Clever Tips For Time Management
As the way we work continues to evolve, time management has become a hot topic for those in the workforce. An ever-increasing number of us now work partially or fully remotely. The lines between our personal and professional lives are more blurred than ever, and how we view time management and productivity is changing too.
For many of us, gone are the days of believing that long hours equate to greater productivity. Nowadays, we crave work-life balance, flexible working schedules, and the ability to work smarter, not harder. One of the best ways we can achieve this is through developing our time management skills to optimize our productivity and free up more time for self-care, our loved ones, and the things in our life that bring us joy.
Whether you’re reading this article to boost your own time management skills, or you’ve been tasked with creating eLearning training on the subject of time management, this article offers some real-life hacks to get the most out of your working hours and wave goodbye to overtime for good.
1.Time Block Creative And Logical Tasks
For most of us in the L&D field and especially for instructional designers, our job is made up of a mix of creative (right side of the brain) and logical (left side of the brain) tasks. It might be that you’re juggling several projects at once, or maybe most of your day is being taken up in “reactive mode” where you’re replying to emails, or perhaps your schedule is full of meetings and doesn’t leave you with a big enough chunk of time to get anywhere with your “focus tasks.” If this is you, then time blocking might just be the answer.
Time blocking involves going through your schedule and dividing your day into chunks (or blocks) of time. You’ll then dedicate each of these blocks to a specific task or group of tasks. This is especially effective for those whose job requires both creative tasks and logical ones. An example of this would be creating an eLearning course. This requires a mix of creativity and high organization. Time blocking your day so that the mornings are for more logical tasks, such as planning, stakeholder meetings, course settings, LMS admin tasks, etc., and your afternoons are for creative work like writing, video scripts, voiceovers, creating graphics, etc., allows you to get into a flow.
Rather than having a never-ending to-do list, you have a structure to your day that allows you to really focus. You can take this even further with task batching (e.g., schedule all meetings between 9 am and 11 am), day theming (dedicating a day of the week for specific tasks such as video editing or research), or time boxing (giving yourself a specific time period to achieve a goal like creating six new icons before 6 pm tomorrow).
For most of us, the biggest pain point we face is that we are constantly interrupted during our workday, making it impossible to find the time and quiet to think about the big picture. Time blocking in this way can help make time for those bigger, creative-thinking tasks.
2. Write A To-Do List That Works For You
To-do lists are your best friend. If you’re not a list-maker, consider this your conversion. Most of us know and love the feeling of satisfaction when we tick that last task off our to-do list. It gives us a sense of achievement and motivation. However, it’s key that we plan our list out well so that it serves us and doesn’t overwhelm us.
Many people will have several to-do lists: a daily one, a weekly one, and a monthly one. This is especially handy for prioritizing urgent tasks and not overlooking less urgent but equally important ones.
Try planning out your daily to-do list like this:
- Divide it into creative and logical tasks
- Put a (realistic) time estimate beside each task
- Assign the task to a day or block, based on its length, type (left or right side brain), and urgency
- Add the tasks to your calendar or schedule
Your daily to-do list should only focus on the tasks for that day. Have your extra tasks that need to be done, but don’t have a time limit to your monthly list, and consult this list if and when you complete your daily to-do list.
A long list can stress us out and actually make us less productive. Go through each task or batch of tasks methodically and only tackle one thing at a time. The majority of us can’t multitask. In fact, according to the New Yorker, « only around 2.5% of people can actually multitask effectively. » If you aren’t lucky enough to be part of that 2.5% of supertaskers, don’t worry. A well-organized to-do list will keep you on track.
3. Create A Realistic Schedule
When you’re planning out your schedule, be realistic. If you don’t allocate time to your schedule for important things such as meal times, breaks, workouts and stretches, household tasks, and water-cooler chats (virtual or in-person), then you will find yourself always playing catch up or going over your schedule. You may feel guilty or cheeky for scheduling in a 10-minute window to put in your laundry or to do a school run, but these are inevitable parts of your day, and not putting them in your schedule just means that your schedule is going to be overloaded.
