1. Start with SMART Goals
Try setting some SMART goals if you find yourself looking at a long to-do list with no idea where to start. According to Norman Vincent Peale, an early advocate of positive thinking, “All successful people have a goal. No one can get anywhere unless he knows where he wants to go and what he wants to be or do.”
With SMART goals, you decide what you need to accomplish and how you will go about doing it. SMART is an acronym that stands for five important characteristics of a meaningful goal: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound. In other words, a goal can be easily defined; you can assess your progress in reaching it; it is achievable; it is important to you, and you can complete it within a given timeframe.
Make sure that all the items on your to-do list satisfy the SMART criteria, and you’ll avoid wasting time on the wrong things.
2. Pareto your To-Do List
Applying the Pareto principle can be a time management gamechanger for those who always have too much to do. Also known as the 80-20 rule, the principle says that 80% of our results come from 20% of our efforts. Instead of facing an unordered to-do list each day, give each item on the list a rating from 1 to 10 for the effort needed (with 10 being the most effort). Then assign another rating from 1 to 10 to each item for its potential benefit (with 10 being the greatest benefit).
Once you have assigned ratings, divide the first number (effort) by the second (benefit) to come up with a priority ranking for each item. Complete the items with the lowest priority number first, meaning the items that bring the greatest return for the least effort, and you will be ensuring that your efforts are going in the right direction.
3. Track your Time
How many times have you reached the end of the day and wondered where the time went? You can erase doubts about your productivity by keeping track of how long it takes to get things done. Software tools like digital time clocks can help you track your time by task (such as how long it takes you to research and write a report) or by the hour. Once time tracking becomes a time management habit, you can begin to look for ways to save time and increase productivity.
4. Try some Pomodoros
The Pomodoro method could be the answer if you find it hard to focus on your most important work due to distractions and interruptions. A Pomodoro is a tomato in Italy, but in the world of time management, it’s a 25-minute segment of time that you dedicate to working without interruption. If someone tries to talk to you, ask them to come back later. Experts suggest using a stopwatch or timer app to measure the time. When the Pomodoro is over, you take a break and evaluate how much you got done before starting the next 25-minute session. After four Pomodoros, it’s time for a more extended break. People who use this method find that it’s easier to keep focus for a short spurt followed by a break.
5. The Calendar is your Friend
Gone are the clunky physical datebooks of the past. With an online calendar, you track and manage your time from any location, so there’s no excuse to miss due dates for important tasks and appointments. Most calendars allow you to view and schedule your time by the day, week, month, or year. You can set recurring tasks or meetings and schedule automated reminders. Most also let you create lists of tasks that can be categorized, color-coded, prioritized, and scheduled for completion.
Time management can be challenging, but mastering it can mean getting more done in less time. If you try a method without success, don’t be afraid to try something different.