Ten tips to manage your time better

Setting alarms

Setting alarms

In “Effective Time Management” we saw the four dimensions through which to look at time management. This post lays out ten ways in which you can really manage your time better and build a value system around it.

These ten tips are broken these down into two broad categories: (a) Self-development and (b) Tools and Techniques.

Self-development includes those activities that need a change of mindset, habit and understanding.  Tools and technique can simply be deployed once you have the understanding. 

The info-graphic shown on the right depicts these two categories.

How to manage your time better!

How to manage your time better!

A.    Self-Development time management


1.      Manage procrastination

The first step towards managing procrastination is to know that you have a problem.  This is best diagnosed by looking back at your activities over a 3-5 year period.  Make a list of your accomplishments and regrets.  Why the regrets?  Was it because of procrastination?  If so, then check out the post “How to better manage procrastination” and work on it. 

2.     Do not overpromise, practice saying “no”

It takes a lot of discipline to say “no” to some activities or some people.  Usually when you are approached, you want to say “no” and know that you will not be able to fulfill the commitment.  But somehow you end up saying “yes”, and guess what, there is remorse and the work suffers. 

Don’t say yes when you want to say no” is a great book which talks about this very topic.

By standing up for yourself and saying “no”, you are protecting yourself from spending your precious time on achieving someone else’s priority. 

Sure, every once in a while you may want to spend time doing non-profit or volunteering activities or helping a friend out.  But you should remain in control of where you want to spend your time and not be a victim to someone else’s urgent requests on your time.

Over a period of time, this will inculcate a solid commitment on your part.  You will find yourself committing to tasks, which you will then wholehearted and clinically accomplish.  And you will find yourself saying “no” right at the outset.  It pays to have a binary mindset in such matters and this can surely be practiced in.

3.     Set up a culture of timeliness

This is a very important part of building your value system.  The only way to build such a value system is to recognize the importance of something and then consciously working yourself to manage the time for that activity.  Whether it is keeping an appointment or managing your time required to perform a certain activity, consider the four dimensions and then work it into your schedule.

Penalize yourself some points whenever you goof up on time.  The goal should be to end up with a clean slate (no penalties) in any month.

So you start off at zero on the first day of the month.  As the month goes by, you keep track of your appointments.  The moment you miss one, or are late, you get a negative point.  Total the negatives at the end of the month for a total score.  Then start off the next month on zero.  Try to beat the previous month’s score (by scoring less). 

Before you know it, you will start to keep good time and also build self-discipline.  Set yourself small goals and ease into this habit.

4.     Focus and concentrate on completing tasks

There is a huge difference between being work-oriented and outcome-oriented.  A key principle in physics states that, when the object remains in its initial position, no work is done.

It doesn’t matter how much work you put in, or how much time you spend.  What counts in the end is the result, accomplishing the work, submitting the deliverable, completing the task, crossing the finish line.

 As with punctuality, penalize yourself for leaving something unfinished in a “construction area” state. 

Build task completion into your value system.

You will be surprised how much this gets noticed.  Everyone loves a finisher.

When I resigned from State Bank of India, on my last day I was at work until 9 pm and had to take a plane the next day to report to my new job.  I had to finish my task, even though it wouldn’t affect my performance in that company.

I am sure someone would have noticed that.  Even if they did not put that remark in my records, at least they wouldn’t state that I left my work unfinished. 

Take pride in finishing anything that you start. 

B.    Tools & techniques for managing time better

5.       Get used to setting up alarms

No more, hey I didn’t wake up on time or I didn’t realize the investor meeting is coming up in two days!

Recognize the importance of certain deadlines, activities, meetings, etc. and set up alarms.  You can set up alarms on your smartphone or your online calendars.  You can set up multiple alarms with different reminder frequencies. 

