Effective Time Management

Effective Time Management is an acquired skill. It takes effort in the beginning, but later it becomes your second nature.

Before making any changes, the first thing to do is observe. Just observe your days. See how much of the day is spent working, relaxing, reading, chitchatting, watching TV etc. First take mental notes. But soon you want to be capturing it in writing somewhere, preferably a journal. You will see that this is a valuable tool in effective time management.

Many people do the mistake of never going back and reading and analyzing what they wrote in their journals. To get full benefit of journaling, you have to review your writings frequently. So go back, read and try to identify patterns and also figure out what leads to what. I call this a value stream mapping of your day. Those who want to improve processes in factories routinely do a value stream mapping. Only when you know how things flow, you can make improvements.

Identify how you waste time, and think about doing productive work during that time instead. If you can convert one hour a day of wasted time into productive time, that is 365 hours a year. You can accomplish a lot in 365 hours.

If you spend time on non-value added activities, then you have to work “overtime” to do the things that you have to do. This is especially true at work place.

If there are specific things or situations that lead to wasting time, try to address those. Eliminate the cause, not just try to treat the symptom. This will ensure a permanent solution. Otherwise you run the risk of relapsing.

This is not to say that you have to be working every waking minute. Don’t even try it. That is a recipe for disaster in effective time management. Initially try for five to ten percent improvement in productive hours. Increase as you get better at it. Set aside some time for your family, and most importantly for yourself. Spend the time you set aside for you any way you want.

When you try to implement effective time management, initially try for the low hanging fruits first. Change habits that you can change without much effort and those that give the most benefit. It is quite simple to gain a five percent improvement in productivity.

Suppose you sleep 8 hours a day, and use another 3 hours daily getting ready, eating etc., then you have 13 hours of “free” time. If you watch 2 hours of non-value added (entertainment) TV programs daily, cut ½ hour. That is about 4 percent gain. As you keep a diary of your activities, you will see there are plenty of opportunities to gain valuable time.

If you have long commute to work, listen to good books whenever you can, instead of frivolous talk shows.

Another benefit of effective time management is that when you avoid wasting time during tasks, you can concentrate better, and get things done faster. That in fact is the biggest benefit, since your productivity will increase many folds.

There is one other thing which appears beneficial, but is detrimental in reality. This is multitasking. As I said before, if you can concentrate on one task, you will finish it quickly and well. If you juggle too many things at the same time, you will take more time to do them, and the quality will suffer. In some cases it can be quite dangerous – for example, leaving something on the stove when you do something else. Do your tasks one at a time, and you will love it. You will have the added satisfaction of finishing at least one task, rather than the frustration of managing three unfinished tasks.

As you implement changes, never forget to keep observing and writing down your findings until effective time management becomes your second nature. Don’t look for overnight changes and magic bullets. Slow and steady wins the race.

Summary:

  1. Do a value stream mapping of your day for several days. Write down your findings.
  2. Review what you wrote down.
  3. Try for incremental improvements.
  4. Identify causes for wasting time and remove them.
  5. Go after low hanging fruits (those that give the most benefit and are easy to achieve).
  6. Refine until you are happy with the results.

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