Posted on: Nov 16, 2023
Have you ever feel like there’s not enough time in the day? How to achieve everything that is needed to be done in the day without getting stressed about it? The answer is: good time and priority management. Time management is the coordination of tasks or activities by effective planning the time spent on specific activity, whereas priority management is the practice of organizing tasks from the most to the least important and by focusing on their urgency. Moreover, the process of prioritizing tasks is a fundamental pillar of proper time management and drives to properly use the time and resources by starting on the most critical tasks firstly. These two skills ensures, that essential activities are completed on time. Effective time and priority management are crucial to achieve success in any profession.
Why Time and Priority Management is Crucial
One of the reason, that cause business suffer is poor time and priority management skills among employees. It’s important to understand, that having fully scheduled calendar doesn’t mean, that individuals work effectively, it rather means that employees are extremely busy, but not efficient. The impact of ineffective time management can negatively affect business results for example by missed deadlines, extra work to meet the deadline, stress, low productivity, cancellation of client meetings and in consequence losing clients.
One of the sign of ineffective time management is lack of priorities and lack of clear plan for the day, mostly visible as working on numerous unimportant tasks, wasting time on trivial activities or starting new without finishing anything. It’s crucial to assess what is the most important and focus on it first. Moreover, multitasking and perfectionism may affect time management, especially by spending more time than necessary on an assignment. Another cause of ineffective time management are constant interrupts (e-mails, noisy environment) that distract concentration and extend the time spent on the task. Procrastination as avoidance of doing important task is also one of poor time management outcome. Procrastination may result in rush work, delays, low quality and missed deadlines. Beside negative impact on the business, ineffective time management has a huge effect on employee’s mental state resulting in bad performance and low motivation. Unfortunately, it has also negative impact on personal life – working overtime to get the things done, drives to burnout and depression.
Lack of tasks prioritization, the same as poor time management, leads to negative challenges in professional and personal life. In short, ineffective prioritization that is lack or incorrectness of defining importance and urgency of assigned tasks, leads to unpleasant consequences. What are common dangers of not prioritizing in professional and personal life? First of all, poor priority management skills makes that everything becomes important. When there is no clearly described what is the most important and urgent, individuals can take everything with a high priority and in consequence miss the most critical task. Unfortunately, this is not the only consequence, as missing the most critical activity both in professional and in personal life may result in damage of client or family relationship. Moreover, a lack of prioritizing can cause sense of burnout and overwhelm. Without clear priorities there is a risk of wasting time on less important things and being inefficient. There is also a danger of living in reaction mode, being open for everything and constantly responding, letting other design the plan of our life. Thus, developing time and priority management skills, setting clear goals and effective planning the time spent on a task can let us getting more done in less time.
Know Your Time
If you have ever said, that you don’t have time, have you ever analyzed how you currently use your time? Unfortunately, it’s common to complain about not having enough time in a day to relax or to finish to-do list, but it only shows poor time management skills and lack of set daily goal and priorities. To find proper work-life balance it’s important to know where the time goes, how to control it and asses what are your biggest time wastefulness.
If you want to know your time, first of all decide what are your daily priorities and goals. Setting clear goals will help you to finish with the most important and urgent task first. Then, analyze how you spend your day and verify where your time is going. It can be perform as time log or activities tracker audit on which you will be able to assign unproductive activities and see where you missed your time. While analyzing and monitoring time usage, it’s crucial to prove what are your time wasters and distractions. Defining free time or time wasters is quite subjective and can be different for others, thus it’s important to decide what being unproductive means for work-related tasks or personal activities and if you can control it. In short, there are two types of time-wasters, internal (that can be controlled by us i.e. checking e-mail, social media use, chatting, multitasking) and external (beyond our control i.e. noisy environment, useless phone calls, participating all meetings at work, waiting). By understanding all your non-productive, wasteful activities and by reducing them to minimum, it will be easier to achieve professional and personal priorities and goals.
How to examine wastefulness? The easiest way to define time wasters and non productive activities is to get to know the necessity of a task, ownership and activity prioritization. In other words, ask yourself few questions to evaluate the root cause and nature of everything the time is spent on. Is this my priority? Can I delegate this task? Can it be done later? Can I spend less time on this?
|Is this my priority? Should it be done at all? Does it help me to achieve my or organization’s target?||Can this task be delegated? Am I required to do this? Do I have the proper tools to do this?
Can someone help me to finish the task?
|Can it be done later? Should I do this urgently or in the part of the day when I focus better?
Can I spend less time on this?
Once you get to know the nature of activity, it’s time to identify if it is surely wastefulness matching to one of definition of time wasters.
Bear in mind, that wastefulness is:
- Time spent on things that are not related to your short- or long-term goals.
- Time spent on tasks that require a lot of effort, but have little return and don’t make any difference if you eliminate them from your schedule.
