While many factors affect workplace productivity, time management skills play a substantial role in how much people accomplish in a day.
When you look around your office, you'll likely notice that some of your colleagues have a hard time completing their daily tasks, while others seem to always have the time to clear their workload for the day.
What differentiates the more productive employees from those who struggle to get things done? Keep reading to learn about time management skills and how to cultivate them.
What Are Time Management Skills, and How Do You Learn Them?
There are a limited number of hours in a day. Time management is a skill that helps you maximize your productivity during those hours by using them efficiently. Some people have a natural talent for time management. But if you don't, you can acquire them through awareness and practice.
The following are some basic time management skills. The more you work on them, the better you'll get at utilizing your time well.
Knowing Your Productive Hours
To cultivate your time management skills, you need to dissect your work hours to understand how much time you really have in a day and the quality of that time.
How Much Time Do You Dedicate to Work?
Your work schedule may start at 9 a.m. and end at 5 p.m., but that doesn't mean you have eight hours to complete your work. To figure out how much time you spend working, deduct your lunch break and any other time you spend away from your desk.
To do this correctly, you'll have to chart your patterns for a week or so to see how much downtime you have. During this period, you'll track everything from coffee breaks to chatting with coworkers. You don’t need to calculate an exact number, but a close approximation is helpful.
Create Time Slots
Once you have a general idea of how you spend your time at work, map out your day with on and off times. For example, say you typically grab a five-minute snack at around 10 a.m., a bottle of water with a friend for ten minutes at 11:15, and go to lunch at noon. You now know that you have:
An hour of work between 9–10 a.m.
An hour and ten minutes between 10:05–11:15, and
35 minutes between 11:25 and lunch
You should have multiple time slots throughout your day, depending on the type of work you do. Knowing your approximate blocks of time is a big deal—it's typically better to begin a job you can finish in one sitting than to start and stop multiple times. So, in the example above, if you have a task that will take a little more than an hour, you might want to leave it for when you get back from your 10 a.m. snack break.
When Are You Most Productive?
People who excel at time management recognize that there are times throughout the day when you can be more productive than others. When you first get to work, are you ready to take on the world, or do you prefer to ease into things? Perhaps you're at your cognitive best during the two hours that precede your lunch break. Try to label your time slots based on high, medium, and low levels of energy and bandwidth. This will help you determine the level of work you should tend to at different times of the day.
Understanding and organizing What You Need to Accomplish
Once you understand the time you have to deal with, look through your tasks. See if you could categorize them based on the time you have available while taking the level of importance and difficulty of each task into account.
For example, let's say your manager asks you to do some complicated bookkeeping. You also have to do some simple data entry. You could ask yourself some of the following questions:
How long will each of these tasks take to complete?
Do you have time slots that match how long each will take?
Even if the time slots don't match, should you schedule the bookkeeping for when you come back from lunch feeling fresh and the data entry when you're ready to call it a day?
Does either of these have a deadline? If so, should you perhaps scrap the idea of doing them based on your cognitive level at a given time?
Some of your duties must be completed at specific times. For example, you might have to respond to customer emails by 10 a.m., even if you feel that it's not the best use of your time that early in the day.
On the issue of emails, say you have a lot of back and forth between customers or coworkers. Do you have to constantly interrupt what you're doing to respond, or could you set aside the end of every hour to get back to people?
Ideally, when you think of different aspects of your responsibilities, you should be able to find an optimal time to complete them.
Nobody expects you to be an angel who sits at their desk from 9 a.m.–5 p.m. Everyone needs those breaks during the day to socialize at the water cooler or to stretch and recharge. But don't let yourself get too caught up in a conversation or an in-between-tasks online shopping trip.
Remember that your time is limited and that you need to get back to work as soon as your break serves its purpose.
Monitoring Your Progress
With dedication, managing your time right will become second nature. While you are learning to allocate your time better, review your progress every week or two to see how you're doing.
Are you using your time wisely?
Do you need to take shorter breaks?
Should you rearrange how you schedule your work during the day?
Periodic self-reflection will help you understand if you're successfully improving your time management skills and allow you to troubleshoot the problem areas.
Practice Makes Perfect
Remember, even if you aren’t great at managing your time right now, you can get better at it. And once you create positive workplace habits, they will help you throughout your career.
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