One way to be more realistic with your schedule is to leave five-minute breaks between meetings. Instead of setting a one-hour meeting, make it fifty-five minutes so that you have time to make notes, set up follow-up meetings, send on the deck used in the presentation, or simply have a bathroom break or a stretch. Five minutes isn’t likely to make much difference to the meeting, but it just might make a difference to you in the long run.
Creating a realistic schedule is an act of self-care. Have you ever felt like you’ve worked non-stop all day but when you finish the day you feel like you’ve barely achieved anything? Maybe your to-do list is only half-completed or you have only clocked up one thousand steps on your fit bit. This could be a sign that your to-do list and schedule aren’t reflecting your actual day and that they need to be more realistic.
By not setting aside a specific time in your day for important things like workouts, you’ll end up skipping them and then beating yourself up about it. An example of this is not blocking off a specific time for lunch. More often than not, this will lead to you working through lunch and reaching for the cookie jar or some junk food instead. Put simply, an incomplete or unrealistic schedule leads to bad habits such as skipping lunch and filling up on junk food or forgetting to stretch and move your body during the day and then having to pay a chiropractor to fix the damage. These bad habits in turn have an emotional impact on your day and overall well-being.
4. Dedicate Time For Self-Care; It’s An Investment
Despite the majority of us knowing just how important self-care is, unfortunately, it’s often the first thing that goes out the window when our schedules are full. Self-care isn’t a luxury, it plays a vital role in maintaining our physical, mental, emotional, and purposeful well-being. As human beings, we need to feel like we have a purpose and that we’re achieving something every day. Have you ever completed all of the tasks on your to-do list but still felt a bit empty or unfulfilled? This is probably because you’ve neglected your purposeful well-being.
Make self-care a priority and a habit in your day. Understand that it’s an investment in yourself that will give you the stamina to focus better, to be more productive, to be a happier and a more joyful colleague, and prevent yourself from burning out. If you want to build this habit but don’t know where to start, ask yourself what one small task you can do today that will make your day feel like a success. What can you do today that will give you a sense of achievement? It could be something for the soul, mind, body, or even your social life. It’s up to you. Perhaps it’s taking a walk with a friend, meditating for fifteen minutes, reading a chapter of your favorite book, doing a micro-course, or giving yourself a quick facial.
Once you identify your task, pop it in your schedule and remind yourself that it holds as much importance as that weekly meeting or replying to that email. Self-care also means taking measures to ensure you get good sleep, adequate exercise, and time to switch off. If you are constantly working over your schedule, you’re going to start to neglect these areas and it will begin to show. For example, if you work late two nights in a row to catch up on a project, by the third day you’ll be tired and will lack focus. Not taking this time to look after yourself has a knock-on effect on performance, focus, motivation, and stamina, leading to burnout.
Self-care isn’t a luxury, it plays a vital role in maintaining our physical, mental, emotional, and purposeful well-being.
What should you prioritize? The urgent task or the most important one? Take time to think this through and prioritize accordingly. Having a to-do list as long as your arm that isn’t realistic or that has a lot of tasks that don’t have to be done today can be overwhelming and counterproductive. Make sure that your daily to-do list only contains what’s relevant for today. If you have a daily or monthly list, add them there or maybe even have a separate list of tasks that aren’t a priority but would be great to do if some free time pops up.
In his book, Steven Covey offers a handy guide to help you prioritize your tasks:
- Urgent and important
Complete these tasks first.
- Important, not urgent
Time block these activities so you can get them done with minimal distractions.
- Urgent, not important
Delegate these tasks when possible.
- Not urgent, not important
Remove them from your to-do list.