- Time spent on doing things that should be done by someone else.
- Time wasted for waiting.
- Time spent on activities that could be done more effectively once you have proper tools.
- Time wasted from being disorganized.
- Time spent on things that should be done in other part of the day.
- Time spent on distractions and procrastination.
To improve self-efficiency and productivity it’s important to know how to identify time-consuming routine tasks. This is an ongoing activity, which requires self-awareness and scrupulosity. There are few steps that might be helpful in identification of time-consuming activities.
- Tracking daily activities – the first step is about monitoring work-related and personal activities, by keeping a detailed timesheet / time log for minimum two weeks (tracking time spent on a task).
- Categorizing of tasks – in the second step, each task and activity from the time log should be categorized in specific group (work, personal, lunch break, coffee break) to have a clear overview of the time spent on current category.
- Analyzing the data – in the third step it’s crucial to properly and deeply analyze time tracking results and evaluate them by the context of:
- the most time-consuming tasks,
- what can be done faster
- numbers of break during the day,
- what is repetitive,
- identify non-value activities and procrastination,
- what can be eliminated
- Changes and improvements implementation – this is the last step of identifying time consuming routine tasks and it’s about implementing changes in task schedule. Having clear overview of wasted time or time-consuming activities, it’s crucial to:
- adapt new behaviors,
- prioritize or decline non valuable tasks,
- set time limits,
- plan precisely,
- use time tracking tool and techniques
Time Management Techniques and Tools
There are various methods and tools to manage time more effectively. Here are some of the most popular ones:
The Pomodoro Technique – method based on 25-minute of focused work broken by five minute breaks. This technique supports to focus better on a task having limited time and ensure break after the effort. The Pomodoro Technique has a great influence on productivity increase by avoiding tendency to multitasking and procrastination.
Eisenhower Matrix – it’s decision-making technique, that helps to decide what matter most, by choosing activity between tasks that are important, not important, urgent, and not urgent. This method supports in prioritizing which tasks should be done on first and which should be delegated or deleted.
To-do lists and planning – methodology based on daily/weekly to-do prioritized lists of all that needed to be carried out with most important activities at the top of the list to the least important at the bottom. Such technique help to keep track of what needs to be done and what needs immediate attention.
Development of time management skills can be also supported by smart tech and applications, that are designed to pick information from the e-mail or text message and to directly add it to the calendar. There are plenty of time management-supporting technologies, that help to plan, prioritize and execute scheduled activities more efficiently. One of the most popular and basic application is online calendar, that enables to schedule appointments, sends reminders and notifications. It can also sync information from other devices or platform and consolidate them all together in one place. Moreover, there are also available tools that can support task management skills, especially by creating a list of tasks with possibility of categorizing, assigning, setting deadlines and statuses. Such tool can help monitor employees progress and performance. Another tech smart application supporting effective time and priority management is online time tracker, that helps to identify time wasters and set realistic expectations for assigned task to be performed. If constant distractions and interrupts are the main causes of unproductiveness, there are also available smart distraction blocker tools, that are designed to eliminate source of distractions by blocking access to websites, games, social media as well as mute any notifications and calls. In short, the pillar of effective time and priority management is to find proper techniques and tools that suits best specific needs and adapt them properly.
In task priority management it’s essential to recognize the difference between importance and urgency. What is important not always is urgent and what is urgent, not always is significant for us. Having the skill of effective prioritization allows to put appropriate attention to both important and urgent tasks and focus on the tasks that matter most, avoiding wasting time on the activity that don’t. The key to success is the ability to distinguish between important and urgent tasks and get to know how to perform with them. What is the difference? Urgent tasks demands immediate action, mostly has a short-term impact and involves pressure and deadlines, whereas important task aligns with person’s goals or values and mostly has a long-term impact, contributing to personal satisfaction. Urgency based on deadlines, whereas importance relates to person’s goals and thoughts.
In accordance to Eisenhower Matrix mentioned above, there are four possibilities of distinguishing between important and urgent tasks.
|URGENT & IMPORTANT||Green box||Do it as a first|
|URGENT & NOT IMPORTANT||Yellow box||Delegate if possible|
|NOT URGENT & IMPORTANT||Blue box||Schedule|
|NOT URGENT & NOT IMPORTANT||Gray box||Consider eliminating|
In task prioritization process, creating a proper priority list can be a key to identifying what needs immediate attention. In short, it requires to list down all activities and tasks needed to be accomplished, to evaluate the importance in relation to person’s goals and to asses urgency of tasks based on their deadlines. Having identified importance and defined deadline, it’s essential to properly rank all tasks and prioritize in accordance with technique mentioned above.
