If there’s one asset that’s more valuable than money or your talent, it’s your time. You need time to realize your personal and career goals. You need time to build relationships. You need time to live the life you want.
Unfortunately, unlike money or your skills, you can’t earn or build time. You are only vaguely aware that you have 24 hours in a day, but you don’t really know how many hours or days you’d have in your life. The only power you have is choosing how you spend every second that you have in your life.
In my career coaching practice, this is one particular problem that I often hear from my clients: they always feel like they’re running out of time. They tell me how time seems to fly quickly, and even while they feel they’re always busy, they can’t seem to accomplish much.
The problem, suggests Maura Thomas on Harvard Business Review, is no longer just distraction from work; it’s also the distraction “from important work by other work.”
Traditional Time Management Tips Are No Longer Effective
No matter what you do, it seems that no amount of discipline and self-control can make you complete tasks on time. If you’re one of those people who always make a to-do list the night before or in the morning before you start your day and you find yourself not being able to tick off everything, don’t be surprised. This is a time management tactic that no longer works on its own.
In a highly mobile and digital workplace, it’s very common for us to find ourselves being pulled away by constant social media updates, emails, phone calls or SMS, notifications, and other distractions from the work we’ve planned to do. What’s worse, many of these interruptions happen all at the same time.
When a lot of other things compete for our attention, we don’t only get distracted; we get confused and overwhelmed. It becomes harder for us to remember what we need to do and seeing planned tasks piling up creates stress. We are also more likely to multi-task, which increases the chances of committing errors and missing important information, and hinders problem-solving and creativity, according to Harvard Health Publishing.
Instead of being proactive, we are becoming reactive. We respond to the requests and distractions coming in from all directions and we fail to work on tasks that really matter.
3 Things You Need to Manage Your Time Effectively
Time management strategies should also adopt to the changes and developments on how we work today. These should consider the demands of today’s data-driven, hyper-connected workplace.
To update your time management strategy, you need these three things:
- Clarity on roles.
- Skills for managing one’s attention (not just time)
- A system for managing workflow
How to Put Your New Time Management Strategy Into Practice
1. Decide what your priorities are.
Clarity on your role means knowing what your priorities are. This will make it easy for you to determine what you need to say yes or no to. This tip is especially helpful if you are getting a lot of requests from clients and colleagues. This is one of the keys to becoming more proactive than reactive.
To help you clarify your priorities, ask yourself these questions:
- What are my long-term and short-term priorities? What are my priorities this year/this month/this day?
- What actions will help me accomplish my priorities?
- What can I turn down or what can I not turn down in relation to my priorities?
- What are the consequences of not responding to requests or interruptions?
2. Manage your energy.
When you have a lot of responsibilities and tasks on your plate, the usual response is to put in more hours at work and give up rest, exercise, or recreation time. This results in higher levels of stress, health problems, and loss of focus.
3. Manage your attention.
In reality, you can’t really manage time. Time just keeps moving, but you can manage your attention and your ability to focus.
The first thing you need to check is where your attention currently goes. Make a detailed list of all the activities you do in a day and beside each activity, take note how much time you spend working and focusing on them. You’d be surprised how much attention goes to activities that are not really contributing to your goals and priorities.
The next thing you need to consider is your work environment. Do you have a workplace that encourages you to focus on your work? Or are you surrounded by distractions like clutter, smartphones, access to social media, etc… Remove distractions that rob you of your time.
4. Divide your work day into segments.
Don’t work for more than two hours straight. The Atlantic reports that the formula for focused, productive work is 52 minutes, followed by a 17-minute break. Work for 50 minutes to an hour then schedule 20 minutes in between to recharge your mental energy.
Time is an important but limited resource. Whatever way you choose to spend it now will affect your future. Invest your time wisely by practising time management strategies that work in today’s digital environment.