With so many people forced to work from home in recent months, having little structure or direct guidance, time management has become a hot topic.
This problem has long been a burden to entrepreneurs who, whether managing their business from home or from their own workspace, have always had to battle with this need to strictly manage their time and accomplish their workload without set working hours or instructive management.
Luckily for you; as a student, part-time waitress, volunteer and budding entrepreneur; I’ve had to come up with a trick or two when it comes to self-regulated time management.
I hope these tactical tips will help you manage this age-old issue, but if they fail to do so then at least we both know you’ll never quite get round to sending your hate mail…
1. KNOW YOUR DATES
If you’re working towards deadlines, this may seem a pretty obvious starting point.
However, when you have multiple responsibilities piling up, they can get pretty difficult to keep track of.
Having your key dates somewhere visible to you is crucial in being able to prioritise your time. If you’re working on vague ideas, plans you’d love to bring into reality, then you’re going to need to set your own dates.
A clear picture of what you’re going to do and by when creates a sense of accountability. No matter how enthusiastic you are about your endeavours, without accountability its all to easy to fall victim to Netflix, trips to the pub, or whatever else might float your boat.
2. CONSIDER THE QUALITY OF YOUR TIME
When you’re setting aside time to work, you need to consider how well you can really use it.
This is particularly important if you have multiple things on the go at once, as its all too easy to focus simply on whatever is coming up next rather than consider how long each task will take individually.
Say you have a month to complete one task and six weeks to complete another, but you’ve reasoned they’ll take the same amount of time.
Its tempting to focus all your energy on the one which is to be completed first, and imagine that the two weeks following this first deadline will be blissfully free for you to complete the second.
But is that realistic? Or will that two weeks be filled with the same mundane daily tasks as the first four?
I’ve fallen into this trap many times while writing essays or preparing for exams that come closely together, getting overly focused on the first thing at hand and leaving myself little time to manage the next. When we are rushed, the quality of our work is likely to be weaker.
So then we try that old favourite – making sure we’re doing a bit of everything, every day. We have a cracking time making colour coded schedules with an hour of X followed by two hours of Y.
As pretty as these plans might look, this never allows us to really settle into something and get our flow going.
What helped me in these situations was siphoning my time into larger chunks – for example I would focus on one subject for three days, then the next for three days, and only ramp up my priority focus when I got really close to each deadline.
This allowed me to dig deep into each subject rather than just doing ‘surface level work’ which I had to readjust to every time I switched over.
It also ensured that I could meet multiple deadlines with the same high quality of work for each.
Even if you only have one specific thing to work on, this principle applies.
While it might be appealing just to work in short bursts, it prevents you from ever getting a real flow going.
There’s plenty of debate around exactly how long you should work for before taking a break, but I believe this is an individual, trial and error approach.
I don’t suggest you work yourself to the bone before taking a breather, but it is important to make sure you’re accessing your deeper working flow rather than stopping and starting sporadically and wasting time trying to reconnect with where you were.
3.KNOW YOUR HABITS
I remember once having a nervous chat with a friend about an exam we had the following day.
She told me confidently that she only had one more thing she wanted to check back on, but that she was heading out to see her boyfriend and would ‘just get up really early and do it then!’
Now. Our exam was at 9am. I had lived with this friend for several years, and could count on one hand the number of times I’d seen her up and alert before 11am.
Its great to be optimistic, and sure, you can change things up for a day – its not that I’m suggesting she was physically incapable of waking up early.
But, our bodies and minds are used to our habits. A rapid switch from working well over a leisurely-paced evening to cramming at 6am is just not going to compute.
A similar example could be if you usually work in complete silence, but maybe your friends are heading out for a coffee and you’ve been feeling left out so you pack up your laptop and convince yourself you’ll do some work at the café.
If you’re not working in the situation you’re accustomed to, you’re not going to be at your most productive.
An hour’s work completed at 6am may look extremely different to what you normally accomplish in an hour during the evening.
So sure, the hours in the day are technically equal – but by knowing your habits you’ll know which hours you’re realistically going to get more out of.
You can change these habits of course, they aren’t set forever and its great to have goals to accommodate a healthy sleep pattern and whatnot – but be prepared for changes in your productivity as you readjust.
4.PLAN YOUR DOWNTIME
While this may sound like its going to drain all the fun from your life, the only way to really know when you’re going to work is to know when you’re not going to work.
Its all very well knowing that your deadline is in a week’s time and that your project will only take you five days, but all of a sudden you find yourself agreeing to meet a friend for a coffee, oh, and you forgot your Mum was visiting on Friday, and you’ll need to visit the bank before the weekend…
Its incredible how quickly the small activities of daily life can add up to fill your week.
If there’s any reason why you cannot do your work during a particular time then filter it out of any scheduling you’re doing. Say you have a week to complete a task, but for two days you’re off on a romantic getaway – you now have five days to complete the task. That’s it, reset your mind to a five day deadline.
Days are meaningless when they’re written off, so planning your schedule with the idea that you have a full week will lure you into a false sense of security and you’ll be more likely to procrastinate because you have ‘so much time’.
In addition, how can you enjoy that lovely trip when you suddenly realise you don’t have all that time after all?
Plans are built on the resources a person has available. Consider your time as a tangible resource rather than as it appears on a calendar and you’ll be able to plan using what you have and feel confident and unashamed in enjoying your downtime.
Most of our daily lives however, are not centred around set events. They are more likely to be a series of mundane chores scattered with spontaneous socialising which, if your circle is as changeable (flaky!) as mine, is rarely set in stone until the last minute.
There are multiple ways to approach this:
- You can set strict schedules for when you will do your work and ensure that you cram in your normal tasks and reject invitations around these periods. Sounds fun right?
- You can make a note of all your social plans or things need to do and define your working times around those. Sure, you’ve tried that before and the list of activities kept getting longer, or plans changed and suddenly left you frantically cramming your work into an all nighter, but maybe this time it’ll work?
- OR you can enjoy some flexibility while setting yourself a handful of necessary boundaries.
When I have a looming deadline, I like to look at the time-frame I have to meet it and work out a vague outline.
For example, if you just have a couple of days you might decide you’re going to spend X number of hours on your work, or perhaps you might decide that you’ll need one morning and one afternoon.
If you have a bit longer you might break this down into days, by saying that you’re going to work on your project for Y number of days in each week.
Having this calculated framework means you can still mix up your time as you feel, but as things add up you’ll know when to harden down on yourself.
Alternatively, you might find you’ve packed in your time early and have some to spare – lucky you!
The previous tips rely to some extent on you knowing how long your work is going to take.
This IS crucial, as its impossible to determine how much downtime you can have without knowing what working time you need left over.
But lets be honest, we all have those sudden, uncomfortable realisations that something is going to take longer than we thought it would.
While I wholeheartedly recommend considering how much time a project might require, its even more important to give yourself a buffer.
This will depend on the scale of the task, but I like to follow a rule of between 10 and 20%.
For example, if you’ve reasoned that something might take a month’s work then consider adding the equivalent of another five days’ work into your timeframe.
If you reckon you need a total of ten hours to finish something off, maybe leave space for twelve.
This will help you avoid those nasty surprises that force you into those caffeine-fueled, wild-eyed nights of frantically trying to nail that final detail.
So there you have my top 5 tips for time-management, I hope they’ve been helpful, but if not then please feel free to leave a hateful comment… when you get round to it!