You may be thinking that this all seems great until a last-minute ad-hoc request from a stakeholder pops up, ruining the best-laid plans. If this is a reality for you, why not try the Most Important Tasks (MIT) approach? In this methodology, the idea is to make a list of three tasks that need to be completed on that day. Choose these tasks based on how important they are, rather than how urgent. If you’re struggling to pick out the most urgent tasks, think about the big picture or your bigger goal. Is there a task on your list that will work toward that bigger goal? Which of these tasks would have the most impact? Qualify your three tasks by keeping your goals or OKRs in mind.
Prioritizing can be a great stress reliever when our days are chock-a-block and we lose sight of what’s really important in the stress of it all. The same goes for meetings. If you have a hectic week and there’s a meeting in there that isn’t urgent, see if you can reschedule it for another time when you can dedicate 100% attention to it. Just make sure that you reschedule well in advance. We need to respect other people’s time just as much as our own.
6. Set Goals And Make An Actionable Plan
Goals are our life source. They give us the perspective, drive, and roadmap to achieve success and feel a sense of purpose. Think about when we learn. We learn best when we have one clear learning goal for each module or section. This rule applies to life as well. Goals help us to streamline and focus on one thing at a time. They also help us to align our goals with the company goals or the goals of our partner.
If you are new to goal setting, try these tips to get you started:
Stick To One Goal At A Time
One of the most common faux pas when setting goals is to be overambitious and set too many at once. It’s great to have multiple goals, but they need to be organized and aligned. Break down your five-year goals into smaller, more manageable yearly, monthly, and weekly goals. It makes it much easier to achieve and stay focused.
Always Remember The « Why »—This Is Your Motivator
When you are setting yourself goals, don’t forget the « why. » Reminding yourself why you want to achieve this goal will be the biggest motivator to keep you on track. When we have a bigger goal, especially the daily tasks we carry out to work towards this goal can sometimes seem like busy work or irrelevant. By constantly checking in and reminding ourselves of the bigger goal, we give the smaller tasks more context and meaning. We understand why we need to do them to reach our bigger goal.
Set SMART Goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Time-Bound)
You have probably already heard of SMART goals. There are several variations, but setting SMART goals essentially means that your goals meet the following criteria:
1. Goals Should Be Specific
Choose a specific goal. Define it clearly. Think of your goal as your north star. If it’s vague or too general, then you’re going to get lost or realize that there are key steps missing from your plan. Avoid general goals like “I want to get fit this year” and opt for something a little more specific such as “I want to be able to run 10K by the end of the year.” The second example gives you a clear goal to achieve.
2. Goals Should Be Measurable
One of the reasons why your goal needs to be specific is so you can attach metrics to it. You need some tangible way to measure how successful you are in reaching your goal. Taking the example above, if your goal is to run 10K by the end of the year, you can easily measure how successful you are in achieving this. By having 10K as your benchmark, you have something to work towards throughout the year. This will keep you motivated and let you know if the daily steps you’re taking towards your bigger goal are effective enough. If after six months you still can’t manage 5K, then you know that you need to adjust your daily tasks in order to achieve your goal on time.
3. Goals Should Be Attainable
Setting yourself unrealistic goals is simply a waste of time. If they aren’t achievable for you, then you’re going to end up giving up or feeling like a failure. Be realistic with yourself, carefully plan out exactly what it takes to achieve that goal, and make sure it’s possible. There’s nothing wrong with setting yourself a smaller, more attainable goal to start off with. Rather than quitting your job to become a novelist, start off with the goal of having a short story published and go from there.
Having said that, goals should still be challenging. If a goal is too easy, you’re not going to get that sense of achievement. Goals are designed to help us push ourselves outside of our comfort zone and reach new heights. If your goals are not challenging enough, you’ll simply remain inside your comfort zone.
4. Goals Should Be Relevant
Goals need to reflect your life and the direction you want to go in. As humans, we are busier than ever, and creating goals for ourselves that lack relevance or impact on our lives will waste our precious time. Align your professional goals to your company goals (OKR) and align your personal goals to your life and dreams.
