After posing the question “Want to get more out of your day?”, it seems quite a few of us do judging by the number of visitors that read the article. Whether that’s because of Summer and the lucky few were feeling a bit more relaxed, had some time to read, or whether it’s because we are keen to discover ways to make ourselves more productive, hopefully a closer look at time management will also prove to be another interesting read for many.
What are the benefits of time management?
Being better able to manage your time will increase your productivity, improve your focus and the quality of what you do. It will give you control over time both in and outside of the workplace, helping to improve your work/life balance. Just as important as productivity, time management will benefit your health by lowering stress, something we have looked at before in our article “Work-related stress”, drawing attention to this increasing challenge for organisations and the negative impact it can have on an individuals health.
Time management then is the process of planning, scheduling and prioritising activities such that one can get more out of one’s day.
A time audit
Where to start? The first step is to monitor how you currently spend your time, the reason being that sometimes there is a significant difference between what you think takes up your time and what actually does. You may think it only takes a few minutes to reply to a query from a customer, but you will probably be surprised when you add in all the minor related tasks, such as getting background information, double checking your email, maybe asking for advice from a colleague, and so on.
If you can, keep a record of all that you do over a few days, ideally in a given week, and after that assess what you did and what you achieved. Also, if you can, note particularly how productive was your use of time – if you could replay the week would you have had a different focus, a different order of priority for what you did and achieved? What to look out for is how much time was wasted, as well as how much was spent on low value or even no-value activities.
Steps to manage your time
By following some or all of the following steps you should find you will be able to get more done in less time:
1. Plan your day (and preferably your week): with a plan you can focus on your top priorities. By setting some time aside on a Sunday, breaking down weekly goals into daily tasks, a significant first step will have been made on the way to a successful week. Plan to tackle the important tasks when you are at your most productive, which for many of us is in the morning. The same applies for days of the week, leaving the low priority tasks for later in the week, probably for Fridays when your energy is likely to be at its lowest. Because we are not all productive at the same time of day or day of the week, find out when you are most productive by allocating similar tasks to early morning, late morning, early afternoon and late afternoon. At the end of the day assess how you did, when you achieved more, then use that knowledge when planning your time.
2. Create a to-do list, prioritise and break bigger tasks into smaller manageable chunks: on a daily basis prepare a list of those tasks that you aim to tackle, allocating time for each. Distinguish between the important and not-so-important tasks, between those that can be achieved in a short time, and those not. Importantly, set yourself achievable goals. Check out the 1-3-5 System and how this can keep you motivated. Another similar way of prioritising is the ABCDE Method: each task in your list is allocated a letter depending on how important it is, A being the most important, E the least.
3. When you get stuck, don’t dwell, move on: there will be times, no matter how well organised you are with your time and to-do lists, when you feel like you have hit a wall with the current task. If this happens and you feel you cannot move on right now, try not to ruin the flow. Skip that task for now, come back to it when you have more energy, and move on to another, possibly easier task. Once you recover you can come back to it refreshed, maybe with a new approach, enabling you to move beyond a point that may have previously seemed insurmountable.
4. Avoid waiting by having some backup tasks: there are going to be times when you have to wait for someone, something, some information you need. Don’t waste this time, make sure you have something to do, which could be as simple as one or more tasks you can quickly tick off on your to-do list, those that would not normally contribute that much to the bigger goals. If you don’t feel like doing this, try using your time productively in some way by reading, making phone calls, sending an email, or even relaxing or doing some exercises.
5. Delegate: if you are in a position to do so, pass on some of your responsibilities to team members who have the time and skills to complete those tasks you are unable to find time to do yourself. This can be a challenge for some people, but it can be a real help in easing your workload, releasing time to tackle more important tasks. Just make sure the person to whom you are delegating is fully informed, has the appropriate skills and/or experience and that you are available to answer questions when they arise.
6. Focus, avoiding distractions: a challenge at the best of times, even more so when you are working remotely. Probably most interruptions these days come from notifications, from both your PC and phone: alarms, emails, calls etc. As well as simply blocking out chunks of time during which you are not to be disturbed, there are many tools available to help reduce such distractions. In our article on the useful features of Windows 10, we looked at Focus Assist, where you can tell Windows to only show you selected notifications, all others being accessible at any time from the Windows Action Centre (found at the bottom right hand corner of your desktop). Even more straightforward, turn off notifications for a while, close any windows you are not using on your desktop, close your email app for a short while.
7. Don’t multi-task: multi-tasking is known to reduce your productivity. Focussing on individual tasks, one a time, is best. If you prefer batching, see our most recent article, by tackling tasks that require a similar approach one can get into a rhythm that will reduce the amount of time spent on each. Continually shifting focus means more interruptions, and recovering from each one takes a surprising amount of time.
