Top tips for effective time management

Image of Andrew Silver, Director of 360 Growth Partners

“The lost time is never found again”

– Benjamin Franklin

Thanks to the emergence of hybrid and remote working opportunities, as well as several four-day week pilot schemes, employees have more flexibility than ever before to be in control of their own work/life balance.

 

That said, one of the key issues that we see with our clients is the ability to manage their time effectively to ensure that they are not letting the scales tip too far in favour of work.

When it comes to time, we cannot slow it down or hit a pause button. We all have the same 24 hours each day, but how well we use them is often down to us. The best time management techniques improve the ways you work, protect you against distraction and help lock your concentration.

 

Here are the top tips we share with our clients to help them manage their time effectively:

 

1. Ask yourself are you doing the right things

Although having a to-do list is the first step towards better time management, prioritising your tasks wisely is the next important action. We’ve found that using an action priority matrix (like the one below) to rank your tasks in order of importance helps to ensure that the tasks that matter most are dealt with first.

Image of Action Priority Matrix

  • Quick wins are the most attractive projects, because they give you a good return for relatively little effort. Focus on these as much as you can.
  • Major projects give good returns, but they are time-consuming. This means that one major project can “crowd out” many quick wins.
  • Don’t worry too much about doing Fill in activities – if you have spare time, do them, but drop them or delegate them if possible .
  • Try to avoid Thankless tasks as much as you can! Not only do they give little return, but they also soak up time that you should be using on quick wins.

 

In addition to prioritising your tasks it’s also crucial that you set time constraints for completing each task as it helps you be more focused and efficient. Making the small extra effort to decide on how much time you need to allot for each task can also help you recognize potential problems before they arise. That way you can make plans for dealing with them.

 

2. Build reflection into your schedule to see how you can do things better or differently

When you’re struggling to keep on top of tasks feeling constantly overloaded and not sure where you are going to get the time to get it all done, some reflection time will help you to identify areas where you can make changes and improve your management of time. If you’re unsure where to start here’s some questions to help to get you started;

  • Am I satisfied with the way I handled my day today? If not, what could I have done differently? If yes, what actions could I take tomorrow to ensure a similar day?
  • Did I arrive on time to my meetings and appointments today? If not, what do I think contributed to or caused my lateness?
  • Did I budget enough travel or preparation time between my appointments and meetings? If not, how much time do I think I should have budgeted?
  • Were any of my meetings or appointments cancelled today? If so, how did I use this time?
  • Who asked me for a couple hours of my time today? How did I respond?
  • Did any of my tasks, assignments, or projects take longer to complete than originally expected? What do I think was the cause of this?
  • Where in my schedule today could I have possibly saved time?

 

Reflecting on the progress and changes you’ve made is a great way to see how you’ve strengthened your time management skills over time. It’s also a good way to use the skills you’ve learned to reflect on how well they worked for you. It can be hard to identify our mistakes, but this exercise will help you pinpoint what skills are or aren’t working for you.

Once you can see where your weak points are, it’ll be easier to work on them and strengthen your time management skills.

 

3. Ask yourself how you can have more effective meetings 

When it comes to time management, meetings are real time suckers. At some point we’ve all found ourselves stuck in unproductive meetings that roll on week after week, but meetings can boost productivity and efficiency – when everyone is on the same page and aware of what the expected outcomes are.

Love them or hate them, you can’t completely eliminate meetings, so it’s important to make them as useful and constructive as possible by:

  • Identifying the meeting goals
  • Creating an agenda with time references & sending it out in advance
  • Designating a meeting timekeeper to keep everyone on track
  • Ensuring the meeting starts & ends on time
  • Ending with agreed actions
  • Getting feedback

 

Running effective meetings can feel like a tall order, but by meeting only when needed, crafting a solid agenda, sticking to agreed time limits, leaving with clear next steps and being inclusive, you can hold efficient meetings that leave everyone feeling inspired rather than frustrated. Don’t forget to ask yourself do I actually need to be at a meeting? Are you adding any value?

 

4. Identify who or what are your thieves of time and do something about them?

If you’re consistently finding yourself starting your number one priority on your to-do list at 5:00 pm then it’s likely you’ve fallen victim to time thieves. When we don’t protect our hours from being stolen, these thieves will steal time from us day after day. Identifying your own personal time thieves is the first step in finding ways to effectively manage your time, here’s the most common culprits:

  1. Lack of good personal organisation
  2. Unclear goals
  3. Not making decisions
  4. Not knowing how to say NO
  5. Lack of concentration
  6. Poor communication
  7. Inability to delegate
  8. People who can talk!
  9. Distractions such as email, social networks and instant messaging.
  10. Interruptions
  11. Meetings

Sometimes time thieves are impossible to avoid therefore you must learn how to set boundaries and not allow their distractions to overtake you. Being confident and regimented with your own time management means that when a time thief does arise, you know how best to handle it to get your work done.

 

5. Ask yourself if you are effectively delegating tasks and if you’re not, why?

As a leader, you’re often working under a lot of pressure which means that you often end up trying to do every task because you think that you can usually do it the best. Unfortunately, it is difficult to take on all the work that needs to be completed and still successfully oversee a team. So, to free up time so that you can work on the most important tasks, it’s essential you delegate to your team and give them the authority to complete that task. Delegation helps save time for management, and it allows more work to be completed faster. Try to focus on what only you can do.

Effective delegation includes the following, but the level of detail will depend on what is being delegated:

  • Having clarity about what is being delegated (SMART)
  • Giving rationale of why and context
  • Having clarity of scope and expectations, including regularity of updates and method
  • Agreeing how the task is managed – does it need a more detailed plan?
  • Having clarity of timescales and ultimate deadline
  • Clearly communicating the details of the delegated task
  • Playing back the details to ensure the person has understood

 

Quite often managers fail to delegate, this can be down to lack of trust or belief in their team’s ability or feeling like they don’t want to overburden others, but delegation is a great way to develop your team. When it comes to effective delegation, the key is creating conditions of accountability to ensure that the work gets done and your team are clear of your expectations. The Accountability Ladder (as shown below) is a great tool to establish where team members are which in turn allows you to better understand how they work and what tasks you could delegate to them.  When an employee is struggling, do not let them hand the work back over but instead instruct them on how they can achieve the end result.

Image of Accountability Ladder tool

If you delegate well, you can increase trust and commitment with your employees, improve productivity, and make sure the right people are performing the tasks that best suit them. So don’t be afraid to pass the baton. It might take some practice to become a great delegator, but if you work at it, you’ll all go further.

 

Following these tips to be more effective and efficient with your time as a leader/manager is essential. It’s a skill that doesn’t come without hard work, but it will help you be more successful in all aspects of your life.