All too often, people in today’s stressful work environments are failing to achieve balance in their lives. It’s a common feeling that there’s no time left for anything but work.
Before the new work year starts, it’s a good idea to plan how you can get more out of the work hours you have in 2017.
That way, you’ll be able to spend fewer hours working and more time with family or friends, on other creative pursuits, exercising and simply resting.
Managing your use of time, not time itself
Nicolas Hayek, who was the co-founder and CEO of the highly successful Swatch Group in Switzerland, once said that rather than scheduling all of your time, you should, “Let it divert you. Let it do something unexpected, something new. Let it bring nice things, and let it bring bad things over which you have no control.”
Ultimately, effective time management is about managing yourself rather than about managing or scheduling time.
You can’t control the course of time or the events that time brings. However, you can control your use of time so that you work productively and efficiently to achieve the objectives you set.
What wastes time when you’re working
Some of the main time wasters at work are:
- interruptions, like phone calls, messages and face-to-face conversations
- needlessly long meetings
- a lack of planning, resulting in indecision, delays because of unexpected problems and time wasted on unimportant tasks
- a lack of clear objectives
- failure to prioritise tasks
- failure to delegate work to others
- stress and overtiredness.
How to manage time better
You can minimise interruptions by:
- using the telephone and checking email only at set times
- having an assistant screen telephone calls and email so that only relevant messages reach you
- identifying relevant points quickly to limit unnecessary time on calls and in meetings
- working during quiet hours in the office or working off-site.
Depending on your line of work, it may also help to use a separate email account for important clients (or important projects or issues) only. This means you can respond to important messages quickly, without having to sort through a large volume of messages.
Especially in corporate environments, the average employee spends many hours in meetings. To save time, aim to:
- postpone an unproductive meeting and reschedule it for when everyone knows the objectives and has had time to prepare properly
- plan meetings carefully – know what information you need to cover beforehand, and keep your presentations simple
- stay for the beginning of a meeting and then ask an assistant to take over for you
- use email to communicate ideas or problems to colleagues before a meeting so that decisions can be finalised quickly during the meeting
- use email instead of meetings.
Planning the work you need to do on a daily basis makes it easier to prioritise tasks so you can focus on finishing one task at a time in a productive sequence.
It also reduces stress. It can help you recognize that a potentially overwhelming project is really a collection of smaller, more manageable tasks.
It can also eliminate indecision and help ensure you address potential problems before they cause delays.
However, planning shouldn’t involve overscheduling your time. A schedule that’s too strict can prevent you from recognising new opportunities and add to stress levels.
Together with planning, organisation is a vital component of good time management.
For example, once you’ve planned a project, organising the resources you need to complete it can save huge delays once you start work. This may involve locating information you’ll need, scheduling meetings in advance or even simply ensuring that you have stationery you’ll require available near your desk.
Organising information on your computer or in files makes it faster to retrieve when you need it. Similarly, ensuring that your workspace is organised saves time by making it easier to locate items and by reducing stress.
Setting clear objectives
Setting clear objectives for the daily work you do makes it less likely you’ll waste time focusing on unimportant tasks. It also helps eliminate procrastination and indecision.
For instance, approaching a work day with specific objectives such as completing and then distributing a report is likely to be more productive than working on a number of tasks as they arise.
Prioritising tasks in relation to clear objectives saves time by preventing you from becoming preoccupied with other, less important tasks.
It also helps you schedule your time more effectively because it involves identifying the sequence in which you need to complete tasks to achieve an objective.
Failing to delegate work leads to time wasted on chores that others could accomplish. It can also mean that you spend time on work that other people could do more efficiently.
Stress and fatigue make people less efficient and less able to focus on completing high-priority tasks. Work-related stress can also compromise other areas of your life, including your relationships with other people and your health.
Once you start managing your time effectively, it tends to take care of stress too.
Other tips for managing stress include:
- keeping schedules flexible enough to allow for unforeseen events
- taking breaks – resting, exercising and participating in activities that aren’t related to your work
- scheduling longer rest periods for once important projects are complete
- knowing when to abandon unproductive work to move onto new tasks
- admitting it when you have too much work to complete in a set period and delegating work to others
- completing existing work that needs your attention before accepting new work.
Get a good office chair
A final piece of advice from K-Mark – a comfortable, ergonomically designed office chair can significantly reduce the physical stress that long work hours put on your body.
In turn, that means you’ll be able to concentrate better and work more efficiently.