In the hustling bustling world of IT, one thing no one ever has enough of is time. How many times have you arrived at work in the morning with an ambitious agenda, only to find yourself sitting at your desk eight to ten hours later with nothing crossed off your to-do list? If this happens to you regularly, you may have a time management problem.
"I believe there are two types of barriers to effective time management: internal and external," says Dr. Mallary Tytel, president of Healthy Workplaces (www.healthyworkplaces.com) in Bolton, Conn. Internal barriers are factors like discipline and procrastination, and external barriers are issues like your workload and available corporate resources. Regardless of the barriers you face, following some key pointers may help you work more efficiently, reducing your stress and increasing your productivity.
- Start. "As silly as it sounds, the first thing you need to do is start," says Wendy Kaufman, CEO of Balancing Life Issues in Ossining, New York. If you have something you need to write, sit down and write the first paragraph. Everything will be a lot smoother flowing toward completion once the project has started.
- Set clear goals and objectives. Keep a to-do list, ideally in combination with a day planner, and be sure to go into each day with a clear idea of what you need to do.
- Keep an activity log. "This helps you analyze your time and answer questions like: what is your most productive period of time, what is your least productive time, did you achieve your goals and how could you have done what you were doing more effectively," advises Pam O'Shea, president of Performance Insights and a facilitator for American Management Association's time management seminar.
- Handle e-mail and phone calls in batches. If you are like most people, you get phone calls and e-mail messages throughout the day. However, if you respond to them as they come in, your day will be too fragmented to do anything effectively. "Chunk e-mail and telephone calls and return them all at once," suggests O'Shea. "Use all the tools that the phone and e-mail systems offer you" for management of these contacts.
- Divide larger tasks into groups of smaller ones. "Break a job into bite-sized pieces," Dr. Tytel explains. "Don't procrastinate because it can't all be done at once."
Kaufman uses the analogy of cleaning a room. You may not have time to clean the whole room, but you should pick a task to match the amount of time available. "If you've got 20 minutes, you can do a drawer. With 40 minutes, you can clean a closet. With an hour, maybe you can clean the whole room," she says.
- Prioritize tasks. "Understand the difference between urgent and important," says Dr. Tytel. You may want to create lists of what must be done by the end of the day, what should be done by the end of the day and what you'd like to do by the end of the day.
- Set aside chunks of time to do nothing. If you have a tendency to schedule your days down to the last minute, you lose what could potentially be valuable catch-up time when something runs behind, Kaufman suggests. If you're on schedule for everything up to that point, perhaps you might schedule 20 minutes to just relax, reflect and plan ahead. "Schedule appointments with yourself to work on specific tasks or projects and keep those appointments," Dr. Tytel emphasizes.
- Don't overwork yourself. "People today are overtired -- especially Americans," says Kaufman. If you're already functioning as if your gas tank is only half full, then you need to prioritize sleep. Dr. Tytel agrees. "Factor in time for relaxation and renewal," she says "If we do not take care of ourselves, we will not have the ability to take care of anything else."
- Learn when to say no. Many people are afraid to let their managers know how busy they are, but it's important that if you are overworked that you speak up for yourself, Dr. Tytel says.
- Know when you need time management help and where to get it. "There are shelves of books at the library or bookstore that you can look at," O'Shea points out. Reading one of these books could help you evaluate your strategies and find areas with room for improvement. If you know that you are inclined toward time management problems, which is common for right-brained people, you should acknowledge that time planning may not be an inborn skill for you and that you may need help, says Kaufman. Consider locating a seminar or other means of organizational skills improvement and treat it as a skill to learn and revisit from time to time.