If your goal as an instructional designer is to develop your video editing skills or learn HTML, these are relevant goals that will make you better at your job and are transferable skills that will benefit your company.
5. Goals Should Be Time-Bound
Imagine a basketball game that doesn’t have a time limit or end time. They just keep playing and playing until one team gives up or is too far behind to ever catch up. How boring would that be?
Goals need to have a timeline. Give yourself a deadline so that you can plan out what needs to be done each day, week, or month to hit the goal. Most of us will naturally procrastinate and leave tasks until the last minute. If we do this with our goals, the odds are they’ll be pushed back again and again until we eventually forget all about them.
Make An Action Plan And Put It In Writing
Once you identify your goals, you need to make an action plan. It’s not enough just to say that you want to launch your own business next year. You need a plan to guide you through each step in the process.
Break it down into chunks, assign small actionable steps and make sure that they all work towards the end goal. Put it in writing to make it more official. When we see something in writing, it feels more real and we’re much more likely to see it through.
If You Fall Off The Wagon, Get Back On
We’re human. We’re not perfect and at some stage, we’re likely to get off track and not reach our goals. First of all, remember that this is ok. We’re looking for progress, not perfection. If you slip up and shun your schedule to curl up on the sofa with a glass of wine, don’t let it stop you. When we’re too strict with ourselves, we actually tend to be less productive. Perfectionism is toxic, so don’t let it get in your way or demotivate you. Step back, re-evaluate your plan, and get back on track.
7. Try The 1:4:1 Goal-Setting Approach
If goal setting is new to you, try a goal-setting framework or method to get you started. The 1:4:1 approach is an easy way to make sure that you are constantly working your way towards your big goal.
It’s a simple idea that involves setting 1 big monthly goal, 4 weekly goals, and 1 daily task that are all aligned and connected. Your daily tasks and weekly tasks should all contribute to achieving the big monthly goal.
For example, if your goal is to roll out a new customer service training module next month, your 1:4:1 plan might look like this:
1 Monthly Goal
Roll out a new training module on customer service training by mid-August 2021
4 Weekly Goals
Week 1: Create a course outline and plan
Week 2: Create multimedia elements of the course
Week 3: Build course (interactions, copy, upload images, videos, etc.)
Week 4: Test the course, gather feedback, and make adjustments
1 Daily Goal
Monday: Collect and curate training material
Tuesday: Analyze training material and identify content gaps
Wednesday: Create a learning goal for the module
Thursday: Divide the learning goal into three smaller learning objectives
Friday: Create a course skeleton
Just remember that this is designed to help you, not hinder you. Make adjustments as you go and keep it realistic. For example, if you know that you need longer to make your multimedia elements but you fly through the course building phase, then factor that into your plan.
8. Embrace Habit Stacking
Habit stacking is when we attach new habits to unconscious or well-established habits in our lives such as brushing our teeth, cooking, driving to work, etc. The idea is that we stack a healthy new habit onto the already established habit without affecting the effectiveness of either. An example of this would be listening to a podcast or an audiobook while driving to work so that you can fit some learning into your schedule every day. Or perhaps, doing squats while you brush your teeth to boost your exercise quota for the day.
The beauty of habit stacking is that we can reclaim our time by using our already clockwork habits. Rather than using your coffee break to get that podcast in, do it on your commute and reclaim your coffee break to unwind, socialize, or get some fresh air. It’s a great way to squeeze in some learning, meditating, exercise or planning without even noticing. But remember, the majority of us can’t multitask, so don’t overdo it.
Time management isn’t just a concept designed to make us more productive for our companies. It’s a skill and a tool that allows us to free up more time in our day for the things we love. By organizing our day properly, we cut down on time-wasting and prioritize what’s important to us both professionally and personally. In the world of eLearning, creating microlearning courses gives people the ability to take that five-minute block in their day and use it to learn and develop a skill set. The more purpose and achievement we take from our day, the happier and more fulfilled we’ll be in all areas of our life.