What if most of your tasks have similar importance and urgence? How to prioritize if everything seems to have the same significance? In such situations to distribute all tasks properly, evaluate their effort you need to put and the impact of the task on your goal. By prioritizing and focusing on high-impact activities, more meaningful results can be achieved in less time. To properly evaluate high-impact tasks and to maximize productivity and effectiveness, identify what significantly contributes to your goal, asses potential impact on your objectives, evaluate what has the most significant impact and focus on high-impact task first.
Even 95% of employees have a bad manner of delaying or postponing something that needs to be done, only because they do not like it. This habit calls procrastination and it’s different from laziness, which is the unwillingness to perform. Do I procrastinate? Probably yes, as there are multiple common causes of task delay and even if we avoid doing something unconsciously, most of them are related to procrastination.
One of the main reason is avoiding doing a tasks just because we don’t like it or because of having negative association towards this activity, making us a brain stress, so we feel better doing everything else possible. Another thing is fear of failure and fear of negative criticism. This cause of procrastination is common for perfectionists, that must to do every task flawlessly and for worriers, that have worst-case scenario thinking. Moreover, having big goals without proper plan for success also drives to procrastination. It’s very difficult to achieve something without actionable plan, so individuals can spend the time attempting to work, but having different subjects in mind and with problem to concentrate and focus it might be challenging. Another cause of task delay is lack of motivation if the goal you set is too far and the progress is not clearly visible, so individuals prefer to take care of something that makes sense of progress right now, keeping yourself just busy, not motivated. Procrastination is also when individuals focus only on low-priority tasks, read e-mails several times without making any further decision about what to do with them or wait to be in “good mood” to start. Constant distractions are also one of the most popular causes of procrastination. In the world we live today it is easy to be interrupted with so many messages or notifications throughout the day, and the thing is to get to know how to resist on all distractions and focus on the task.
The first step to fight with procrastination is to recognize if I am procrastinating. Then, it’s important to identify the reasons why I do it and use appropriate strategies to overcome it. As mentioned before, procrastination is a habit, so it is not possible to overcome with it overnight. This process requires commitment and patience. There are few proven procrastination-fighting strategies, that might help to overcome this bad habit:
- Focus on clear goal,
- Keep to-do list and make a plan,
- Know the reason why the task needs to be done,
- Change work environment and eliminate distractions around,
- Divide task into smaller pieces to manage it easier,
- Take regular breaks,
- Start from challenging task first,
- Use time management strategies,
- Be kind to yourself and celebrate your small successes
Coping with Distractions
Currently, eliminating distractions is harder than ever – phone calls, e-mail, constant notifications can effectively distract our attention. The key to handle time properly is not “resisting” distractions, but avoiding or eliminating them properly.
Have you ever thought about managing e-mails and other communication channels, to stop distract you? What if responding to e-mail is one of your main responsibilities at work? Managing e-mails in a timely manner is crucial for many organizations, whereas being distracted every couple minute by new message, might be frustrated and drive to employee’s overwhelming, especially if you know that upcoming e-mail means new tasks to be performed. It’s evident that having e-mail box open all time is annoying and distract employee’s attention on current task. How to manage e-mail and other communication channels?
- Set specific time each day or make a time interval to check e-mail box and reply to urgent and important things, then get into the next task on your list,
- Use filters and folders to organize your messages,
- Implement 4Ds method (delete, do, delegate, or defer),
- Turn off sound notification,
- Don’t use e-mail box as a to-do list,
- Log out not to be distracted during performing other activities,
- Inform others, that you reply e-mails on at certain times during the day,
- Ask yourself a question “Why am I constantly checking my e-mails?”
Distractions are not only frustrating, they drive to lower productivity and affect the ability to focus. Many researchers showed that the most common distractions in a workplace are smartphones and the internet, gossip, social media, co-workers dropping by, smoking or short snack breaks, email notifications, meetings and noisy co-workers. Workplace distractions will never go away, but there are some tips to reduce distractions in the working environment showed below.
As already mentioned, distractions affect the ability to focus. Moreover, it takes almost 25 minutes to refocus again after being interrupted by any distractions. Fortunately, there are some concentration practices and meditation techniques, that can improve our focus skills.
One of the technique to calm distracted mind are meditation techniques, which helps to maintain attention on the task already performed. Meditations positively influence on focus increase and learning concentration as well as improve memory and attention. It’s evident, that meditating just a few minutes per day reduce distractions and increase attention. Although there are various forms of meditation and although all of them aim to the same goal, certain type of technique can be more productive to different people.
This technique focuses only on the breath and there are no specific object of focus. During this meditation technique, attention flows from moment to moment without focusing the mind on any object or topic. The goal of this technique is to disengage from distractions, flow with your mind and calm down.
This technique focuses on a particular thing, whether it is a word, breath, or any object. It helps to release all thoughts and refocus attention on certain task. This technique is mostly recommended for beginners and perfect for copying with distractions.
