Time Management Strategy Working smart in 2021
We’ve heard it time and time before: work smarter, not harder.
But what does work smarter and not harder mean in practice, and how can you apply it in your day to day life. Especially when you consider the results of the last SHRM survey that found that life at work doesn’t always work that way for everyone.
38% of people feel overwhelmed at work
Most of us are all-too-familiar with the signs of being burnt out from working far too many hours: lethargy, indifference, exhaustion, and cynicism, it is common in many workplaces.
I saw one guy that got so stressed out that he threw his laptop across the office in a furious rage, only for it to shatter above the head of the CEO (true story), – if you have been in management, I am sure you will have your own stories to tell.
We all know that burnout and stress are not great.
Being Stuck in a Busy Rut
Often burnout is caused by being so busy cutting your way through the forest of work, that you get stuck in a busy rut, running around like a headless chicken, fighting fires all around you whilst the farm, unfortunately, burns to the ground.
I have learned to recognise the signs of burnout, it starts with me being cranky, and then getting frustrated then getting angry, it also results in my to-do list getting longer and longer whilst I get less done.
When I see those devilish traits rear their ugly heads, I stop doing and start thinking.
Working smarter typically requires you to see the big picture
By developing an internal switch that switches me from the action (doing, reading, working, calling) to merely thinking about an issue, it is easier to look at it in the context of the bigger picture.
Seeing the wood for the trees, or thinking outside of the box – call it what you want, if you can apply critical thinking to your workload it is easier to get a grip on what tasks are crucial and what is noise.
The good news is that humans are the most advanced monkeys on the planet, and almost all of us are capable of high levels of critical thinking with the simplest of training.
What are the 20% of your tasks that will have 80% of the impact you need?
What will move the needle on the key performance indicators?
How can I improve the process?
By spending more time thinking about how you will approach a specific complicated issues upfront, you can cut down the amount of time spent resolving them.
If I had taken the time to step back from my work, consider and apply critical thinking and solutions to the problems I would have saved so much time and been much more productive in my younger years.
People working super hard and pulling late nights can be great for team morale, but only if it yields a good result for the team.
If you do not end up getting the excellent result, lose a deal or don’t get your funding – then it sort of sucks.
Even if the extra hours turn up trumps, you often see productivity go down after an intense work period as your team crash face-first into recovery soon after pulling those all-nighters.
People are niggly, on edge, moody – all because of the extra hours they worked last week.
So what if we told you that it is true.
It is indeed not necessary to put in that extra time — that studies have shown these extra hours generally aren’t more productive?
To truly work smarter rather than harder, effective time management is the key to success.
There is a multitude of ways to improve your time management skills, from specific day-planning methods to coping with distractions that interrupt your workday.
Using a combination of various time management strategies and finding out what works best for you is the best way to find success in both your personal and work life.
Here is how to truly get your time management game on point.
Why is Time Management Important
Time management skills can guide you to success in the workplace.
There are endless benefits to perfecting your time management, including accomplishing more with less effort, focusing on and ultimately accomplishing big-picture goals, improving decision-making skills, creating learning opportunities, and reducing overall stress.
People that have their time management game on point carry success around in their pockets.
How does time management improve your productivity?
When you focus on meaningful projects and tackle your most significant tasks first, you’re able to make room for more in your life.
When all of the big things are in order, you have more time to cultivate essential relationships, train employees, more free time, self-care time, more time to focus on passion projects, and so on.
Influential and effective leaders have found that managing their time not only eliminates stress and chaos from their lives, but it allows them to excel at the things they’re focusing on without distractions.
Creating competent time management skills can lead you to take control of your life both at work and even whilst working from home.
With the advent of COVID, 19 many became professional work from homers. Still, many have struggled to find the elusive work-life balance as work became all mixed up with the kids running around like mental gnomes when you have your big meeting and trying to hit mute as your dog barks at the delivery man.
Drastic changes in routine overnight were always going to be challenging to adjust to, and it has quite understandably sent things into a spin for many.
The Basic Yet Effective Time Management Techniques & Strategies
The concept of time management isn’t news for most people. We all know that we should be better about managing our time, and most of us could do a lot more to improve this aspect of our lives.
