Time management is one of those areas that many of us struggle with. Nowadays our lives are so busy, with our attention constantly divided across an array of connected devices, that the art of focusing and managing time is becoming more and more challenging.
My brain has always functioned better in the evening than the morning, and over the years I’ve needed to find ways to manage my time more productively at the start of the day particularly. It’s taken years of trial and error, and while everyone needs their own approach, in many ways I wish someone had imparted their time management wisdom to me at the start of my career. It could have saved me a few late nights!
Étienne Garbugli, a Montreal-based product and marketing consultant, faced some of these same struggles. So last year, to help others avoid his own mishaps in time management, he collected some of his favourite lessons in the SlideShare presentation “26 Time Management Hacks I Wish I’d Known At 20.” It was so well received that SlideShare named it the most-liked presentation of 2013.
While his presentation is well worth viewing, here are the 10 time management skills from Garbugli that I found particularly empowering.
1. Days always fill up, often faster than you anticipate.
Be realistic, and never plan for an eight-hour day. Instead, always factor in some buffer time. Cognitive scientist Douglas Hofstadter was right about time planning in his Hofstadter’s Law: “It always takes longer than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter’s Law.”
2. Work more when you’re in the zone. Relax when you’re not.
This is a lesson which comes with maturity. Some days you’ll feel alert, inspired and raring to go; but other days you’ll be struggling to maintain any sort of focus. Learn to identify these times when you’re in the zone, and maximise them. Then on the days when you can’t seem to focus, you’ll be more justified in taking a break.
3. Stop multitasking. It merely kills your focus.
Many years ago, a boss and mentor of mine taught me this very valuable lesson, and it’s one I’ve never forgotten. Learn to categorise your work into sets of tasks, such as emails, phone, writing, preparing a presentation etc. Then plan to work through one category at a time. Your brain will work more efficiently this way, you’ll be able to focus better, and ultimately you’ll be more productive.
4. We’re always more focused and productive with limited time.
Never was a wiser word said! It seems many people produce their best work when the deadline is tight. So set shorter time limits for your tasks to keep the pressure on to get things done.
5. Work is the best way to get working. Start with short tasks to get the ball rolling.
Begin your day with simple actions that you can easily complete. This will help you to cross off smaller items from your to-do list so you can feel productive immediately, inspired and ready to delve into more mentally taxing work.
6. More work hours doesn’t mean more productivity. Use constraints as opportunities.
I learnt early on that just because people sit at their desk for longer, doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re being the most productive. Aim to complete your work within normal office hours so that working late is an exception rather than the rule.
7. Organise meetings early in the day. Time leading up to an event is often wasted.
This is one of my favourite time management hacks. I often find it hard to concentrate on other tasks, if an important meeting is scheduled for later in the day. So get meetings over and done with early on, so that you can concentrate on other things.
8. Keep the same context throughout the day. Switching between projects/clients is unproductive.
Much like multitasking, switching between projects and clients is often unproductive. If you’re able to keep a consistent focus, it will give you the chance to think more deeply and creatively about the task in hand.
9. Work around procrastination. Procrastinate between intense spurts of work.
I figured this out in my days of revising for exams. Concentration works best in short bursts. You may find Francesco Cirillo’s Pomodoro Technique worth trialing. It allows you to break your work into 25 minute increments, with five-minute breaks in between.
10. Only ever work on the thing that will have the biggest impact.
If you’re already in the habit of writing a to-do list at the start of the day, be sure to identify the task that is the highest priority. Once you’re in the zone, get to that task as soon as possible, so that you don’t run out of time.
If you found these hacks helpful, read through Garbugli’s 26 tips in full to find other ways to make the most of your day.Image credit: Frits Ahlefeldt-Laurvig via flickr