There are also various of concentration practices and focus exercises, that can help to improve concentration skills. Moreover, by implementing this practices to your daily habits you can work more efficiently, spending less time on completing the task and reduce the impact of stress.
- Make to-do list or notes – note anything comes to mind while performing the task, it helps to get back on the right track after being distracted,
- Read long books – it requires a sustain focus for long period of time,
- Exercise physically –feeling more energized and discipline helps to sustain focus,
- Actively listening – focus on the content of the conversation,
- Count backward in your mind from 100 to 1,
- Train your brain – try memory game, crosswords and puzzle
Self-Discipline and Time Management Habits
How are time management and self-discipline related? Time management concerns setting priorities and creating schedules in the most efficient and effective way possible, whereas self-discipline is about having the willpower and ability to go further, stay motivated and take action even when it’s difficult. Both, time management and self-discipline drive you and support you to achieve goals with the most effective way. Moreover, self-discipline improves self-confidence, independence, positively influences on mental health and makes people more resilient.
Boosting self-discipline it’s not a quick and easy process, as it involves developing habits, mindset, and strategies to stay focused on your goals and overcome distractions. It can be compared to muscle training – the more you train it, the stronger it gets. So, how do we cultivate self-discipline? What are practices that helps boost it? First of all, find your motivation. Second, instead of setting huge goals that can be overwhelming, start with small, measurable task. In short, instead of reading one book a week, start from reading 10 minutes daily. By reaching small steps it’s easier to belief in yourself and boost self-motivation. The next practice is to set SMART goals, that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound. Furthermore, in boosting self-discipline it’s important to create a routine, which helps build discipline over time. The good practice is also visualization of success, that can positively influence on motivation, willpower and do not forget about rewarding yourself for achieving milestones.
Once you’ve established self-discipline, the next step is to effectively manage the time. By maintaining positive time management habits, the time management skill and self- discipline will be more efficient. One of the good habit is time blocking and dividing days into smaller blocks of time dedicated to specific activity. Desirable option is also creating a to-do list. Moreover, as not all tasks are equal, it’s crucial to remember about prioritization by identification importance and urgency of the task. If possible, try to set time limits or deadlines to stay focused and disciplined.
Here are some key habits, that can help you build your time management skills more efficiently:
The Importance of Breaks and Rest
Without a doubt, regular breaks and rest are important component of effective time management. Breaks play a huge role in maintaining productivity on a high level, improving overall well-being and help to rest and recharge our batteries. The importance of taking break is obvious, but the key of proper mental rest is to know how to incorporate break in daily schedule to have an effective mind refresh.
Neglecting to take a break at work, demonstrating commitment by working without rest isn’t the best way to perform properly. The lack of breaks has a negative impact on lower productivity and concentration, contributes to increased burnout, reduce creativity and has a negative impact on employee’s well-being. Break can have a different forms depending on its length, activity, location and with whom the break is spent. There may occur a question, how to properly spend my break to have a best effectives of mental rest. The pillar of effective work break is not to spend it by the desk, move your body if possible and avoid checking work-related notifications having time off. Once there is a limited amount of time between some activities, take a micro-break, step away from the desk, stretch yourself or look out the window. Moreover, bear in mind, that short breaks, such a coffee break should be taken especially in the morning, when energy reserves are higher than in the afternoon and long break is not necessary. Furthermore, lunch breaks should be taken outdoors to spend a bit of time on the fresh air. And do not forget about taking rest days or vacations, that play a huge role in protecting employee’s well-being and help to maintain work-life balance properly.
Work-life balance is kind of sense when setting work priorities allows employees to enjoy personal life. This includes having enough time and energy after work to spend on other enjoyable things, hobbies and family. Currently, even though remote work and smart technologies gives us more flexibility and more elastic schedules, maintaining a work-life balance can be challenging and requires continuous adjustment of professional and personal life. Work-life balance is crucial for physical and mental health, reduces burnout, improved productivity, helps to keep healthy relationships with friends and family and boost overall satisfaction in life.
There are some tips and strategies how to maintain healthy work-life balance.
- Keep a time log (including work-related and personal activities) and track your time.
- Define your priorities and set specific goals.
- Schedule – plan your tasks and activities for next days.
- Take care of your health.
- Keep relationships with others.
- Make time for you.
Effective time and priority management is a crucial skill that significantly impact various aspects of our life. It is also a skill that evolves over time and should be constantly improved with practice and self-awareness. Good time and priority management leads to increased productivity, reduce stress, and create a better work-life balance. As this is an ongoing process, it’s crucial to understand that what works for one person may not work for another and it’s essential to find a technique or method that suits individual preferences and needs. The key to effectively manage our time and priorities is adapting a combination of tools and methods and change them if necessary. To develop good time management habits it’s important to set clear goals, learn distinguishing between urgent and important tasks, delegate if possible and learn to say “no” to tasks that do not align with your goal or priorities.