Let’s tackle this bit by bit and start by understanding the 4 Ds of time management.
What are the 4 Ds of time management?
The 4 D’s of time management are Delete, Delegate, Defer and Do.
When reviewing your to-do list and prioritising your responsibilities, go through the 4 D’s to determine how to handle each task.
First, decide if the task even needs to be accomplished — if not, Delete it from your list.
Delete spam from your email and block spammers so they can not steal any more of your time. Remove the clutter from your physical space and cancel the negative people in your life (this one’s not always possible, but consider it).
Next, learn to pass responsibilities along when necessary.
Delegation and knowing how to delegate effectively is one of the most critical skills a team leader can possess. Not only is it the best way to tackle projects and assignments efficiently, but it’s a way for everybody to utilise their skills and work as a team.
Defer: learn which tasks can be temporarily set aside in place of more pressing matters. Accomplishing your most important tasks first will also do wonders for your stress levels. If your job doesn’t fall under the first three Ds, then you likely must do it soon.
Be sure to figure out where each task belongs on your list of priorities — hopefully, this list is much smaller because of your ability to delete, delegate, and defer!
If you are at all shaky and struggling to define which tasks should be deleted, delegated, deferred, or done, then it’s handy to have a good understanding of Pareto’s Principle.
Pareto’s Principle: The 80/20 Rule
Pareto’s 80/20 Rule describes the imbalance of inputs and outputs; in general, 80% of your results are achieved from just 20% of actions.
This ratio, though not always precisely 80/20, can be used to reference virtually all efforts, both in business and people’s personal lives.
For example, in Italy, 80% of the land is owned by 20% of the people (one of Pareto’s first observations about this imbalance).
Additionally, this model is abundant in business and life in general. 20% of sales representatives generate 80% of total sales.
People wear just 20% of the clothes they own.
Smartphone users might have 20+ apps but spend most of their time on only four of them.
I represent only 20% of my family members, but I eat 80% of the cakes.
You get the picture.
One way to utilise this principle to improve your time management skills is to evaluate your workload and focus on the most important goals and tasks — the 20% that creates 80% of the results.
This strategy will help align your time with your objectives.
Armed with the knowledge of Pareto’s principle that you will generate 80% of your achievement from a measly 20% of your actions, you need to ask yourself which tasks are likely to deliver the most value.
You can then start to mentally sort your hitlist with an understanding of the Covey’s Time Management Grid — this is the same as the Eisenhower Matrix, we drill into why later.
The Covey Matrix: Covey’s Time Management GridStephen Covey created a four-quadrant matrix to help prioritize tasks based on their importance and urgency: If you categorise all of your responsibilities into this matrix, it can help clarify which tasks should be done immediately versus the ones that you must postpone without consequence. Quadrant 1 will have the most urgent and essential DO tasks, which you must address now. Quadrant 2 tasks are still important but don’t require immediate attention — your DEFER tasks. ** This section will generally be long term items. Quadrant 3 is your urgent, unimportant tasks that should you must DELEGATE. Quadrant 4 is the rest of your tasks. The remaining unimportant and non-urgent tasks will be in quadrant 4 and are probably in need of DELETION. When applying the Covey time management matrix to your professional (and even personal) life, most find that the majority of tasks lie in quadrants 1 (crying baby, kitchen fire) and 3 (interruptions, distractions and other). Quadrant 2 (exercise, vocation, planning) is potentially the most critical section, as these are tasks that must include long-term strategic planning, whilst quadrant four, you should consider deleting. If you find that all of your tasks are in quadrant 1 (ALL URGENT) and you have very few in quadrant 2 (IMPORTANT, NOT URGENT), this could mean you’re not dedicating enough time to planning out more significant projects and objectives in your life or at work. If you missed the link, you could get the full Covy training here.
