When you’re in a leadership role in any organization, your time is highly sought after by everyone.
It’s easy to experience a steady stream of interruptions, requests and other time-bending encounters throughout the day that can quickly derail you from being on time. Whether in the office or at home, your grasp of effective time management will improve your overall life and will have a positive effect on your relationships.
If you find yourself consistently late to meetings, events and struggling to manage your schedule, here are four pillars of effective time management that can help you mend your ways.
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1. Use Technology
Today’s technology can easily act as a personal assistant and help keep you on time and on task. Use technology to your advantage and hold yourself accountable to the tools at your disposal to manage your time.
For example, every smartphone, tablet and desktop computer has an alarm system to alert you to upcoming meetings or important scheduled events. Set your technology alarms to chime or pop-up in some way to alert you to an upcoming meeting. The key with this tip is to use the alarm.
Setting the alarm ten minutes before a scheduled meeting means acts as an active cue; you need to pay attention to it and wrap up whatever activity you’re engaged in. There is also a variety of apps for your smartphone that can take the calendar alert function to a whole other level.
Some of the best time management apps include ones like Remember the Milk, a free app that helps you with lists and reminders. Evernote is another popular free app that allows you to capture notes, voice memos and set alarms. With the free price tag of these tools, you have no excuse for not utilizing them and improving your time management.
2. Review Before You Do
Productivity experts recommend that before you start your day and any given task, you schedule a time to review what you’re about to do. According to a recent article in Entrepreneur, taking the time to plan and review your upcoming calendar is one of the most effective, and surprisingly neglected, ways to ensure you stay on time. You should “take the first thirty minutes of every day to actually plan your day. Don't start your day until you complete your time plan.”
This gives you the uninterrupted opportunity to look over your day, gain a general awareness of the layout of your schedule and the chance to spot potential problems before they arise (think double bookings, not allowing for travel time, etc.). Make the most of your time by allotting five minutes before each meeting or phone call to organize your thoughts on what the intended outcome is for the event.
Just five minutes can increase your likelihood of achieving your objectives and potentially getting to the objective faster.
3. Schedule for Real Life
One big downfall that many well-meaning leaders are subject to is not realistically planning the time needed for a full day’s events. For example, you may schedule an offsite lunch, but are you blocking off your calendar for the travel time and traffic considerations to get there and back?
Often you’re so busy with your day that those little “real life” events end up totally disrupting your day and getting you off schedule. This is particularly important if you manage your calendar, and the office has access to your availability to schedule meetings.
Without insight into your offsite meeting that ends at 4 PM, your staff or other peers might have a 4 PM start time back in the office and you’ll clearly have a problem getting to that meeting on time if you haven’t booked out space in your calendar to travel. Other considerations from an article in Entrepreneur suggest scheduling time for other real life activities like the time you’ll need to brainstorm, think and need other uninterrupted time.
Plan on and schedule some time in each day for interruptions. For instance, scheduling your open door policy hours, which still encourages your staff to drop by, but during scheduled times. How you choose to plan your real life scheduling each day is up to you but remember that the most important factor here is that you are honest with yourself about what kind of time you’ll need.
Dartmouth College lists your self-knowledge about your time as a valuable baseline success skill for overcoming time management issues. The same is true for you in your career now. Know your work style, conversation needs and understand what kind of a time buffer you’ll need to schedule in order to be more satisfied with your time management.
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4. Prioritize Urgent vs. Important
We live in a world of constant interruptions and instant access so it’s not always easy as a leader to balance what’s urgent versus important. That distinction is a crucial part of successful time management so you can overcome the distractions of daily life when you need to focus or manage your calendar better.
Lifestyle guru Tim Ferriss has long advocated responding to emails and phone calls at scheduled times versus responding to each one as they come in to help you manage your time better.
You should only give your attention to those tasks and events that are indeed critical—not just urgent. For example, they suggest allowing your phone ring and emails go unanswered during your scheduled times of productivity.
Remember too that this tip doesn’t just apply to human interruptions but also technological time sucks that can distract you like social media. If social media and instant messaging isn’t an integral part of your job role, turn them off.
If you’re on the fence about understanding where your time is going, consider using the Rescue Time plugin. It will run unnoticed in the background on your laptop or desktop monitoring which places and programs you spend the most time in, then will report back to you what is actually taking up the majority of your time online.
While no one tool alone will help you regain your time, utilizing one or several of these tips in combination can help you to better understand where you time is going so you can learn to build the necessary boundaries and infrastructure to be great at your time management.