Mastering time management would help us all reach the pinnacle of career success. But rising above frantic days to get the most out of working hours does not require a time management sensei. Most of us can benefit from setting a few strong baseline time management behaviors. Consider a few options:
1) Embrace the “all in due time” lifestyle
When you read “all in due time” did you think procrastinate? If so, take a step back and envision a goal you want to achieve. Time management is about organizing your pursuit of that goal, not ignoring it.
Proactively scheduling “due time” for tasks and common workplace activities sets a strong foundation for daily time management. Don’t just use a to do list, leverage your whole calendar. A good calendar will put you in the moment. As the grind goes on you should know when to read and respond to emails, attend meetings, take calls, or focus on work products.
Sticking to your schedule will enable focus. Remember your coworker who was responding to emails in a meeting while simultaneously trying to contribute to the discussion and review a document? If your first thought was “uggh, they are the worst” then don’t be like them. After all, they probably didn’t do all three of those things well. Instead of multitasking your day away proactively schedule time for focused tasks.
2) Say No to Meetings
Well, don’t say no to all meetings. Just limit the number of meetings you attend each day. We have a limited ability to focus through the day and most of us tune out in meetings once we extend our focus threshold. This is meeting burnout and you can avoid it with a few simple steps.
Start by saying yes to meeting invitations until you hit your daily focus threshold. Then say no. If an important meeting comes up, avoid overextending yourself by declining to attend a less important meeting. This approach only works if you know your own focus threshold which may take some conscious self-discovery to identify.
At first glance prioritizing attendance at only a few meetings each day may seem impossible. After all, saying “no” to meeting requests creates awkward situations. But remember what your coworkers have done before writing off this approach. Have you ever had a coworker respond to your meeting request with a denial while offering to send another team member? What about the denial where your coworker also suggested another time to meet?
Now ask yourself two questions. In either case did the workplace break down? Was your coworker fired? If the answer is “no” then you can turn down meeting requests the same way your coworkers did. It may be uncomfortable to say no, but the ability to focus in meetings should alleviate your discomfort.
3) Pass on Opportunities that don’t Measure up
The best time managers plan more than just their day. They also plan careers. They know their goals and turn down projects, and even job offers, that don’t align.
Saying no to meetings can feel awkward but saying no to opportunities can feel downright wrong. To avoid this feeling prepare for the conversation before a new project comes your way. Write clear career goals now. If you can’t think of career goals, then at least make a list of what you want in your next project.
When assessing a new project critically think about whether signing on will take your career in a direction you want to go. At the very least weigh the opportunity against what you want to get out of your next project. If the opportunity does not fit your goals, then graciously decline. After all, time is your limited resource, so you should spend professional time
pursing your goals as much as possible.
When you turn an opportunity down be sure to explain why it does not fit your goals and be explicit about what you seek in your next move. Whoever you turn down may control an ideal opportunity. You want them to put it on the table.
4) Control Your Approach to Lack there of
Remember the last audit when everyone was working all the time? Those trying engagements happen in every workplace. Sometimes they last for a while. How about when your team did a weeklong push to close out a big project? These stressful heads down moments happen on every team. How do you feel during and after difficult moments like these?
The best time managers know that strong performance begins with positive attitude. But it’s hard to stay positive during difficult moments. That’s okay. Successful professionals manage difficult moments by prioritizing recovery time to stay positive in the long run.
Don’t be afraid to timebox difficult engagements by planning vacation or taking a day off on either end. Isolating difficult moments helps ensure that associated stress does not spill over in to normal work. Returning to the office rested will help you keep a positive attitude and good time management routine.
You don’t have to implement all four of these time management behaviors to benefit. Using any two should improve your time management skills. Ironically it takes time to build time management skills. So, stick with whatever you try for at least three months. If your first combination of behaviors does not feel right, try swapping in one of the other two. With this approach you will develop a few strong baseline time management behaviors that will help you get the most out of yourself at work.