The Eisenhower MatrixThe Eisenhower Matrix is the original Covey Matrix. As the former general of the US Army, Allied Forces Supreme Commander during World War II, NATO’s first supreme commander, and 34th President of the United States, Dwight D. Eisenhower had an immense amount of responsibility. To be clear, this is the guy that supervised the successful invasion of Normandy in 1944–45. When you are planning an invasion, the chips are pretty much down on the table. There is not much space for F’king up. To help with difficult decision-making and tasks, Eisenhower designed this matrix as a way of prioritising responsibilities. Used just the same as the Covey Matrix, the Eisenhower Matrix is also known as Urgent-Important Matrix. It divides your tasks between things you should Do first (1st quadrant), things you should Defer (2nd quadrant), things you should Delegate (3rd quadrant), and things you should Delete (4th quadrant). When used properly, the Eisenhower Matrix will increase your productivity. Not only will you eliminate unnecessary items from your to-do list, but you’ll highlight which of your tasks must get smashed through first. Completing these core responsibilities early on will alleviate stress for the rest of your day and give you a sense of accomplishment that will motivate you and also discourage you from procrastinating. If that still sounds a little stressful, then let’s look at how we can apply the Alpen Method at the start of your day to bring down your stress levels and put you in your happy place.
The ALPEN Method of Time Management
The ALPEN Method is a way to organise one’s day to maximise productivity and reduce unnecessary stress. This simple yet effective method should only take about 5 minutes the night before or at the start of your day.
It begins by writing down all tasks, both big and small; you must do on that day.
The next step is to estimate how long each task will realistically take, including buffer times (unplanned interruptions, plus a bit of leisure time throughout your day).
Next, make the schedule of which tasks you need to do first by utilising the Eisenhower/Covey Matrix to manage your time effectively. Benefits of this method include outlining deadlines and urgent tasks that you can accomplish first, setting realistic expectations for what you’ll be able to finish in your workday, and a decrease in stress because of the limits you’ve set for yourself. Be very wary of anyone bursting through the door with “urgent tasks” for you to do, because if everything is urgent, nothing is urgent.
Things should be essential and time-sensitive in a Zen Zebra office, in a whenever someone tells me that something is “urgent” my first response is to ask why exactly something is so critical quizzically. Typically when weighted against the bigger picture – the urgent things are not urgent at all.
I would go as to far as to say it is not the urgent things that everyone is screaming about that should exactly not be the focus of your attention.
It is those little things that no one is watching, the small issues that over time become a festering mess of problems that you will need to deal with later down the line that will always bit you on the ass. Whilst your teammates are running around the office like Bamboozled Baboon, you need to keep a keen eye out for the real issues that can ruin everyone’s workday.
The Mere-Urgency Effect
The Mere-Urgency Effect illustrates the decision between completing an unimportant, urgent task versus an important, non-urgent task and how most people tend to prioritise the former because of the “illusion of expiration”.
Just how an online retailer might urge people to purchase because there are only “2 left in stock!”, the Mere-Urgency Effect highlights how people often overemphasise the importance of urgent and immediate things that aren’t significant.
Buying something you don’t need because there are only a few left.
Something is urgent because a customer has requested it and not because it’s critical for the customer.
In the workplace, this might look like somebody prioritising a last-minute request from a coworker over doing important work on a long term project. If you find yourself in this position often, the Covey/Eisenhower Matrix is an effective way to organise your priorities.
If you ever see those people darting around the office on all of the busy little things, whilst not being able to clear down the chunky lumps of work that save the bacon that is the 80% that is going to deliver 20% of your results. Always obsessing on the small things without considering the big picture or what goals you are trying to achieve.
These people are the Bamboozled Baboons.
Not you. You are the ultimate Zen Zebra time management warrior.
You can also explain and demonstrate this ridiculous behaviour in practice with a humble pickle jar if you ever catch them in the act.
The Pickle Jar Theory
Imagine an empty pickle jar — this is your day. Now, this may sound like hippy sh*t to the untrained reader, but it certainly works.
First, you should focus on the most important things, or fill your jar with as many large rocks as possible. These are your Do tasks.
Then, you can pour in smaller rocks, which are your less important Defer tasks.
Then, add sand between the cracks in your jar (your Delegation tasks) and lastly, pour in some water (your Delete tasks) to fill any other available space. It’s important to note that if you start with water or sand, you won’t have room for all of your large rocks.
Or if you get bogged down with the delete or delegate tasks, you won’t have time to deliver on the big things that create real value. In business, this will often show up as poor performance against KPIs.
