Anyone who tells you that managing your time is the key to success is lying to you. We cannot manage time. It keeps flowing on and on at a steady rate, and there's nothing you or I can do about it.
Don't try to manage time. Manage yourself so that you're being more effective and helping your team to grow and become more independent. Here are some ways you can manage yourself to get the most out of the time you have.
Too often, we try to pack more and more tasks into an inflexibly short amount of time. We use pressure-packed buzzwords like "ASAP" or "right now" rather than setting realistic deadlines for finishing projects. This behavior is damaging when applied to your team members, and downright destructive when you do it to yourself.
Let's be clear, there are 24 hours in a day. You need eight of those for sleeping, at least a few spent with friends and family, and a few spent on taking care of yourself. If the remaining hours are not enough to accomplish everything on your to-do list, then you need to trim that list. Find things that can be delegated, done more efficiently, or outright cut.
Learn to say no.
This is a corollary to the previous rule. Being realistic about your capabilities means occasionally saying no to requests. If your boss asks you to work on a project that you don't have time for, respectfully and clearly explain that you are unable to do so. It's hard at first, but saying no is better than taking on the task and not completing it, or neglecting your other duties to finish it.
This most certainly also goes for entrepreneurs working 10- to 14-hour days on a startup. In these cases, it's even more vital to delegate and prioritize tasks because of the sheer number of items that need doing. If you choose to spend every waking moment building your company, then burnout isn't far off.
There will always be time spent during the day that doesn't produce anything tangible. Some examples of this are when people hold meetings to get everyone up to speed on their tasks, write paperwork to provide a legal trail, or back up documents for security's sake. These tasks are a form of friction, energy that doesn't necessarily go towards accomplishing your primary goal. Some of this is inevitable, but it should be minimized as much as possible.
Make sure the only people in meetings are those whose presence is necessary, and that only topics that cannot be addressed via email or other less time-consuming media are discussed. Have clear processes drawn up for administrative tasks so that no one spends any more time than is absolutely necessary on them.
Plan for the long term.
It's so easy to get bogged down in the day-to-day mess. Too often, we overwork and overstress ourselves because we ignore little things that will make us far more efficient in the long run. Here's a short list of things you can do to make life easier for your future self.
- Create optimal processes for all your recurring tasks. Make sure you've identified the best way to do a task, and write it down. As an added bonus, such a document will be very useful if you ever have to delegate this task to someone else.
- Bookmark any websites you use regularly.
- Learn all the keyboard shortcuts on your computer.
- Plan out longer projects. Make sure you have a step-by-step guide to what you want to accomplish.
We all need time to relax and recharge. However, too often we spend time on activities that are neither productive nor relaxing. Aimlessly browsing the internet is a wasteful activity. Not only is it not productive, it can actually increase anxiety and decrease focus. To truly recharge, try to unplug entirely and get away from all screens.
At work, time wasting is anything not related to your current task. If you find yourself constantly procrastinating on your tasks, try to figure out why. Are you feeling overwhelmed by your workload, are you stuck on a problem, or are you distracted by another issue? Figure out what's causing you to shy away from your work, and remove that obstacle.