10 Ways To Manage Your Time Better

Time flies—especially when you’re trying to get things done.  In order to be successful in business and in life, you have to actively manage your time so it doesn’t simply slip away.  But doing so is easier said than done.  We’re hardwired to be distracted.  With all of our senses in play, it’s hard to keep from being pulled away from essential activities by new and interesting stimuli: the birds chirping in the tree outside, the lyrics of the song playing softly on your iPod, the smell of coffee wafting out of the shop down the street, even that funny web video that’s just a new browser window away.

Try these 10 ways to help you manage your time better so you can push through distractions and get things done.

1)    Make To-Do Lists

This really is a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised how many smart people think that making lists is just one step too far toward being obsessive (especially creative types).  People inherently don’t like lists—they impose order on our lives and act as pseudo-bosses telling us what to do.  However, there’s no denying that lists keep us organized, keep us on track, and keep us apprised of where we are and what still needs doing.  So start making list today (even if you don’t like it).  Once you start seeing results, those lists that were perhaps tiresome in the past will become your best friends.

2)    Prioritize

Lists are great but if you don’t prioritize, those lists they can be a significant source of stress for you.  In fact, a lengthy to-do list without prioritization looks like an impossible obstacle to overcome—where do you even begin?  You can use a number or letter system to prioritize, or you can simply rearrange your lists so the top priority is right where it belongs (at the top of the list).  Whatever method you choose, it’s going to take some practice to get the system down.  At first, you’ll find yourself assigning top priorities that really aren’t the most critical.  That’s okay.  Like with everything else, learning to prioritize is a trial-and-error process.

3)    Set Goals (and Rewards)

It’s good to have a list but you should also budget time for each item on that list.  By setting goals for what you need to get done before lunch, before quitting time, or by the end of the month, you know how fast you have to work and how much time should be spent on each project.  But it’s important to give yourself the motivation you need to actually reach those goals.  That’s where the rewards come in.  It can be as simple as allowing yourself an iced coffee after you get caught up on the paperwork or as complex as a seven-day Caribbean cruise if you hit your sales numbers for the season—the goal isn’t important unless it’s important to you.

4)    Track Your Time

It’s amazing how fast time gets sucked away by simple things like checking email or shopping for paperclips.  That’s why it’s important to track your time.  You can use a pen and paper (or the digital equivalent) but it’s easier to access a digital time tracker with which you can track every daily activity.  Once you’ve done so for a couple of days, you’ll get a feel for when you’re spending your time appropriately on goal-oriented activities and when you’re simply wasting it on non-productive things.  The next step is to weed the latter out.

5)    Don’t Even Attempt to Multitask

It can take fifteen minutes or more for your attention to switch back into gear after it’s been jarred off the rails.  So don’t let it slip.  Stay focused on one thing and one thing only, and only move on to the next task when the first one is complete.

6)    Minimize Distractions

Shut the door, close the widow, turn off your cell, and stay away from social media and other Internet distractions.  Use the goal/reward system mentioned above to boost your will power and give yourself the leg up you’ll need.

7)    Delegate Responsibilities

Having another responsible person take over some of your tasks is like getting twice as much done in the same amount of time.  The key to delegation is picking the right person.  You want somebody who has the skills to get the task done.

8)    Give Yourself Rest Periods

You’re simply not going to be able to perform at 100% all of the time.  And trying to do so is simply going to lead you to a state of exhaustion.  In order to prevent the inevitable burnout, you have to give yourself the freedom to rest and recoup.  Not only will you be able to perform more efficiently when you approach a problem fresh-faced, you may actually come up with solutions and better ways to approach a problem while you’re not actively working on it.  That’s the way many professional writers work—their unconscious mind digests the issue while they’re using their higher-level functions to tackle another problem.

9)    Plan For Tomorrow Today

If you simply pull the plug at the end of the day—no matter where you are along your list of priorities—you’re going to start tomorrow floundering about trying to catch up.  Instead, use the last 10 or 20 minutes of the day to plan at least the first part of tomorrow.  This will let you start the new day with momentum.  That doesn’t mean you have to stick to the plan 100% of the time—everyday will bring new challenges and priorities—it just means you have to take an active approach.

10) Recognize Procrastination

Procrastination is a time suck but it’s not always easy to spot.  Something that looks and even “feels” important when you’re doing it (such as checking email or taking phone calls) can actually turn into a crutch for procrastinators.  Remember, just because you’re “doing things” doesn’t mean you’re “getting things done.”  Make an effort to spot procrastination while it’s happening and nip it in the bud.

Better with Time

Time management skills are essential to every successful business, employee, and manager.  Learning (and using) ways to manage your time better will get easier with experience.

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