Our lives seem to becoming busier and busier and if you’re like me, you probably feel like there are never enough hours in the day to do what you need, or want, to do. While it may be impossible to check off everything on your “to-do” list, there are things you can do to help prioritize your time. This will help alleviate some of your stress at the office and at home, and allow your work to shine.
1. Plan ahead
If you seem to have a clear idea of what needs to be accomplished the following day, you can set a plan the night before. Do this by making a list of everything you want to accomplish at work the next day and figuring out the time you will need to finish each task. This includes all of your projects and assignments and even things like how much time you will need to get ready in the morning, or what you will have for lunch. The more comprehensive your plan, the easier it will be to stick to it; bringing a packed lunch will save time in your day so you don’t have to drive around deciding what type of fast food you want to indulge in, and leaving enough time in your morning routine will cut down on the chances of you leaving important things at home or arriving to work late.
2. Be ready to re-assess
Even if you think you have a solid plan set, new projects and deadlines will likely arise throughout the day. When this happens, stay calm and simply re-assess your day. You will need to take the time to adjust your schedule accordingly and plan out how you will accomplish your new tasks. You may feel like you don’t have time to stop and think about how you will get things done, but believe me, taking 30 minutes to plan will pay off in the end; you will actually save time because you will know how to handle everything that comes your way with ease.
Prioritizing your projects is extremely important when you are planning your day. You want to tackle the toughest, most important or urgent project first, so you can ensure they are done and done well. An added bonus is you won’t have to worry about them for the rest of the day, either! Next, schedule in the rest of your tasks including certain blocks of time to answer phone calls and emails; keep to these times to eliminate unnecessary distractions (this means staying off your cell phone too!). You may have to fight the urge to respond to an email the second you see the mail icon pop up in the corner of your computer screen, though!
When prioritizing and scheduling your projects I find it is also helpful to break them down into individual tasks rather than looking at them as a whole. Not only will this allow you to schedule your day better, but it will keep you from feeling overwhelmed from the size of what you must complete. For example, which of these statements sounds better to you? “I have to plan an entire in-service for my company in addition to my daily tasks and I’m not sure how I’m going to do it,” or “This morning I need to look at catering options for our in-service, and after that is complete I will start researching possible guest speakers.” Frankly, thinking about the first statement makes my heart rate increase, while the latter seems completely manageable.
5. Keep your calendar close
To some it may seem old-fashioned, but I insist on carrying a yearly planner-yes, the kind made of paper. In fact, I have one larger one I keep in my office at home and a smaller one that I carry in my purse; this is in addition to putting everything into the calendar on my cell phone. While my cell phone definitely comes in handy by saving me with its awesome alerts (which can even calculate and incorporate my drive time to appointments), there is still something gratifying about writing down all of the things I have coming up. Plus, it is so much easier for me to open my planner and see my whole month ahead of me instead of tapping through the days on my phone to see what I have planned; I feel this eliminates the possibility of missing something or double-booking. Plus, if I’m talking on my cell phone I can pull out my planner and have quick and easy access to my schedule to ensure I am free for an appointment instead of guessing. So for me, I find that putting appointments in both my paper and digital calendar is a no-fail way for me to schedule my days; it may be something that works for you, too.
6. Keep your desk clear
You may have your to do lists and schedule in order, but to be your best your desk should be in order too. First off, if your desk is organized, your mind will be more organized too and you will feel less stressed. Plus if everything is in its own place you will always know where to look, instead of wasting time digging through piles of papers or messy drawers for something you need. So when you are scheduling out your week make sure to block off time to re-organize your work space; you may want to do this on Fridays when it can often be less busy, and this will also allow you to start the next week off with a clean slate… literally.
If you absolutely cannot be disturbed while working on a project, and you have an office, do not be afraid to put up a “do not disturb” sign. At my previous job at a University where I had an open door policy, there were times when I was on a strict deadline to finish reports so I would need to shut my door and put up a sign that said “In a meeting… please schedule an appointment at the front desk.” This way I could make sure I was able to focus on my work and then meet with others at a time that worked best for both of us, and at which I could dedicate my full attention to them. If you do not have an office, simply let your co-workers know that you are on a tight deadline and won’t be available for a bit; you may even want to pop in some headphones while you are working to avoid any distractions.
8. Just say “no”
We all want to be team players but sometimes being too much of a good sport can cause you to be overwhelmed. It is, without a doubt, impossible to say “yes” to everything that comes your way. In order to manage your time effectively there are going to be some times when you have to say “no.” Choose which tasks are the most significant and will have the biggest impact on you and your work and say yes to those; say no to those that will not. You can be polite when declining invitations or ideas, or may even be able to come back to them at a later time. If there are too many things that you feel are extremely important and need to be done, it may be time to delegate.
9. Don’t be afraid to delegate
I find the best way to delegate is to politely reach out to members of your team, explain how you are feeling, and simply ask for help. This tends to work a lot better than just saying “You need to help me with this.” If you are willing to take the time to explain why you are asking for help and what a great impact your co-workers will have, they will likely be more than happy to help you. If you ask for help, however, you need to trust in others to do the job you have asked of them. If you feel like you will need to be watching over their shoulders because the project is too important, then you probably shouldn’t be delegating it in the first place.
At the end of the day and at the end of each project take some time to reflect on what was accomplished. What worked and what didn’t? Were the deadlines that were set realistic or should they be adjusted for the next project? Did you ultimately reach your goal? This will allow you to re-prioritize, adjust your scheduling, and set yourself up for success in the future. Most importantly, as you reflect make sure to keep an open mind and understand that life is a learning process and you are allowed to make some mistakes along the way. As long as you keep learning and growing you will always end up being your best self.
How good is your time management? You can take this test to find out how your prioritization, goal setting, scheduling and other skills rate. There you can also learn more skills you need for a happy and successful career.
Do you have any time management tips that I haven’t covered? What has worked the best or worst for you and why? Let us know how you have become a successful scheduler in the comments!