Top 3 tips for improving your time management skills

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While working with a team of sales managers recently I asked them what part of their jobs they found most difficult.  The answer came back loud and clear – ‘time management!’  These guys (yes, they were all men) were working long hours and were expected to meet challenging sales targets.  Some of them were responsible for managing other people and all of them had various additional duties such as managing budgets, running meetings, attending exhibitions etc.  It struck me that, no matter how experienced we are, or how familiar we are with the basic principles of good time management, we tend to forget everything we have been taught when the going gets tough.  We go into fire-fighting mode, we abandon our plans, we stop communicating with others and we neglect our own well-being.  Even the most experienced business leaders need regular reminders to encourage them to plan well, manage themselves and prioritise effectively.  Here are my three top tips for ensuring that, even when under pressure, your time is managed wisely and effectively.

Time management tip #1 – Plan!

Most people don’t plan well, and yet good planning is at the heart of effective time management.  Start with your overall goal – maybe your goal for the year.  Is it to grow your business? Launch a new product? Enter a new market?  Goals give you something to commit to and they will guide your decision-making.  Make sure your goal is SMART – specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timed.   The key question to ask yourself is what will your world look like in a year’s time when you have achieved your goal?  How many new customers will you have? What level of financial improvement will you see?  These outcomes will be the measures of your success and progress towards these measures should be regularly monitored.

When you have described your overall goal work out what specific steps you must take to achieve your goal.  Make these steps as specific and practical as possible and put them in a time-frame.  For instance, “Hire a PA by end January” or “Design new page for website by April”.  Work out who you need to involve in these activities and communicate your intentions to them.

Write your plan down and keep the document as a key point of reference to monitor progress.  Some people are reluctant to write an action plan but if it is written well, and if you keep it under review and update it, it will help to keep you focussed.

Time management tip #2 – Prioritise

President Eisenhower said ‘Most things which are urgent are not important, and most things which are important are not urgent’.  If you have set your goals and written your action plan you should have a clear idea of what is important.  However, stuff always gets in the way of the best laid plans, demanding your time and attention and distracting you from essential tasks.  In these situations you need to be ruthless about prioritising, by identifying what you must do and what you can ignore or leave for another time.  Ask yourself:

  • Is this really urgent?  If it absolutely must be done this week, without fail, then go ahead and get it done.  If it can wait for a week allocate some time to get it done – put it in your planner or diary and then move on – it’s dealt with, don’t think about it anymore.
  • Is it really important?  What are the consequences of not getting this done?  If they are truly serious then the task is important and you should do it now or allocate a time to get it done.

Urgent tasks which are not important are often imposed on you by someone else with their own  priorities  – meetings, phone calls  and emails come into this category.   In such cases you need to decide how important the activity, or the relationship with the person driving it, is to you.  If you conclude that it is not so important then consider whether the task can be delegated to someone else.

Tasks which are not urgent but important  are the ones that should be given time and attention.  Such tasks might involve planning, preparation, getting some exercise, relationship-building.  All these activities will help you to get control over your time.  If you don’t plan for these activities and build them into your schedule they will at best become urgent at a later date, or at worst result in a crisis or failure.

Time management tip #3 – Delegate

Even if you work on your own or in an isolated role there are always opportunities to delegate.  If it is managed properly delegation can bring so many rewards – more time for you to spend on important stuff, greater efficiencies and staff who are motivated by acquiring new skills.  If you are doing things that other people could be doing just as well then you are not using your time effectively.

Here are the basic steps to take when delegating:

  • Make a list of tasks that could be delegated.
  • Consider who could possibly do the job – this might be someone who has the potential to develop or someone who has some free time (if you’re self-employed you could consider outsourcing)
  • Be prepared to brief the person thoroughly.  Explain to them exactly why you are delegating the task and put the task in context so that the person understands the big picture and the overall objective.
  • Set the parameters.  How much authority do they have?  When would you like them to report back or check in with you? What are the timescales?
  • Monitor.  This doesn’t mean interfering or constantly checking and correcting.  Just keep an eye on progress – you can set up regular review meetings depending on the size and nature of the task.

Delegation gives you more time but we often shy away from it as we think it’s easier simply to do it ourselves.  But if you are prepared to invest time in briefing others who have the skills or the motivation to help you the payback is significant.  However, don’t use delegation as a means of dumping all the unpleasant jobs that you don’t want to do – you won’t get the support you need if that’s your attitude!

Effective time management requires a lot of discipline, a high awareness of those things that waste your time and some persistence.  You have to be motivated to achieve your goals, but if you start with a good plan, know the difference between urgent and important, and delegate wherever you can you will achieve your goals more quickly – without burnout!

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One Response to “Top 3 tips for improving your time management skills”

  1. carry says:

    Manage all work stuffs and household chores together and group all of them based on different subjects or cateogries. At the same time, find an organizer software might help a lot

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