The most important tasks must come first for you to have space in your life for the little things. If you focus on all of the little things, you will find it hard to get things done.
Understanding Urgent vs Important
Urgent tasks are those that demand immediate attention and important tasks are those that lead to people achieving their goals.
URGENT = DEMANDS ATTENTION
IMPORTANT = TASKS THAT LEAD TO PEOPLE ACHIEVING THEIR GOALS
Essential tasks contribute to one’s long-term mission and values. Urgent tasks are often last-minute, so the time constraint makes them feel more significant and necessary than they are.
While some tasks can be both urgent and vital, most don’t have overlap. By identifying whether or not a charge is urgent and or important, we can categorise them on the Eisenhower Matrix to determine which tasks to complete first and which tasks can be left undone or delegated.
When you have a good working practice, you can further optimise your time by using the Pomodoro Method.
The Pomodoro Method
The Pomodoro Technique is another time management system to help plan one’s day. Break up your workday into 25-minute sections (or “pomodoros”), separated by 5-minute breaks.
After around four pomodoros, you earn a more extended break of 15-20 minutes. Setting 25-minute time limits to your tasks will create a sense of urgency, which often results in far less wasted time.
These mandatory short breaks will also help break up your work, so you don’t get burnt out and gives you a designated amount of time to scroll through social media or call a friend.
I use a Chrome plugin as a pomodoro counter from Focus To Do that I flick on and off to plough through my tasks.
Measuring Your Time
I measure the amount of time I spend on everything for two reasons, firstly I get an idea of what tasks are easy to whack through and can be delegated in future.
Secondly, because if I can spot work that is mainly driven by a bunch of manual and lengthy but unnecessary processes, I can focus my time on automating the crap out of them with Zapier or by developing custom API’s to plug functions together.
By working out where you time goes, exactly how much it costs and who is struggling you can sharpen your time allocation and quickly reduce time wasted.
We use a product called Harvest for measuring all of the time we spend on a project or service delivery. When you look back past the data, (they have excellent reporting) it is easy to see how and who is productive in your organisation. For example that a task that I may have allocated to John takes him twice the time it takes Mandy, the next time that mission comes around I will get Mandy to sit down and show John exactly how she does the task in half the time it takes his lazy ass.
GET A FREE TRIAL OF THE HARVEST APP
Time tracking for people that need to understand where their time goes.
Harvest makes it easy to track time and expenses, so you get access to critical data without driving yourself (or your team) crazy.
Why is it important to use your time effectively?
Everybody always says “time is money” — and they’re not wrong, even though they are not exactly right either.
However, before we dive down that rabbit hole; what you need to know is this.
Efficient time management creates a positive domino effect: when you manage your time well, you can accomplish more in less time, which results in a better work-life balance because you will have more free time and reduced stress, all of which leads to more opportunities and success at work.
More time results in better decision making — you’ll be able to think clearly without as much pressure, and you can consider all of your decisions more thoroughly.
Your team will be looking up to you as their role model for being “on point” as their leader. If you clearly could not organise the proverbial piss up in a brewery, then this will become evident in unclear goals, miscommunication and confusion for your team.
That means more complexity, all the way up until HR calls you up to tell you that you are crap at your job and need to pack your desk.
Psychologist Abraham Maslow emphasised the importance of aligning our tasks and responsibilities with our human needs. He created Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, which is a five-tier model that depicts the basic human needs that must be met from the bottom up.
First, we have basic physiological needs that consist of food, water, shelter, and other requirements for human survival. All tiers above are virtually irrelevant until this first tier is out of the way. Employes are not ready to be at work if they have not been fed, watered had slept in a bed.
Next are safety and security, followed by psychological needs: friends, intimate relationships, and a general feeling of belongingness.
Above this are esteem needs, which include a sense of accomplishment and fulfilment.
At the very top is self-actualisation or achieving one’s full potential.
Maslow argued that the bottom four tiers (food & shelter, safety, security, and society) must be satisfied in order to reach self-actualisation truly or to be the best version of yourself.
While this hierarchy may vary from person to person, Maslow’s conclusion that humans are motivated by these basic needs remains.
This information can be used in the workplace to effectively motivate employees by understanding their skills and encouraging them to produce the best possible work.
