool? It’s the word NO.

Think of the word NO as a baseball bat.

Whenever someone requests that you do something, NO is how you can whack that request right out of the ballpark.

Be in control of your time, at all times:

You’re not obliged to agree to a request even if someone asks nicely. It’s reasonable to be working to your priorities.

All too often we feel obliged to do things for other people when we should have just said politely, “No, I’m sorry, but I can’t do that right now for you because I have to deliver this by 5 pm and it’s a priority.”

If our productivity matters to us, and it should, then our focus should always be on our major, high-value deliverables.

Unfortunately, we allow ourselves to be driven by the agendas of other people.

However that’s not good for our productivity, nor is it good for our well-being or stress levels.

People will take everything you’re prepared to give:

I can tell you from experience that other people will take everything you’re prepared to give and a bit more besides. That’s the nature of people.

However, if you fail to deliver what you’re being paid to deliver, then no list of incidental work completed for other people will be accepted as an adequate plea in your defence when your boss wants to know why you’ve failed to deliver your high-value results.

If you’re painting my house, I’ll measure you on the quality and timeliness of your work, not the amount of help you gave to my neighbour by, say, looking after her dog.

What you do for other people is irrelevant to me, should you fail to deliver what I’m paying you to deliver.

Focus on your priorities:

In reality, if your colleagues can’t get something done by you, they’ll simply ask someone else. So let them.

Why worry? Just be very polite when faced with a random request, but say NO firmly. I can tell you this: you’ll have to be disciplined, but it’s a habit worth developing.

We can all be guilty of expending far too much of our energy helping other people achieve their aims, to the detriment of our interests and our ability to deliver high-value results.

To achieve anything of significance in life, we must be focused on our major activities.

We must concentrate on completing our big three major high-value deliverables daily and focus relentlessly on working towards achieving our own goals generally.

The need for balance:

If you’re asked to do something, then it’s perfectly reasonable to say NO, if doing otherwise would prevent you from delivering the results you’re being paid to deliver on time.

Yes, of course, occasionally there will be tasks you’re obliged to accept for whatever reason.

However, mostly being firm in declining such a request is a sign that you’re assertive and in control of delivering as much value as possible.

Another polite but firm response to a request might be something like, “Sorry, I would love to help you with that, but I cannot right now because I have my hands full with the deadline for this project.

As with everything, there is a balance to be struck, of course.

Sometimes it’s in your interest to do someone a favour because one day you might need them to return that favour. That’s reasonable, provided you always retain a primary focus on keeping your main things the main things.

Conclusion:

You should always ensure that you’re making progress towards achieving your big three deliverables and your own goals generally.

It’s perfectly reasonable to have your agenda and a desire to achieve your own goals and add the greatest value only you can add.

If you want to make a difference, focus on your three major activities.

Those activities that only you can do.

And to ensure that you’re doing that, don’t be afraid to use the most effective time management tool of them all whenever necessary. Use the word NO politely but firmly.

Always keep the main things the main things.

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