As the saying goes, “Failing to plan is planning to fail.” This statement couldn’t be more accurate and applies to both our personal and professional lives and how we manage time. Have you ever found yourself wondering where the day went when you haven’t even made a dent in your to-do list? It took me years to master my own calendars, and with the help of technology, I am able to stay on track. While we cannot control emergencies, last-minute deadlines, or unforeseen circumstances, we can plan ahead and manage our time to help us achieve our short and long-term goals. Below are my top six ways to help master time management:
Technology works! These days, I would be lost without my smartphone. I use it to track appointments, set reminders, schedule meetings and take notes. MS Outlook is also my best friend at work – I set reminders about reminders so I am sure not to miss a beat! And the best part of it all is that we can sync our personal and professional calendars into one device so that we always stay on track, making the chance of forgetting something much less likely. The point is no matter what type of device you have or what calendar management software you have – use it!
Plan backwards. Start with the end of your day and work backwards. Estimating how long a project or task will take is a great way to help plan your day. If you have four projects that will take about two hours each, start at 5:00 pm (or whenever your day ends) and work backwards to assign the projects in time slots. If you know it takes you one hour to get to work, possibly longer with traffic and/or inclement weather, work backwards from your start time to figure out when you need to leave.
Multi-task – with caution. As an Executive Assistant, I am constantly bombarded with urgent requests. To manage the best use of my time, I multi-task – with caution. I keep multiple projects open at once and only leave them unattended once I have a logical stopping point. It is important not to forget where you left off so here are a few tips to help:
- If you need to remember to send one or several emails before the end of the day, compose a new message and enter a few keywords to help you remember what the intent of the message is and then finish composing before you leave for the day. Email messages auto-save after a few minutes so in case you accidentally close the message, it will be saved in your drafts.
- Set your MS Office documents to auto-save after several minutes. That way if you need to come back to it, you’ll rest assured knowing it was saved in the most current format.
- Set reminders. In Outlook, I set reminders on individual tasks. In the event I cannot get to a reminder when the alarm goes off or need to get back to it later, I can hit snooze and be reminded in a few minutes, hours or even days.
It’s ok to say “no.” While we would all like to please everyone that requests something of us, sometimes we just simply don’t have time. It’s always better to under-promise and over-deliver than over-promise and under-deliver. Set boundaries for yourself and only take on what you know you have time for. Although it may be uncomfortable to say “no” to your boss, peers, friends or family, they all know we’re not superheroes and will get to it when we can. Offer the next best alternative solution.
Hold yourself accountable. In many instances, we work collaboratively on projects. This applies to both our personal and professional lives. If you’ve promised to meet a deadline, do it. Don’t let the burden of last minute requests or responsibility fall on others you are working with. If you need assistance to meet a deadline, it’s ok to ask for help! The goal is to not only meet the deadline, but exceed it.
Block out distractions. This may seem like an obvious solution, but it only works when implemented. Put your cell phone on vibrate or turn it off completely if you absolutely cannot be interrupted. Don’t read personal emails during business hours. Stay off of social media for personal reasons. Shut your office door and put a “Do not disturb” sign on during critical deadlines. If you work from home like me, remember that you’re not getting paid to do household chores.
It really takes self-discipline to manage time, but with practice, it becomes second nature. Feeling accomplished because you stayed on track is very rewarding. Being busy doesn’t have to be a burden! What tips do you have to help manage time?
Cindy Forte is an Executive Assistant/Recruiting Coordinator at Morgan Consulting Resources, a healthcare executive search firm celebrating over 20 successful years in business.