Time is a flexible concept. It can have economic value – 'time is money', or personal value – 'time flies when you’re having fun'.
You can lose time, find time, make time, and kill time. You can just about do anything with time, except the one you need most – and that’s to create more time in the day to get everything done.
However, with the right time management tools you can learn to use time more wisely, which hopefully means a little less overtime and a little more play time.
1. Focus periods
According to the heart of efficiency expert Nikki White, most business people prioritise the urgent to-do list, then the exciting long-term strategy creation – and push mundane but necessary tasks to the back of the mind, causing stress:
“To combat this, I recommend you create focus zones in your week, so you can get those lingering tasks you struggle to finish out of the way to free up not only your mind but also your time.”
The first step to creating focus zones is to identify tasks you struggle with, which will vary depending on your skills, interests and responsibilities.
The next step is to schedule regular zones for a time of the day (or week) that is conducive to completing those particular tasks. For instance, menial jobs that don’t require much thought could be done in the afternoon.
You’ll also need to pick times when you know you will not be interrupted. Thirdly, switch off during your focus times – alert staff that you’ll be unavailable, turn off the e-mail and switch off the phone.
And the last step is to 'do and review'. If you’re unable to focus and get the job done the reassess the tasks – are they things that could be outsourced?
2. Control your email
Linda Sultmann, principal consultant of White Room – Small Business Management, says emails are one of the most time-consuming areas that people do not manage well:
“Just because we have the technology to be accessible 24/7, does not mean you have to be. Exert control over your emails and smart phones. I check and answer emails in the morning before my first appointment, check in between my client sessions for phone and emails and respond to urgent important issues, then again at end of day for anything that can be quickly responded to.”
3. Response times
You’re not Triple 0, so there’s no need to jump every time your phone lets you know you have a new message. Sultmann suggests setting expectations of responses times with clients according to your schedule:
“My clients know that emails I respond to in 24 hours, calls within the day and they should text me if anything is urgent. If your week is planned you know when you will be able to attend to issues. Also remember that poor planning on their part should not constitute an emergency on your part, so be firm about your boundaries to complete things.”
4. Clear your screen desktop
If you start each day by powering up your computer, White advises you to make sure your computer screen desktop is organised. An organised desktop will help you keep focused on the tasks at hand and ensure you don’t lose time on things that are less important.
To do this, White advises keeping desktop icons to a minimum. She also suggests that the files you do keep on the desktop be limited to those you use very regularly. Most-used icons should be positioned left to right, she says:
“Putting more frequently used icons on the right means when you’re scanning for them, you’ll find them faster, and not get distracted by other tasks before you locate them.”
And lastly, she urges you to ditch applications from your dock that are not used on a daily basis:
“Not only will you be able to find what you’re after faster, it also means you won’t accidentally open the wrong application and have to sit there grinding your teeth while your computer slows down to boot up the application.”
Anything that is outside of your expertise, or below your skill level, should be delegated or outsourced, suggests Sultmann:
“I have a bookkeeper, cleaner, and administration assistant who all help me stay on the most productive tasks.”