Time management can be a tricky subject, simply because everybody's different. Personalities, priorities, and outlooks will vary, and so will the system that works best for you. Before you can determine what methods work best for you, take a look at your personality and habits, then tackle a system.
Determining your activity personality will help get you started in the right direction. The key to effective time management is figuring out when you operate best. Some people are early birds; some people are night owls. Do you feel exhilarated and ready to go in the morning or does it take you several cups of coffee to even feel awake? Are you ready for bed at 9 o'clock, or can you stay up until 3 in the morning, still alert and active? Or perhaps you're right in the middle -- with your most efficient time being right after lunch.
When possible, schedule your most challenging or thoughtful tasks for the times when you are most alert and active. If your brain operates at full speed first thing in the morning, start with the most difficult things you have to do. If not, ease in to your day with tasks you can do by rote and then build up to more challenging projects as the day progresses.
- In addition to your activity personality, it's important to know what kind of overall time management system works best for you. This can be a simple to-do list, a prioritized task sheet, or an intricate schedule -- or a combination of all three.
- Do you work best when you have a big, long list of things to do? Try organizing your list in order of importance or urgency. Make different categories so the items don't all blend together. Be sure to make a note of deadlines so time doesn't slip away. Each morning (or the evening before), take a look at the list and determine what will get done that day.
- Do you like having every minute planned out? Make a schedule to keep you on task. Take items off your to do list and organize them according to your day's activities. Find a "flow" that works for you. The schedule itself can be as simple as a plan drawn out on paper, or as complicated as an intricate schedule made with a computer program or mobile application. Experiment with different options to see what works best for you.
- Do you like to just float along, without a plan? Writing things down will ensure you don't forget what you have to do, especially if certain tasks have deadlines. Take advantage of times when you feel like doing things. Get as many tasks done in these times as possible. Keeping a list will ensure you know what has to get done when you have the time and motivation to get things done.
- Have lots of different types of things to do? Try organizing your day so each hour or couple of hours is devoted to a particular type of activity -- cleaning, paperwork, phone calls, etc. Or make each day of the week devoted to a particular project or type of task to keep you focused. Keeping your mind on one type of task or project can keep you focused, minimizing distractions -- and saving you time.
- Get bored? Mix things up a bit by alternating different types of tasks. Though you may lose the focus you gain from working on one project at a time, preventing yourself from getting bored will actually save you time because you'll be more efficient with each task, rather than dawdling.
- Start with the least pleasant tasks you have to do. Having something you dread doing hanging over your head all day makes the entire day grim. Instead, take care of it first thing and enjoy the rest of your day. Often it's not as baed as you think it'll be, and that will set the tone for the day. Or schedule a task or project you're looking forward to for the very end of the day, as an incentive to get through the less pleasant tasks quickly.
- Make a list so you don't forget the million and one things you wanted to take care of. Relying on your memory means some tasks are sure to be forgotten.
- Lump like tasks together to save time. For example, sort all your paperwork so it can all be filed together rather than filing each piece of paper as you come across it. Likewise, when cleaning different rooms, gather together all of the items that need to go somewhere else and then put them away. That way you're not stopping every five minutes to go to another room or do something else. Instead, you can put the items away all at once.
- Set deadlines. Whether or not it really matters if the task is done by that deadline, having a goal will keep you motivated and on task. Tell yourself you'll work on one task for a half hour, or that you want it completed by a certain time.
- Try different methods or techniques to see what works best for you and your personality. No two people are alike, and what works for one person may not work for you.
- Reward yourself. If you find it hard to get motivated to check things off your to do list, or stay on target with your projects and tasks, reward yourself at milestones. The reward can be as simple as a five-minute coffee break or a special treat, such as a movie or favorite snack. Make the milestones meaningful, though. Rewarding yourself too often can be a distraction -- and that will eat up valuable time.
Working With Work
The actual format for your day may be dictated by your work schedule. Ideally, we would all be able to have a job that works with our skill set, and enables us to work when we are most efficient. Since that doesn't always happen, the best we can do is work with what we've got.
When it's not possible too adjust tasks according to your personality, just do your best. Take your time with tasks when you're not at your peak so as to avoid mistakes. If you have a creative project to work on, take care of mundane tasks during your less-than-stellar times, and save the creative thinking for when you're at your best.