Not only does this generate a positive and supportive work environment, but it creates a place for employees to thrive and succeed.
Important: If your employees do not feel safe, if they are hungry, unengaged, or fearing for their jobs, you are likely to get inferior performance from them. This inner insecurity can often set off a sense of panic, often observed as procrastination because they feel so insecure in their work that they procrastinate about a decision for fear of getting it wrong.
Even when getting it wrong is often an important part of learning.
How to spot procrastination in your teamIdentifying procrastination is the first step in eliminating this bad habit from your life. Signs of procrastination include feeling overwhelmed, having a difficult time concentrating, having a lack of or unclear goals, becoming easily bored, making excuses, fear of failure, and having a negative attitude. Depending on how long you have let procrastination linger around in your team, will define how much of a steaming sh*t pile of problems you will face later. Procrastination is against everything right in the world. Procrastination is often a symptom of the root cause of having enough data or information to make the decision or being forced to make a decision that you are not sure how to make. Procrastination is telling you that you are missing information or motivation in making a decision. Importantly people generally procrastinate about the least impactful stuff. If you are procrastinating, ask yourself if this is an important task first and foremost. Because often people will procrastinate about the ridiculous stuff whilst important tasks are cast asunder. You will surely know where I am coming from.you have ever seen the whole company get embroiled in deciding if the blog font should be Ariel 28 or Poppins 17 type fonts, on the last day of the quarter at a software company. Focus on the important stuff – stop trying to perfect the agenda items where is not going to matter. People can worry a lot about shit that is not that important. Make sure they are engaged in impactful work.
How to stop procrastinating yourselfThe first step in preventing procrastination is getting organized. Once you lay out everything you need to accomplish, you’ll have a better grasp on what your day will look like so you won’t be as overwhelmed. Create a to-do list, set achievable and realistic goals, and minimize your task list by determining what you need to strike off of it (use the Eisenhower/Covey Matrix for this) Be sure to take breaks, so you don’t burn out (perhaps employ the Pomodoro Method and the ALPEN Method) and remove as many distractions as possible. Social media and office chatter are probably the biggest culprits, so do what you need to do to eliminate the things that sidetrack you (turn your phone off, use headphones, etc.). Getting sidetracked by coworkers at the office, a sick child, or a flat tire, life often presents us with problems and distractions that we can’t avoid. For the ones, we can avoid, do your best to eliminate interruptions by creating a workspace that allows you to work efficiently (maybe work from home when possible or go to a cafe). Another challenge is a lack of organization, both physically and mentally. Clear the clutter from your desk (and life), and get into the process of making your bed in the morning, and you’ll see how much this can reduce stress. To regulate your work, use organizational apps and programs, a planner or diary, and a calendar (digital or physical). The most successful people reduce complexity and keep their routines consistent and straightforward.
How do I manage too many tasks if I am overwhelmed?
If you find yourself with far too many tasks that you are unable to complete in time, be sure to eliminate what you can. This might mean removing tasks or delegating to somebody else. When your to-do list gets overwhelming, this is the time to employ the Eisenhower/Covey Matrix. Decide which tasks are the most important for you to complete and then schedule, delete or delegate the rest. This will reduce stress, which will make the tasks you assign for yourself a lot easier to manage. If you still have too many tasks then it is likely that you are under-resourced or are lacking some of the key skills within your team required to move the business forward.
What are the signs of poor time management?
Poor time management isn’t always easy to pinpoint. You might think you’re just busy, overworked, indecisive, or a perfectionist.
Signs of poor time management include ambiguous goals, procrastination, lack of energy, subpar performance, impatience, poor punctuality, and rushing.
These are the people in your office that are always busy, but achieving very little.
How do you manage a large workload?
You can manage a large workload using a combination of the techniques and methods mentioned already. The most important part is analyzing your tasks and determining which ones to do first and which ones you don’t need to do at all.
By focusing on the bigger picture, you’ll remove a lot of noise and disorder from your life.
Once you’ve identified the main tasks you need to do for the day, you can plan out your day — write your to-do list, schedule breaks, and create personal deadlines. All of this should be done without distractions so you don’t procrastinate.