As with many roads, the road to effective time management is paved with all sorts of good intentions. People sometimes have the dream, but lack the drive to take that first step and then keep moving up the path. Often, the lack of progress is for no reason other than a failure to prepare for the journey ahead.
Here are for steps that you need to take if you are serious about moving from your current position of overwhelm and lack of control to becoming a master of effective time management.
Step 1 – Adjust Your Attitude to Effective Time Management
This is the step that many people leave out of the equation when they decide to get on the road to effective time management. Unfortunately, not all those self-help books and seminars include any ideas on how to begin to change your outlook on life so that you can embrace the basics of managing your time effectively.
One of the easiest ways to initiate this change of heart is to make a list of the benefits you will immediately receive if you start managing your time better. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that the list has to be loaded with all sorts of impressive advantages or big events. After all, it is the day to day tasks that usually give people the most satisfaction anyway.
For example, your list could include benefits like:
- More time to play with the kids.
- The kitchen cupboard has real food in it that can be used to make a decent meal.
- The utilities will stay on all the time, because the bills will be paid on time.
- You’ll get to see the opening scenes of the movie, catch the whole of your daughters dance performance, be there for the kick off of your son’s football match, all because from now on you will be on time.
- Your coworkers will be friendlier, since they are not waiting on you for something they need to get their jobs done.
- Your clients will have more confidence in you and so provide you with more opportunities to work with them.
- You will feel more relaxed at the end of the day, because you know there is not a bunch of old stuff to do when you get to work in the morning.
Zero in on what poor time management has taken away from you over time, and how much fun it will be to have all those things back. If that’s not enough incentive to make some changes in the way you look at things, then you are probably dooming yourself to failure once again.
Step 2 – Start Small
Effective time management is a behaviour around which skills can be learnt. Unfortunately many people have developed bad time management habits and as we all know, it’s hard to break old habits. That’s what poor time management is, nothing more than a bad habit. As with many habits, you have to start with small changes if you want to succeed over the long term.
There are a couple of good reasons to begin with the little things and gradually incorporate more of the bigger things in your new effective time management programme:
- You’ll gain confidence. Nothing motivates people like a sense of accomplishment. It doesn’t matter that it is only one small change. The important thing is you did it. And if you did it today, you can do it tomorrow, and the day after that. Each day you manage to repeat that one small time management process, you will feel more empowered to make another change for the better.
- People will notice. Loved ones and coworkers will see you are serious about learning how to practice effective time management, and begin to rally around you. True, their support may be tentative at first, especially if you’ve tried to become more organized in the past, but given up the effort after a day or two. But as you become consistently more dedicated to setting the little things in order, they will come around and compliment you on your efforts.
- You’ll discover strategies and ideas that might work with some of the bigger things. As you master the little tasks that come during the day, you will probably begin to notice that some of the larger tasks can be addressed with the same approaches. This can be a good thing, as it helps you to brainstorm on ways to deal with different situations by using a tool you already have on hand and know how to use effectively.
- You’ll become better at prioritizing your action items. It won’t take long for you to notice that the day went much smoother when you performed Task B before Task A. Finding just the right order for those small daily tasks will allow you to move through them quicker and with more proficiency. As a result, you will begin to develop little pockets of time that can be devoted to other endeavors.
- Your stress level will begin to decrease. The more in control you are of your time and tasks, the less you will feel overwhelmed and unable to cope. This ties directly back into building a sense of empowerment and confidence in your ability to manage your time effectively. One feeds off the other two, giving you a strength and focus you may have never experienced before.
Step 3 – Reward Yourself
Think of it this way: if you won a prize, wouldn’t you celebrate at least a little? Making forward strides with learning how to manage your time is something worth acknowledging and celebrating. Sure, the fact that you go to work on time every day for a whole week now might not seem like much to anybody else, but that is not the point. The point is you made a positive step that put you back in charge of a part of your life and you are now managing it properly.
Of course, it is important to make sure your reward does not create yet another time management disaster that has to be straightened out. But assuming you have some spare time on the way home Friday evening, why not reward yourself with some little something you will enjoy, like a cup of your favorite coffee or picking up a copy of a magazine you really enjoy?
Keep in mind that a reward does not have to be big, splashy, or expensive. As you are learning by taking control of the little tasks in your life, a lot of satisfaction can come from little things. So go right ahead and allow yourself a small reward and enjoy it to the fullest. And if you want to have more rewards, continue to incrementally expand the control you have over your time.
Step 4 – Expect The Occasional Setback
Even the most proficient of time managers don’t always hit the mark. As you begin the process of learning how to do a better job with your time, there will be situations where you overlook something or encounter circumstances that temporarily derail your newfound ability to get things done.
It is as this point that many people choose to decide they simply can’t change and slip back into their old habits. While you certainly don’t want to brush off a setback as being nothing of consequence, you also don’t want to allow it to undermine all the progress you’ve made.
Instead of burying the setback or allowing it to lose confidence, try this third approach. Take a long look at all the circumstances surrounding the setback. Were there extenuating circumstances that you did not notice on the front end? Did something completely unforeseen arise as you were attempting to complete the task?
Knowing what happened and why it happened can be turned into a learning experience. By stepping back and examining the situation as dispassionately as you can, there is a good chance you can learn a few things from what appears to be a failure in managing your time effectively.
You may learn such valuable lessons as:
- Points to clarify or data to double-check before you attempt the same or similar tasks again.
- Additional tools or resources to assemble before tacking a task of this type.
- A more effective process to deal with the situation.
- Ways to defuse factors that led to the problem in the first place.
Never allow a setback to stop you in your tracks. Acknowledge it, learn from it, and then move on. Remember that you have other things that should be occupying your time.
Learning to implement solid time management practices and attitudes is an incremental process that involves the acquisition of knowledge, the application of what you learn, and the accumulation of personal experience. As you continue to move along the road towards effective time management, your supply of all three components will increase, and your ability to manage your time will increase right along with them.
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Mike Gardner is The Time Doctor