Do you feel like you’re always overwhelmed and there isn’t enough time in the day to get things done? You may be struggling with time management. This is a soft skill that employers across industries value a lot, and without good time management skills, you’ll face issues with your career development.
We’ve been exactly where you are, and that’s why we’re going to tackle this together. Let’s help you get the most out of your day.
What is time management?
Time management is a process that requires you to take control of your time and plan how you spend it. You need to evaluate the time you have and allocate which tasks require how much and find a balance between the time you spend on work versus what you spend on your personal life. By doing this, you boost your productivity and your performance quality at work, enabling you to complete tasks efficiently without costing your personal life.
There’s a prevalent misconception that in order to be a good employee, you need to be able to do any and all tasks assigned to you at lightning speed and still have room left in the day for more. Efficiency is important, yes, but at the end of the day, we’re human.
We didn’t get this far as a species by racing against the clock until we collapse from exhaustion. We survived events that could’ve wiped us off the face of the Earth by pacing ourselves and taking on what we can do, whenever we could — and that’s a fact.
Similarly, good time management doesn’t mean taking on all the work thrown at you and working until your hair falls out. If you want to improve your time management, you need to work smarter, not harder.
As students, productivity was a different ball game. It affected us as individuals. Whether we were able to finish our homework or study for our mid-terms didn’t affect the child who was way ahead of our grades.
Unfortunately, when you start working, your team relies on you to deliver your work. Not doing so could impact everyone else negatively. This sort of pressure is not easy to handle, and that’s why it’s important to work on your time management.
Before we proceed, here are some goals you may want to think about.
- Improved efficiency: Are you able to deliver work without expending more than the average amount of energy and effort required to complete the task?
- Increased productivity: How many of your tasks are you able to complete within a given timeframe? Do you struggle with juggling tasks? Are you only able to focus on one at a time?
- Quality maintenance: Does the quality of your work fluctuate or are you able to maintain a steady quality?
- Deadline adherence: Do you miss deadlines often or are you capable of meeting all the deadlines but feel like there are obstacles that make it difficult to do so?
Now, list them out in terms of priority. What are you struggling with the most and what is the least concerning issue?
Once you have a clear understanding of your priorities, we can move on to the next segment.
Procrastination: It’s a trap!
Before we work on finetuning your time management skills, there is one big hurdle we must eradicate — procrastination.
Some of us are procrastinators, while others are not. We delay tasks because our brains lie to us and convince us that it’s okay to do so. These ‘lies’ are followed up by more and more until it’s too late. Our brains are very clever, but they’re also very good at deception!
Your brain may tell you, “Hey, don’t start this now. You have two weeks and you only have to write 4,000 words. That’s ample time!” So, you’ll ignore your writing. A few days later, you decide to sit down and focus on your task, but then your brain says, “Why not watch an episode of a show? Just one. You’ll be in a better mood and you’ll find it easier to focus.”
Four seasons later, you realise it’s already deadline day and you haven’t moved past the title on your document. You’ve been trapped.
Now, don’t beat yourself up over it. There are many reasons why people avoid tasks and we don’t like to reduce every act of procrastination to laziness. Some people have disabilities or a form of neurodivergence that interferes with their ability to complete tasks.
Take, for example, executive dysfunction, which can be particularly difficult to grapple with. As Cleveland Clinic summarises, “Executive dysfunction is a behavioural symptom that disrupts a person’s ability to manage their own thoughts, emotions and actions. It’s most common with certain mental health conditions, especially addictions, behavioural disorders, brain development disorders and mood disorders.”
There are three ‘executive functions’, which are working memory, inhibition control, and cognitive flexibility. If you’re struggling with executive dysfunction, all three of these areas would get disrupted.
On the other hand, there are people who are … ‘imperfect perfectionists’, who become their own worst enemies.
You need your work to be perfect. You may start a task and then notice that it isn’t looking the way you imagined it. You get frustrated and then you postpone working on it. You may wait until you feel ‘inspired’ so you can get it done ‘the right way’. Time flies by and you realise you haven’t completed your work — there is no perfection to behold because there is no masterpiece to observe.
So, how do you circumvent the string of lies your brain tells you so that you can actually get your work done on time?