One of the surest alarms that worked for me when in college was to drink a glassful of water just before going to bed.  I used to do this the night before an outstation cricket match.  The train would leave at 5.30 am and ran just once every day.   I don’t recommend this, but it used to work like magic.  It would wake me up at 5 am and I’d be on time to board the train to get to the game!

6.     Work with to-do lists

I get a terrific kick out of scratching something out of my “to do” list.  Whether it is as simple as a grocery shopping list or a set of tasks, you want a list of things which when completely struck out, magically gives you the result.

The key is in building a list, putting it in the right order and then methodically striking each component off the list.  This is a great habit to have and one that helps you get well organized.

7.     Understand your own self and your pace of doing things

For routine things such as time spent on emails, social media, daily commute to work, reading etc. you should be well aware of the time it takes for you.  Without hesitation you should also be able to indicate boundary scenarios – e.g. your commute time during peak hours or over the weekend.

The highway near my home is a good example.  If I hit the highway at 6.50 am, I reach Center City, Philadelphia in exactly 35 minutes.  If I get on it ten minutes later, then it takes me well over 90 minutes.  So I make it a habit to leave home at 6.30 am and reach the high school in the city a half-hour earlier, whenever I volunteer for the NFTE. 

There have also been times when I have timed myself by visiting the venue a day earlier, just so I know how much time it would take me the next day.  Obviously you would do this only for critically important tasks.

8.    Track your activities

Everyone is given 24 hours, and the biggest challenge for folks who want to accomplish something out of the ordinary is to manufacture some time from somewhere.  

To do that, you first need to know where you are spending your share of 24 hours.  Since you cannot increase the pie (24 hours), you have to think about re-allocating time from unproductive, time-wasting activities to the one which you desire to accomplish.

Look back at your activities.  See which ones you had every desire of accomplishing but somehow could not.  See where you are spending most of your time.

9.     Know deadlines

In conjunction with setting (and getting used to) alarms, make sure you know when things are due.  Knowing deadlines and then working back to a plan is a key aspect of organization. 

For example, when I know that I have to present something in four weeks, I lay out at least three milestones.  First is to get a draft out and the sooner I do, the better I feel.  I have been called a “first draft champion” for a reason!  For, it is much easier (for me) to work with a draft, than with a blank sheet of paper with all sorts of ideas floating around in my mind.  A week after the first draft, I sit down and fill it with more details, images, animation and some edits.

Then a week later I finalize it.  Upon finalization I seek a review from a different set of eyes, and may even give it a quick rehearsal.  This way, I have become comfortable with meeting deadlines.

 10.Prioritize, Bundle & Delegate

 Three other highly effective time management tools that you can easily deploy are:

Prioritization – For procrastinators common advice is to tackle the least desirable task first and move on to the more exciting ones, thus gaining momentum.  However, from a prioritization perspective, I’d advise performing the most important task first.  That way if you end up not completing all the tasks you had identified, at least you’d have gotten the important ones done.

Some tasks are urgent and others are important.  Check out the urgent vs. important matrix and ensure you keep that in mind.

Bundling of tasks – Efficiency equates to time savings.  There is no efficiency in performing redundant tasks.  You could bundle your purchases and make one trip, thus saving time, effort and gasoline.  Or you could bundle “like” tasks and save on repeated performing the same setup activities.  For each set of tasks, you need to work out how (and if) bundling would work best.

As with most things, the time spent in planning at the outset, makes execution easier.

Delegation – Don’t do everything on your own.  Especially in team activities, divide the task into appropriate components and then find the best person to accomplish each component.  Division of labor is a wonderful concept that results in high quality of output.

The trick is to get into the habit of delegation.  Perfectionists who are not satisfied unless they perform each task would need to practice more build such a habit. 

Do share any tactics or techniques that have worked for you, using the comments below. 

Clock image: (c) https://web.archive.org/web/20140517104656/http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Alarm_Clocks_20101107a.jpg” target=”_blank”>Batholith (talk)

Info-graphic: (c) http://kayleadershipacademy.com