• Priya Sharma Shaikh

Mastering the art of time management


If there’s one thing that no one around seems to have enough of in todays time - it’s ‘TIME’.

“I don’t have time to even breath”, is easily one of the most overused clichés of our times. You’ve used that line too, haven’t you? The rise of 24x7 connectivity and social media have most of us reeling for a little ‘me’ time, a term that’s also a product of this time-starved era.

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And then we go ahead and waste whatever spare time we have on those time and attention-sucking gadgets. I know, I suffer from the same addiction as so many of us do now – the addiction of the ‘feed’.

While you may consider it recreational, scrolling through your Facebook or any other feed does nothing but make you want to scroll more.

Yet there are people who seem to be everywhere, setting all sorts of benchmarks and succeeding at all sorts of things. This is also the age of media, where these ‘superheroes’ are extolled for their ability to get so much done. That’s additional pressure we don’t need, right?

Time management is a skill like any other and with a little practice, you can develop it too. It will take a lot of discipline though, but it’s doable. Here’s what we suggest you do.

Maintain a to-do list

As innocuous as this may sound, this will be the most powerful weapon in your fight for managing time. All you have to do is maintain a list of activities that you need to get done every day. Just list the tasks. They should be specific and result oriented.

Don’t put your plans or wishes in your to-do list but definite tasks that you need to do on today.

For example, it could have the phone calls that you need to make, the emails that you need to send or reply to, the meetings that you need to call for or attend and reports or presentations that you need to make. If there’s a client you need to meet, put it there. If you’ve to spend time with a team-member to help him with something, it should be on the list.

You have to allocate time for the actual work that you need to do too, the kind that requires deep thinking, free of all diversions.

You could break the list by the types of activity you wish to do. So you could bunch the phone calls, the emails, the meetings, the presentations in separate buckets. This will help you get through them at one go. You could also assign an estimated duration or a timeline to every task. I personally found it to be very helpful. It made my job easier as all I had to do then was to stick to it.

It’s best to make the list the previous evening before leaving work. You already know what needs to be done and a few minutes planning the next day will ensure that you hit the ground running the next day. The list need not be on paper, you could have a post it on your desk or you can make it on your smartphone on apps like Trello, Todoist or even Evernote. Use any of these in conjunction with Google Calendar and you will be ready to face the world anew.

Just avoid cluttering the list with too many little things. For it to be useful, the to-do list has to be actionable. Have a separate list for home and work so there’s no confusion.

Prioritise

This doesn’t need an explanation, does it? Not every task is as important and you know, which ones need more focus and attention and the ones that can wait. You can use the to-do list to highlight the priority of activities thus ensuring that you attack the important and urgent tasks first.

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But you know that urgent is not always important and the important very often isn’t urgent, until it becomes so. A lot of stress in our lives is because we choose to let important tasks dangle on till they suddenly become urgent and there’s no time left to do justice to them. You can’t avoid the urgent tasks, they spring up on you sometimes. A presentation needs to be made for the country head who’s suddenly decided to visit your branch. There’s no way around it, is there? But if you’ve known about the visit for a while, then don’t let it linger till the last day. Get it out of the way beforehand so you have time to make changes or iterations before the final presentation.

To ensure that you don’t mix up the urgent and the important, it might help to create a to-do list of important things for the week or the month.

These are objectives you need to achieve in the period, which will therefore require dedicated time from your daily calendar. Now set aside those 15 minutes or an hour every day, whatever it takes to get the job done, in your daily to-do list. That should sort you out and help avoid all the stress.

Set deadlines and stick to them

No amount of prioritisation or list-making will help you unless you start setting deadlines to tasks. Yes, I know, it’s not always possible to be specific, but you can try. Keep some buffer if you need. But a task without a deadline is like a marriage invitation without a venue on it. It’s pointless!

I am a self-proclaimed procrastinator. A deadline is a great boon to people like us. There’s a date to focus on, to work towards. It gives you clarity. You know what is expected of you and by when. And believe me, once you have a deadline, you tend to achieve it.

So once you’ve got used to it, just keep stretching yourself by giving yourself tighter deadlines.

The deadlines too can be incorporated in to your to-do list. You can use a calendar app alongside the to-do list to structure your work. There’s nothing more you need to do, it’s that simple.

Turn those notifications off

Chances are you’re reading this on a smartphone or have one next to you right now. Just count how many times you’ve checked your phone since starting this article. You’ve got at least a couple dozen apps on your phone constantly sending you notifications and distracting you from whatever it is you are doing at the moment. It’s crazy how you get anything done with these shiny objects constantly pinging you or blinking at you.

Don’t do this to yourself. These apps are all designed to hijack our attention and do so exceedingly well. Unless you work in social media marketing and manage people’s accounts you don’t need to be on Facebook or Instagram or Snapchat all the time. Call me old-school but to do anything deep, you need to do it with focus and distractions are the enemy of focus.

Turn the notifications off and if possible, dedicate a time for checking your social media accounts. An hour every day should do it. What say? Well, allot whatever time you think is fine for checking all your Apps and stick to it.

Messenger services are no less distracting but they’ve now become an integral part of our lives and are useful tools for communication for business. They also help us stay connected with our family and friends and are sometimes a welcome relief from the stress at work. But it’s important to be able to separate the really useful conversations with the useless ones and reduce those.

Every minute that you waste scrolling through that message chain on that WhatsApp group is a minute you could have sat back and relaxed.

Set boundaries

It’s getting difficult but you can still do this. It’s important to not let work spill over into your private time. The better you are at doing this the more productive you will be at work. A lot of managers seem to favour employees who work late hours and are available 24x7 but it’s unsustainable and unhealthy. Yes, there will be days where you may have to work late and there will be occasions that will demand your immediate response but those should be exceptions and not the norm.

Initially your team might find it tough but eventually they’ll get used to it. As long as you’ve got your to-do lists sorted and your priorities and deadlines are clear, there shouldn’t be any reason to worry about. Most things can wait the night out. You don’t need to panic and neither should they.

Like I said in the beginning, it will need discipline to get this done. But not doing is not an option. It’s bad for your career as well as for your health. Just start one step at a time and you’ll see the results.

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