Whether you are a student or professor, an employee or employer, it seems there aren’t enough hours in the day to do everything you wanted. Then there are those days where you have labored for hours, only to find that you haven’t completed all that much. As we ponder these issues, we realize that it is neither the hours available nor the number of tasks completed that really figure in what we have truly accomplished, but it is our inability to manage both time and tasks together that result in limited productivity. Time management is not about having the mindset or ability to just spend our time doing ‘work,’ but rather it is the process in which we are able to work – and work effectively and efficiently – within the time available.
If productivity is the objective of our endeavors, we can reasonably discern that distractions, time wasted on non-essential activities, and procrastination are all enemies of that purpose. And to defeat those ‘enemies,’ we must arm ourselves with certain key elements of time management: eliminating distractions, proper classification of responsibilities, and prioritization of our time.
Distractions come in all shapes and sizes; these can be as simple as the “you’ve got mail” popup on our email software, phone calls, and even the friendly chat with colleagues. Combating those diversions aren’t always as easy, so utilize available tools to facilitate your efforts in remaining productive. E-mail and the web have made the top of the time-wasting distractions list (“The Time We Waste,” 2007, Para 3) against which various deterrents are used, ranging from computer monitoring software to the personal limitation of checking email only at designated times. For the inevitable phone call, voicemail grants some reprieve, but if you answer, make your time availability clear to the other party. If necessary, request a secondary contact on your time and terms. Socializing with co-workers or fellow students is a distraction that appears less irritating than most, but can carry equal detriment to accomplishing your work tasks. The Results Only Work Environment (ROWE) project has the philosophy that “if work is based on time, people will waste it; if it’s based on results, they won’t” (“The Time We Waste, 2007, para 20). Not every environment is results-oriented, but you can be. Keeping the philosophy of accomplishing and being productive can help you remain on track.
Sometimes we allow distractions to disguise themselves as responsibilities. This isn’t to say that we are not required to handle those less critical tasks, but if we are not cautious, we may find ourselves so inundated that those of priority are delayed or fail to get completed. Productivity guru, David Allen, author of the Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity, actually instructs to “go ahead and do anything that takes less than two minutes…” (McGregor, 2008, para 9). But how do we handle those daily activities that are not so trivial, but nevertheless must get done? Two basic methods for getting things done involve lists and self-psychology (or the combination thereof). David Allen recommends “dumping all the tasks floating around in our heads…into running lists organized by category or place, such as calls, errands, @home, @office” (McGregor, 2008, para 3 & 7). Breaking down these responsibilities into their primary components will give us a sense of the priority. Some even advocate setting work targets for each day, doing those less pleasant tasks first, and to separate the challenging work from routine work based on when you are most alert (“The Time We Waste,” 2007, para 30). The completion of targeted goals, as opposed to just meandering through our work, can serve as a great motivator, and persistent use of this tactic will result in greater productivity.
Lists or agendas are only effective when employed in the scope of available time or deadlines. Without prioritizing our time, the temptation of procrastination rears its head and leaves to-do lists unchecked and projects incomplete. Planning the work, accountability to others, and rewards for completion or penalties for failing to complete, are all means to help overcome and fight procrastination (Kimbrough-Robinson, 2007, para 9). Another straightforward way to contest with procrastination is to create focus. Chris Barez-Brown, global head of the innovation company ?What If!, says “Create real focus by dropping 149 of the 150 projects and concentrating on cracking the most important issue fast,” (2008, para 4). A less momentous approach to making sure you do not delay is to make use of visual aids, such as wall timelines (where you can see multiple weeks or months at once) or reminder software scheduled to alert you on a regular basis.
Like most other aspects of life, time management and productivity are at the mercy of the individual. Practicing the tactics of working effectively and efficiently over time will produce the results we seek. At the end of the day, we will know that we will have accomplished what we were able and what was necessary.