8. Perfection and minutiae will hold you back: focus on the bigger picture, getting those tasks done that will help you move towards achieving the most important goals. Perfection is perfect, but actually getting something done is even better.
9. Set time limits on tasks, blocking off time, scheduling breaks between tasks with an allowance for over-runs: giving yourself a time limit for working on each task, easily done by blocking of chunks of time (see also the Pomodoro Technique), gives you focus and helps avoid distractions. Including breaks at the end of each session as well as a little spare time for overruns will make a big difference to your productivity. Work is known to fill the time available, so restricting the time available for each chunk of a task will minimise time wasted. It has been shown that the brain can only remain focussed for a limited amount of time, whether that be 90 minutes for some, or 52 minutes for others (52/17 is another recognised technique – 52 minutes working, 17 minutes resting), you need to establish what best suits yourself (the Pomodoro Technique default periods are 25 minutes with a 5 minute break).
10. Make use of a “done list”: more to motivate yourself, on a regular basis review your to-do list to see what has been achieved, to which should be added any unplanned tasks that have been completed. If you decide to plan your week on a Sunday, do it then. Seeing what you have achieved will encourage you, give you the energy required to overcome the next challenge, fire you up for the week to come.
11. Say “no”: as we mentioned in our last article, this is essential if you are one of those people who always has a stack of work outstanding, never seeming to get to the bottom of it. Always being at the mercy of others can really cause your overall productivity to fall. A simple “no, I am busy at the moment, but I’ll let you know if I have more time later” should start to send out the right signals. Better communication with team members about workloads will make a positive contribution to everyone’s time management.
12. Keep track of your time: doing this will help you manage your time better in the future. Recognising how much of the week was productive, what was not, and why that was the case will help you understand how to make improvements. Maybe you can change the time of day you tackle the high priority tasks, maybe delegate more, or spot what distracts you so you can take the necessary evasive action when they next occur.
In our article “10 productivity tips to make better use of your day”, we listed some recognised techniques or methods that are found to be of assistance when managing time. Here are a couple more. Again, flexibility is key with any method – choosing what fits in with your own way of working is what is important.
The 80:20 rule
Generally known as the “Pareto Principle”, it states that around 80% of consequences come from 20% of causes and was named after Vilfredo Pareto, an Italian economist. When studying the distribution of wealth in Italy, he found that at the time around 80% of wealth was held by less than 20% of the population (interestingly its a bit different nowadays. By way of comparison, the Credit Suisse Global Wealth Report 2021 found that 84.9% of the world’s wealth is held by 12.2% of adults). He then observed that the same ratio appeared to apply to many other things. In terms of time management, the suggestion is that two out of ten items on a to-do list are as important as the sum of the other eight, or alternatively, 20% of activities will account for 80% of results.
Apply this principle when looking at your to-do lists. Identify those 20% of your tasks that will produce 80% of your results, then focus on them. Otherwise, try applying the rule to your working week: the rule would suggest that one of the five days that you work delivers 80% of what you actually achieve during that week. With this in mind, reassess how you spend your time, doing more of what you would have been doing in that one day, or making sure those activities are at the top of your list of priorities.
SMART Goals are a way of managing priorities. When combined with time management they can be used to more easily manage and achieve objectives, avoiding straying onto less important activities. SMART is an acronym for:
• Specific – be specific about what you want to achieve and how you plan to accomplish it (what to achieve, where to be located, why is it important, who can help, get involved and which resources do I need?)
• Measurable – being able to assess your progress is essential
• Attainable – do you have the resources and the support to achieve your goals?
• Realistic – make sure your goals are realistic, for example given your skills, resources, time etc.
• Timely – goals should time bound such that they give a clear picture of what should be achieved by when
Using SMART Goals will help focus your efforts and ensure your time is used productively, increasing the chances of achieving your objectives.
A few words about CompassAir
Creating solutions for the global maritime sector, CompassAir develops state of the art messaging and business application software designed to maximise ROI. Our software is used across the sector, including by Sale and Purchase brokers (S&P/SnP), Chartering brokers, Owners, Managers and Operators.
Through its shipping and shipbroking clients, ranging from recognised World leaders through to the smallest, most dynamic independent companies, CompassAir has a significant presence in the major maritime centres throughout Europe, the US and Asia.
Our flagship solution is designed to simplify collaboration for teams within and across continents, allowing access to group mailboxes at astounding speed using tools that remove the stress from handling thousands of emails a day. It can be cloud based or on premise. To find out more contact firstname.lastname@example.org. If you are new to shipping, or just want to find out more about this exciting and challenging sector, the CompassAirShipping Guide might prove to be an interesting read.
Contact us for more information or a short demonstration on how CompassAir can benefit your business, and find out how we can help your teams improve collaboration and increase productivity.