Drowning at the office…improve your time management with these 15 tips

The Alarm

Image by Burns! via Flickr

To understand time management, think about what a wise person once said, you can live your life any way you want, but you can live it only once.

We could adapt it to:

“you can live your day any way you want, but you can live it only once.”

If you don’t have an effective time management approach, your days are going to zoom by while leaving you with the feeling that nothing really gets done. Theoretically, it is not possible to manage time. But one can manage what one does with their time. Effective time management approaches are therefore needed. Below are some of the main principles that can significantly improve your time management and productivity.

1 – Do not deviate from your schedule

There are many distractions around you throughout the day. The more you deviate from your schedule to do something unproductive, the less you will accomplish. Be disciplined, develop a daily schedule and follow it. This is crucial for effective time management. If something comes up that is important, incorporate it into your schedule. If something is not important, then stick to your schedule. Remember that more often than not, your daily activities determine your success.

2 – Have programmed decisions

Programmed decisions are decisions made about recurring activities. Such decisions are made once and used every time the need for such a decision presents itself.

For example, if you are a very ambitious and driven individua, a time management programmed decision can be:

“I decided that I must only watch TV up to 5 hours a week, only between the times 6pm to 10pm on weekends”.

Now, all you have to do is to follow it.

Initially every time you think “should I do my report or watch a show on TV?” you will remember that your time management programmed decision does not allow you to have this option. As long as you are disciplined in following through, it will become a habit, and eventually you will not even have this question in your mind.

This example of programmed decisions also offers you an additional time saver – less TV. Another example of a programmed decision can be:

“I must exercise 30 minutes, 3 times a week on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday from 6pm to 6.30pm”.

Now you no longer have to spend any time planning and deciding on when you should exercise. The decision is already made. Time management programmed decisions can save you an enormous amount of time, which can be invested in value-adding activities.

3 – Manage your energy

It is important to do the most challenging tasks when your energy is at a high level.

4 – Respectfully say, “I wish I could help but I do not have capacity”

It is very important not to take on more tasks than you can handle. It is an important skill to learn to say “No” when you do not have the capacity to incorporate additional activity into your schedule.

5 – Keep a positive attitude

This may sound irrelevant to time management, but it is. If you have a positive attitude and see opportunities rather than problems, you will not waste time and energy on worry and regret. Instead, you will focus on solutions rather than problems, and opportunities rather than threats and unpleasant events.

6 -Email routine

Emails can be a significant time waster. It is vital, if at all possible, to set a specific time during the day when you will attend to your emails instead of continuously checking them as they arrive.

You could, for instance, make a time management programmed decision about allocating 10 minutes in the morning to attend to urgent emails and 20 minutes in the afternoon to attend to the rest of emails.

Only respond to emails addressed to you or where your input adds value. The novelty of being copied on thousands of emails soon wears out but the time you already wasted on them can never be recovered.

The morning is generally when you have the most energy. Therefore, it is not productive to spend this time handling non-urgent emails. Do not let other people decide how you should spend your most productive time. You should spend it on the high priority tasks.

7 – The “Pareto” rule (80/20)

The “Pareto” rule refers to the tendency for 20% of your effort to account for 80% of the impact. For time management, it refers to the tendency of 20 percent of your activities to account for 80 percent of the positive impact from your work.

Therefore, it is an advisable and smart thing to identify those activities with the highest impact. Spend the majority of time on them while cutting down or cutting out unnecessary activities (activities with no or very little impact).

For example, if you are a student and your main job is to earn a degree, then you should be spending the majority of your time on things which help you obtain your degree. Focus your time on your studies and cut out things which add no value to your studies. You should definitely not be spending less than 50% of your time on your studies if this is your main objective.

8 – Delegate and delegate often

It is important to delegate what can be done by others. This will save your time for high priority items and gives lower level employees an opportunity to grow. When delegating, it is critical to delegate some authority together with responsibility. That is, you need to delegate the task together with the appropriate level of authority to make decisions. Only such delegation brings real value to both parties. If only the responsibility is delegated but every minor decision about the task is still made by you, then your time will still be used up on this task and the lower level employee will not gain the true developmental benefits that delegation can offer.

In fact, you may spend more time on the task should an extra problem be created due to the poor delegation of authority.

9 – Lower standards for lower priority tasks

Some tasks should just be done at “Good enough” level. Striving for perfection in low priority tasks is generally a waste of time that can be spent on more important goals. Time management is also about eliminating the obsession to make everything perfect, even things that do not need to be perfect.

10 – Alarm snooze time waster

Many people search for ways to get up in the morning. You probably know that resetting the alarm or putting it on snooze in the morning can lead to significant time wastage. Moreover, the quality of your sleep during such periods is very bad so you do not get a good rest.

It is, without doubt, very hard for many people to get up in the morning. It is customary not to hear the alarm or not remember any of the reasons why you should get up before you absolutely must get up. Yet, later in the day, many people regret  lost hours that they could have spent more wisely.

The best way to break out of this insanity is to train yourself to wake up exactly at the same time every morning. Our bodies go through what is known as basic rest activity cycles. When you awake a few days in a row at the very same time – your body will adjust your basic rest activity cycle so that it feels natural to be awake at specific time.

It may be helpful, especially in the beginning, to leave the alarm in another room so you physically have to get up when you hear it.

After you start waking up at the same time every day, a pattern develops, and you may not be able to sleep beyond the  time set by your “body-clock”.

If you miss a day or two and will wake up later than your normal set time, you will have to again train yourself to wake up at the set time and it may be almost as hard to train yourself as the first time. Therefore, it seems better to take a nap during the day if you need extra rest and get yourself out of bed at a set time in the morning.

11 – Group similar activities together

It is important to group similar activities together. For example, if you need to make a few phone calls, it is better to do them all at once. One simple rule that can be used to save time is never to leave your desk for just one thing. In this way, you are forced to group a few activities together before your work is interrupted and, therefore, work will be interrupted much less. This is a simple but very effective time management technique.

12 – Work passionately

Time management can be improved not only by reducing the time spent at the office, but also by enjoying the time spent at the office. Constantly look for ways to be interested and passionate about your work. This way you can do your best work and you can be more focused and accomplish the task faster.

13 – Avoid disruptions

Avoid all kinds of disruptions such as drop-in visitors, telephone calls and emails, magazines and newspapers, and news websites. Those activities can take up a large part of your time if you are not careful. Allocate some time from the least productive part of your day to deal with these type of activities.

14 -Avoid procrastination

There is a saying, if you have a frog to eat, eat it the first thing in the morning and, if you have two frogs to eat, don’t start from the small one.

It is a good time management habit to do the most difficult and unpleasant activities earlier in the day. This way it will be done once and for all and you no longer will have to occupy your mind with the thoughts on how unpleasant and difficult it will be do engage in such activity.

15 – Assign a “dollar” value to an hour of your time

You need to assign a “dollar” value to an hour of your time. Time is an even more precious resource than money, but, for some reason, people are generally more careful with their money then with their time. By keeping in mind how much each hour of your day is worth, you can be much more accountable for the way this time is utilized.


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