If you could describe your approach to time management in one word, what would it be? Procrastinator? Planner? Timesaver? Slow-burner? Okay, maybe that last one was two words.
Through the years, I’ve come across many people who love the thrill of leaving it to the last minute and doing an all-nighter to get it done. It’s as though they feel a greater sense of accomplishment after pulling it off successfully.
I’ve never been that person. Looking back, I don’t believe I ever worked through the night to hand in an assignment at school or university. I wasn’t the model student, I just couldn’t stand being crushed by the time pressure and missing a deadline was never an option!
Fast forward to a career in consulting at one of the largest professional services firms in the world. I quickly learned how to be productive, even when working until midnight to get the job done. Thankfully, those late nights are now a thing of the past!
Whether it’s developing a report, creating a presentation, implementing a restructure or writing an essay, let me help you remain a step ahead from project kick-off to completion. With these tips on how to manage your time, you’ll (hopefully*) never miss a deadline again!
*There are other factors outside your control which I simply can’t guarantee. You know, life.
1. Break it down
Once you know the desired outcomes, work backwards and break it down into activities. Think about each step you need to take to make it happen. This will help the project seem less daunting, making it easier to manage your time effectively.
Then, once you’ve identified the activities, you need to ask yourself the following questions:
- By when does each activity need to happen so you can meet the assigned deadline?
- How long will each activity take?
- Is this achievable?
On that last question, it’s better to determine from the onset whether the task you have in front of you is realistic to avoid setting yourself up for failure. If it’s not, ask for help.
2. Use your calendar
Block out chunks of time to dedicate to your project.
Even better, colour code it so you know you mean business. This is non-negotiable focus time! Without it, you’ll get distracted by the mountain of other things on your to-do list.
Screenshot of my work calendar, colour coded (work time, reminders, meetings)
3. Set up reminders
From the moment you’re aware of the deadlines you’re working towards, put reminders in your diary. Set reminders for:
- Key milestones
- Delivery date to your boss
- Deadline for delivery to the client
Take it a step further and set internal reminders for yourself to prepare you ahead of time. For example, schedule a reminder for a week before you need to deliver to your boss. This will avoid you logging on the morning that report or presentation is due, only to realise you have an endless amount of changes to make. Eek!
4. Prioritise your list
Having a to-do list is a brilliant start. I don’t know where I would be without writing my to-do list at the beginning of each day. You know what takes that list to new levels? Prioritising each item.
Look at your list for today – what’s the most urgent thing you need to get done? Make that number 1. What’s the most important? Make that number 2. And so on.
What could you realistically do tomorrow? Scratch that off the list for today and give yourself breathing room to achieve everything else on your list.
To help you prioritise your time well, buy a notebook that prompts you to do this, something like the one pictured below.
5. Communicate with others
It’s all well and good to know what you’re aiming for and feel confident you’ll get there. But if your co-workers, employees, clients or even family don’t understand what you need to accomplish, you’ll find yourself with minimal support. That’s a recipe for burnout.
So, communicate! Let them know that for the next 4 weeks you can’t attend the weekly coffee catch ups you’d previously agreed to. Ask (well ahead of time) whether they can excuse you from the Friday afternoon meeting that seems to drag on and eat into your productivity time.
If they have some level of responsibility in contributing to the project’s success – communicate from day one to ensure time is managed well.
6. Reflect on your habits
Highlight this one if you’re a procrastinator!
When you have a time-consuming task staring you in the face and daring you to walk away from it, what do you do? Take up the dare and do just that! After all, you’d rather scroll through social media or read that new article released by your favourite industry publication, right?
Reflect on these tendencies and create incentives so you don’t not fall victim to them. For example, you might reward 2 hours of focused work with a 10 minute scroll through the ‘gram. If you crave connection, half a day’s work could equal a half hour phone call with a good friend to lift your spirits.
Whatever it is, make sure it’s an incentive that will actually work for you! You know yourself better than anyone else.
7. Consider the time of day
Are you a morning person who likes to get up before the sun rises? If so, before lunch is probably when you get your best work done. Dedicate that time of the day to working on the project.
Or maybe you’re a night owl and you’re never more creative than when you’re sitting under the glare of your desk lamp accompanied by the dead silence of the night.
Maybe, each time you eat lunch, you feel a siesta calling your name and nothing sounds better than a good nap. Chances are, you won’t be proud of the work you produce as you fight to stay awake.
Match your work patterns to when your mind is the sharpest to operate at peak productivity as you work on your project.
How do you currently manage your time? Is there anything you think you could do better? Leave a comment and let me know!
Oyelola is a freelance writer based in Sydney, Australia. She works closely with entrepreneurs and businesses in financial services, consulting and education, writing quality-rich content to engage their readers and motivate action. When not writing for clients, Oyelola provides insights on writing, wealth and work on her Phrased with Purpose blog and shares her faith journey on her personal blog, He Speaks, I Write.