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Want to be more time efficient? Time management advice

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Every day, HR professionals face a new series of Challenges. Every one of these Challenges, whether it’s a problem or an opportunity, requires a valuable resource allocated to it. A resource that can be in very short supply. Time. We’re all encouraged to prioritise and manage our tasks effectively, but what does this actually involve and how can it be achieved, in the busy modern workplace?

How time management has evolved

Back when time management was first identified as a necessary workplace skill, it was all about having notes and checklists. Then this moved onto diaries and calendars. Now, it’s all about:

  • Prioritising
  • Analysing activities based on value
  • Goal setting
  • Daily planning

This is essentially about scheduling tasks that can become too rigid and get in the way of more spontaneous things and in dealings with other people. It’s not about doing things, instead it’s about enhancing relationships and getting Results.

Unfortunately, crises do happen and problems occur. But, if you’ve spent time planning and preparing, problems that need solving will eat up less of your time.

Organising your week

So, organise next week right now. Well, when you’ve finished reading this, anyway.
A vital element of time management is being able to divide your day into things that are urgent and important - we call these ‘Quadrant 1’ issues - such as crises, pressing problems and deadline driven projects.

Then there’s Quadrant 2, which are things that are not urgent, but are important, such as planning and preparation, preventing future problems, working on relationships and finding new opportunities.

In Quadrant 3 we place things that are urgent, but not important, such as interruptions, some phonecalls and emails and popular activities, and in Quadrant 4 we place things that aren’t urgent, or important, such as trivia and time wasting activities.

The aim is to spend as much time in Quadrant 2 as possible, to stop yourself being in Quadrant 1. And the way to achieve this is to spend less time in Quadrants 3 and 4.
Looking at your typical day, the question to ask yourself if what you can do, in terms of planning and preparation and building relationships (Quadrant 2) that can reduce the amount of time spent on problems (Quadrant 1).

Think about things you can schedule into your calendar for next week, which are important but not absolutely urgent. These should be the tasks that will have a significant impact on your work, or which have been neglected until now. If you set aside some time for them next week, but stick to this, it should help prevent them becoming problems at an unspecified future date.

Cool & calm? Or always in crisis management mode?

You’ll almost certainly have seen people in the workplace for whom everything is a crisis that needs firefighting, and their opposite; people who are cool and calm and have three solutions ready for every problem, so that when something becomes urgent, it’s quickly dealt with. The latter’s secret is actually simple.

It’s the ability to recognise the difference between things that are important and things which are urgent. It’s about knowing what issues should be placed into Quadrant 2 and allocating time for them so as to prevent them turning into urgent Quadrant 1 problems.

Having too many urgent things to do and not enough time to do them is when they turn into crises, and when a person ends up spending all their time in Quadrant 1. So, make sure there’s time for the important things and the urgent things will be far easier to deal with.

Delegation

The ability to delegate is also a key time management skill. Considering exactly who to delegate tasks to, in terms of competence and commitment, can free up the most effective staff to work in the most efficient way. If you can delegate effectively, then you can free up your own time for higher value things.

Beating the time-stealers

One of the main losses of work time is procrastination. Maybe a task just seems too daunting and big to handle, so we put it off – which Results in even less time to complete it in.

Changing this attitude and being willing to do the ‘worst’ jobs first and diving right at them will make them easier, for the simple reason that you’ll have more time for them. Saying ‘just get on with it’ might not seem helpful, so a better approach is to break the job down into smaller chunks, and make a start on something achievable, which doesn’t feel so daunting.

Interruptions, distractions and other Quadrant 3 and 4 issues are the other ways we lose time. Apparently, you’re interrupted from your work every seven minutes, on average. Could you implement a ‘closed door’ rule when needed? Or even just have a ‘very busy, please do not disturb’ sign for your desk, which colleagues can be asked to watch out for? Are the same people constantly interrupting you? Perhaps they need some training on how to tell what is important and what is urgent and on how to plan their time more effectively, so that they don’t need to ask questions.

A way to prevent interruptions from taking up your time is to simply say ‘no’ to what is being asked. If you can identify that the request is not urgent, but important, you can simply place it onto your schedule, or suggest that the interrupter does this.

Time efficiency

Parkinson’s Law that states that, if you have lots of time to do something the task will slowly become a bigger deal for you over time. However, if you can identify the critical parts of the larger task, and give them short deadlines, you’ll get more done.

Think about when you’re going on holiday. You want everything sorted out and tied up before you go away. During a normal working week, you’ll sometimes let things slip to the next week, but with a treat like a holiday ahead, things somehow magically seem to get finished, or delegated to colleagues.

It’s easy to apply this kind of thinking to everything you do by giving yourself short deadlines. Short deadlines might sound stressful, but like diving straight into difficult tasks, they actually mean you’ll get more done.

Additionally, the Pareto Principle is that 20% of your day is spent on important tasks and 80% gets used up. So, if you try to maximise your time spend on Quadrant 2 activities, this prevents you from just filling long days with Quadrant 1, 3 and 4 activities.

How to manage your time more effectively

  • Think short deadlines
  • Figure out the difference between important and urgent
  • Do important things at times of the day when your personal energy levels are high
  • Delegate where you can – even if it’s a task you like
  • Beat procrastination. Getting on with it means there’s more time to do it in.
  • Set realistic goals and stick to them
  • Reduce the effect of interruptions on productivity by saying ‘no’.

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