The best way to handle this is to spot the lie as it forms in your mind. Here are some common ones to help you get an idea of what these lies may look like”
1. “Let’s work on this other new project instead of finishing the old one! You’ll feel energised and be able to work on the old one better.”
2. “Let’s watch that show we love while we work! It’ll be like white noise and help us focus.”
3. “We can definitely finish this massive article in just an hour. Start writing it later.”
4. “We are so bad at this task. What’s the point? We’re going to fail anyway.”
5. “Before we sit down to focus on work, let’s clean out our desk first. No, let’s clean the whole room. Matter of fact, why not empty the fridge and reorganise the kitchen?”
Time management models
Once you’ve silenced the lies your brain tells you, you’ll be able to organise your time requirements better — but in order to do this effectively, you’ll need to pick a time management model that fits your needs.
Acuity Training conducted a survey involving 500 employees across various industries to understand how they managed their time.
The questions asked during this study were:
- Are they happy at work?
- Do they feel their work is under control?
- Do they have a time management system? If so, which one do they use?
- Do they regularly carry out a time audit/diary audit?
- How much time do you have to ‘waste’ per day on tasks?
- How often do you look at your emails at work?
The survey yielded enlightening results. Only 18% of participants had a time management system in place. One in eight participants reported never feeling under control at work, and only 20% of people felt their work was under control on a daily basis.
On average, participants “wasted” approximately 91 minutes every day on irrelevant tasks and meetings. In particular, 10.5% wasted over a third of their time on irrelevant tasks and meetings.
While on a surface level, these numbers may not seem like much, their impact adds up. This is why a strong time management model is useful.
There are several time management models available to suit different work styles, environments, and even personality types. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to this.
To help you pick a model, you must first find out what you’re doing wrong. The most common mistakes are as follows.
1. Hyper-focusing on irrelevant details: You find yourself spending way too much time on tiny pieces of the puzzle instead of the overall big picture.
2. Perfectionism: You have an idea of what you want your work to look like and what you have on hand isn’t aligning with this vision, so you waste time trying to perfect it — potentially destroying something that could’ve worked in the process.
3. Biting off more than you can chew: Going beyond your own capabilities to take on more work or responsibilities and then struggling to meet demands.
4. Poor prioritisation: For example, putting hefty, time-consuming work ahead of urgent simple tasks because you feel like you can wrap the simple tasks up quickly after you finish the big project.
5. Not analysing your time usage: If you don’t sit back and evaluate how you’re spending your time and on what, you’re doomed to repeat the cycle.
Take a few minutes to think about the above and see which time management mistakes you most commonly commit before continuing.
According to Discover Business, there are three models that could serve you particularly well: the Pareto Principle, the Pickle Jar Theory, and Parkinson’s Law.
The Pareto Principle
This is also known as the ‘80/20 rule’. According to the Pareto Principle, 80% of outcomes are produced from 20% of the input (or ‘the vital few’, as they call it) This means that there is an imbalance between inputs and outputs, with this ‘smaller’ percentage of inputs carrying a lot more impact. With this model, you prioritise the most important tasks that yield the most benefits.
The Pickle Jar Theory
This theory uses a pickle jar to visualise time management. According to the Pickle Jar Theory, unimportant tasks are like sponges that soak up tons of your precious time. Inside the jar is your time, and the jar holds various items, namely rocks, pebbles, sand, and water. Rocks are important tasks that yield higher benefits, while pebbles a less important but still do yield benefits. The sand represents those pesky little activities that take up a lot of space but are relatively insignificant in your day despite producing some benefits, while the water represents idling and activities that produce no benefits at all.
This is a relatively simple concept. If you assign less time to complete a task than what you feel is required, you’re likely to complete the task faster. If you have a task that you think may take 1 hour to do, assign 30 minutes to complete it. You might finish it in 20 minutes or it could take you 40 minutes, but you’ve still saved some time doing it.
You don’t have to drastically chop down the allocated time for your tasks. Start by slowly reducing it — perhaps by 10 minutes at first and then 20, and so on.
Good time management isn’t something that happens overnight. It takes effort and consistency. You need to make it into a habit before it starts yielding results. We highly recommend sticking with a system that works for you and grinding through it! You’ll soon find that you have a lot more time in the world than you once thought.