I used to look at my work calendar with the same blank stare that I used to stare at the numbers in my checking account.
“Are there open slots on the calendar? Great – I’m sure I can fit all my work in the gaps between meetings.”
“Is there more than $0 in my checking account? Great – I can buy anything.”
As you might suspect, this was not a sustainable strategy.
At my first job, I was given the responsibility of managing my company’s finances. While budgeting our company’s money down to the cent, I realized this is a great way to think about effective time management techniques as well. If I manage a line of business down to the cent, what would it be like to manage my time down to the second?
Business budgets are assigned based on priorities and how to get the most bang for your buck. If I approach my time in a similar way and, instead of seeing blocks between meetings as time to get something – anything – done, I can decide beforehand what I want to accomplish in those free blocks based on priorities and due dates.
This approach has helped me tremendously. I’m sure we all know what it’s like to have a long list of to dos – it can feel overwhelming. Where do I even begin if everything is suddenly due today? If a day doesn’t go as planned, it helps to have a plan. If a meeting ends early and I unexpectedly have a few extra minutes before the next one, having a plan for my time can be very helpful. Instead of scrambling, I know what needs to be done.
Here’s the approach I took to managing my time from my experience in managing my company’s budget:
- Prioritize. I started by defining my priorities and listing them out. Like in managing a budget, you need to know what is most important so you can work on those items first and make sure they get the most attention.
- Allocate. Then I would decide how much time each task would take. I base this estimate on similar past tasks or, if the task is new, I take my best guess. Then I would make a calendar for myself that allocates specific time slots to certain tasks, and explains what exactly I need to accomplish in that block of time.
- Be flexible. When the unexpected happens, it helps to be flexible. I have already prioritized my tasks and assigned each of them time estimates. Now, if a last-minute meeting pops up, it doesn’t throw a wrench into things because I can be flexible. My priorities will help me roll with the punches. If a meeting runs long and I now only have 30 minutes to complete a task instead of an hour, part of that 30 minutes will not be spent scrambling to decide what task to start in that time. I go to my first priority and get started. This has saved me a lot of time and helped me get bits of work done in the smallest increments of time throughout my day.
Another option is to choose a task high on the priorities list that will only take 30 minutes based on its time allocation. Either way, I didn’t waste time deciding what to do. I just got down to work.
I hope this method helps if you are looking for a new approach to effective time management techniques. It has certainly helped me better understand how to make the most of my time.