12 Top Time Management Tips

1.Start your day by looking at your calendar and your to-do list rather than your inbox.
This simple technique will ensure that you start your day in a pro-active rather than reactive mode. By determining up front what meetings you have on, and what tasks need to be completed today, you will make better decisions when you read your emails.

2.Turn off distractions and don’t live your life by default.
Constant interruptions destroy your concentration and have been shown to lower your IQ when working on important tasks. Multi-tasking is a myth; if you need to deliver high quality work, you need to turn off all the distractions, including email alerts, and devote quality time to important activities. For example: Do you really need a 15 minute reminder of all calendar appointments? Instead, turn off the default, and choose what appointments need a reminder, and how long prior to the meeting an alert is required.

3.Plan for interruptions.
Ever get to the end of the day without achieving all you set out to do? The average ‘knowledge worker’ loses 2.1 hours per day to interruptions, and yet few people plan for it. If you work an 8 hour day, plan to accomplish 6 hours of work (less time in meetings and lunch of course).

4.Only check your email a few times per day.
You’ve heard this before - but this is the hardest habit for people to break. Doing so, however, is one of the best productivity gifts you can give yourself. You will be amazed at how much more you can achieve when you are not constantly checking, and reacting to, emails all day.

5.Don’t use your inbox as your to-do list.
To-Do List 101: write down all the things you need to do, put them in order of priority and start with the most important. Unfortunately your inbox is not, nor can it be, sorted in this way, and most people tend to do the quick and/or easy things first to reduce the number of emails in their inbox. Your inbox should merely be a reception point to receive your mail in the same way your letterbox at home receives mail. When mail arrives, do something with it. All email clients have excellent built-in task management functionalities. Learn how to use yours so you can build meaningful, properly prioritised to-do lists.

6.Prioritise your work based on the value it will add.
Apply the 80/20 rule to your workload so that you focus on the 20% of activities that will give you 80% of your results. Perfecting this will ensure that you are effective as well as being efficient.

7.Close your day.
Make an appointment with yourself every day, one hour before you go home, to reflect on what you have achieved that day. You may even want to keep a journal for that next performance appraisal. Then look at tomorrow and the next few days to see what meetings are coming up and what deadlines are approaching. Re-prioritise your to-do list so that you hit the ground running the next morning, and write down all the things that have popped up during the day that need to be done. When you get good at doing this you will go home feeling less anxious about the following day, and you will be more present for your family and friends. It will also stop you from waking up in the middle of the night suddenly remembering something you need to do.

8.Schedule time for important work.
If you don’t take control of your calendar, someone else will. This is especially important if you work in an office where calendars are shared. If you have a high priority task that needs to be completed, block out time in your calendar to do it. That way, if someone wants to have an impromptu meeting, they will see you as busy.

9.Insist on an agenda for meetings.
Few things waste time more than a poorly planned meeting. If there is no agenda for a meeting you should refuse to go based on the fact that you (and the other participants) cannot prepare in advance. If there is no agenda, how do you know if you are needed for the whole meeting - or even if you are needed at all?

10.Apply the one-touch principle to email and paper.
When you touch a piece of paper or an email, make a decision on what you are going to do and when you are going to do it. Double handling actually triples the time taken to complete the task. View all the emails in your inbox that you marked as unread as a decision you failed to make. Instead, file information, transfer to to-do lists, delegate to someone else if necessary, and delete the rubbish.

11.Take time to rest and recuperate.
Countless studies have shown that the most productive people are the ones who take the time out to rest, exercise and recuperate. Starting earlier or skipping lunch may make you more productive on the odd occasion, but if you do this consistently you will experience more stress and burnout. Don’t be embarrassed to take lunch or leave on time, because in the long run you will accomplish more than those who can’t switch off. When you go on holiday, switch off completely. Don’t be tempted to check your emails or check in with the office. Judge people on what they achieve, not on the hours they put in, because stress, anxiety and depression are all on the rise.

12.Manage other people’s expectations.
If you respond instantly to emails, always have time for the drop-in visitor, or constantly drop everything for others, you are setting up an expectation that you will always act this way. Subconsciously, your colleagues will always expect you to behave like that, setting you up for disaster. Be selfish with your time and be conscious of the expectations you are creating with others.

Rob Breaden