First things first: why does time management matter? While that question breaks my little project manager heart, I understand your skepticism. Why not just do the damn thing? Well, managing your time is deeper than getting sh*t done-it's about keeping your head screwed on properly (and getting even MORE sh*t done in the process).
We all know how it feels when work is piling up and there seems to be no end in sight. Not only can this cause procrastination, making matters worse, but more importantly it can lead to unneeded stress and anxiety. Time management practices will declutter your mind, making that to-do list a lot less scary.
Doing things at the right time in the right order will increase your productivity. Getting pulled in multiple directions is a thing of the past and more time in your day will start appearing like magic.
Meet Your Deadlines
With more productivity comes great success at meeting deadlines. The goal is to get more done in less time without compromising quality (or sanity). When you have your tasks organized and prioritized, one of two things will happen to your deadlines:
1. Due dates will be completely reachable and you'll be the all-star of your office
2. You'll know early on whether or not something will be able to get done on time and can communicate to your team to adjust accordingly. (Hint: we'll talk more about this in #3)
Now onto the good stuff. Not all of us are Time Wizards at birth (like yours truly), but fear not-time management skills are easy to learn and maintain. To get you started, here are 7 time management tips:
1. Keeping Track
If you're worried about how productive you've been lately, one of the first things you should do is look at where your time has been running off to. If you don't already, track the length of time it takes you to do things throughout the day. You'll start to notice patterns and figure out where there's room for improvement.
Take it one step further: set timers for yourself for a given project or task. Allow yourself X-amount of uninterrupted time to complete Y-thing. This will force you to stay on task, plus you can make it a fun little competition with yourself.
2. Time Blocks: a PM’s Best Friend
Scenario: It's Monday morning and the day is yours. You're feeling good.
You open your laptop, log in and prepare for a productive day.
But then you open your calendar. There's about four seconds of your day that aren't consumed by meetings.
We've been there and we get it. Setting time blocks on your calendar (make sure they are public to your team, too!) will help twofold. This communicates to your team that you're not available for meetings, questions or thoughts on last night's episode of "The Bachelorette." Even more importantly, it holds you accountable to focusing in on one thing for an allotted amount of time.
3. Focus, Then Execute.
Put the blinders on. Zone in on a single task, project or campaign. This will reduce the amount of time it takes you to get in the groove upfront.
Getting into a working rhythm is also called "reducing context shift." Context shifting is exactly what it sounds like. It's when you switch from focusing on one topic to another throughout the day. But here's the rub: your brain works overtime to shift gears and get back in your flow state.
Bonus tip: This will also allow you to push smaller like-tasks together rather than being scattered throughout the day.
4. Prioritize All the Times!
We all know that things need to be "prioritized," but what does that actually mean when it comes to your day-to-day? If you're feeling overwhelmed by your projects and you're not sure what to do first, consider making an Eisenhower Matrix. Sounds intense right? Don't worry-it breaks down your to-do list into four, easy-to-follow sections.
Place your tasks in one of the four boxes below based on their urgency and importance. This will then dictate what to do, delegate, decide and do later.
Defining urgent: Time sensitive and needs to be completed in the short term. There might be many tasks in this box, so it's best to list them in order of due date. Additionally, it's possible for projects to start as not urgent, but put off long enough, they find their way into this category.
Defining important: Critical tasks needed to move the needle and reach your long term goals. Since there isn't always instant results for "important" tasks, they are easy to ignore for too long.
Pro tip: don't.
We already made an Eisenhower Matrix and checklist for you so you don't have to. Try it out for yourself.
Do First: If a task is both important and urgent, it should be at the tippy top of your list. These items need to be completed soon and will generate the most impact. If these are consistently tasks that have been delayed over and over, make sure you're realistically giving yourself enough time to complete them.
Decide when: These are items that need to get done, but they're not needed right now. Give yourself a deadline of when these need to get done and tackle these after your "Do First" items.
Delegate: To-do's that are urgent, yet not quite as important go here. Oftentimes this could mean a small bid from a co-worker or a last minute request that landed on your desk. Ask yourself (and your team, given the rest of your matrix): "is there someone else that could handle this?" Otherwise, these are tasks that can be handled outside your time blocks.
Do Later (or never): The lowest priority items go here. These are neither urgent nor important. Examples could be cleaning out your desk drawer, optional team meetings and other nice-to-have items that you can get to once all other more pressing tasks are completed. Better yet, does this task ever need to be done? The luxuries and quirks of professional life are sometimes lost to the abyss of important, scheduled work-and that's okay.
5. To-Do: Daily To-Do Lists
Now, take that Eisenhower Matrix you just made. We're going to use it right away to make a daily to-do list. I'm not the first person to preach the almighty power of these little lists, but there's a reason for that.
First thing you should do every morning (not just Mondays) is write down what you've set out to complete for the day, ideally in order of priority (refer to your Eisenhower Matrix).
While digital checklists work, I highly recommend a good old fashioned notebook or planner and pen. You'll quickly discover the pleasure of "list destruction." Check or "X," color in that box, scribble out that line and celebrate each and every little victory with a smile.
While it might sound silly, write down tasks that you've already completed that you weren't even planning on doing that day. Give yourself credit for your day's work, even if it wasn't planned to a T.
6. Reduce Distractions
Especially if you work in a place as fun as TJA, at times there can be a lot of distractions like puppies and magic tricks by that one coworker. While there is a time and a place for all of that (more on that in just a bit), it's important to hone-in on your work and block out distractions. Moving to a quiet place in the office, wearing headphones and muting your messaging apps will reduce the urge to socialize. Doug's card trick can wait until lunch, trust me.
7. Breaks and Cakes (or pie)
Remember when I said there was a time and a place for distractions? The time has come.
Having a balance of breaks throughout your day is crucial to preventing burnout and keeping the creative juices flowing. Have a snack and stretch your legs. At TJA, our favorite types of breaks include our 3 o'clock team walk and/or petting one of the many dogs that can be found in the office at any given time.
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Aside from our creative ideas and strategic planning, a crucial part of delivering our signature TJA White Glove Service to our clients is our organization, time management and attention to detail. At the end of the day, our goal is to provide the highest quality of work to each and every one of our clients, every time.