Good time management is essential for coping with the pressures of modern life without experiencing too much stress.
If you never have enough time to finish your tasks, better time management will help you regain control of your day.
Good time management doesn't mean you do more work. It means you focus on the tasks that matter and will make a difference. Whether it’s in your job or your lifestyle as a whole, learning how to manage your time effectively will help you feel more relaxed, focused and in control.
“The aim of good time management is to achieve the lifestyle balance you want,” says Emma Donaldson-Feilder, a chartered occupational psychologist.
Here are her top tips for better time management:
Work out your goals
This first step towards improving your time management is to ask yourself some questions. “Work out who you want to be, your priorities in life, and what you want to achieve in your career or personal life,” says Donaldson-Feilder. “That is then the guiding principle for how you spend your time and how you manage it.”
Once you have worked out the big picture, even if it's quite general, you can then work out some short-term and medium-term goals. “Knowing your goals will help you plan better and focus on the things that will help you achieve those goals,” says Donaldson-Feilder.
Make a list
A common time-management mistake is trying to remember too many details, leading to information overload. A better way to stay organised and take control of your projects and tasks is to use a to-do list to write things down.
“Try it and see what works best for you,” says Donaldson-Feilder. She prefers to keep a single to-do list, to avoid losing track of multiple lists. “Keeping a list will help you work out your priorities and timings, so it can help you put off the non-urgent tasks.”
Work smarter, not harder
Good time management at work means doing high-quality work, not high quantity. Donaldson-Feilder advises concentrating not on how busy you are but on results. “Spending more time on something doesn’t necessarily achieve more,” she says. “Staying an extra hour at work at the end of the day may not be the most effective way to manage your time.”
You may feel resentful about being in the office after hours. You’re also likely to be less productive and frustrated about how little you’re achieving, which will compound your stress.
Have a lunch break
Many people work through their lunch break to gain an extra hour at work, but Donaldson-Feilder says that can be counter-productive. “As a general rule, taking at least 30 minutes away from your desk will help you to be more effective in the afternoon,” she says.
A break is an opportunity to relax and think of something other than work. “Go for a walk outdoors or, better still, do some exercise,” says Donaldson-Feilder. “You’ll come back to your desk re-energised, with a new set of eyes and renewed focus.”
Planning your day with a midday break will also help you to break up your work into more manageable chunks.
Prioritise important tasks
Tasks can be grouped in four categories:
- urgent and important
- not urgent but important
- urgent but not important
- neither urgent nor important
“When the phone rings, it seems urgent to pick it up but it’s not necessarily important,” says Donaldson-Feilder. “It may be more important to continue with what you were doing rather than be distracted by a phone call. When it is appropriate, it may be more effective to let your voicemail pick up the message.”
Donaldson-Feilder says people with good time management create time to concentrate on non-urgent, important activities. By so doing, they minimise the chances of activities ever becoming urgent and important.
“The aim is to learn how to become better at reducing the number of urgent and important tasks. Having to deal with too many urgent tasks can be stressful,” says Donaldson-Feilder.
Practise the 4 Ds
We can spend up to half our working day going through our email inbox, making us tired, frustrated and unproductive. A study has found that one-in-three office workers suffers from email stress.
Making a decision the first time you open an email is crucial for effective time management. To manage this burden effectively, Donaldson-Feilder advises practising the 4 Ds of decision-making:
- Delete: half of the emails you get can probably be deleted immediately.
- Do: if the email is urgent or can be completed quickly.
- Delegate: if the email can be better dealt with by someone else.
- Defer: set aside time at a later date to spend on emails that require longer action.