What is Time Management (Really)?
Time management: Making the most out of your workday by setting goals, tracking your work time, or batching tasks. With the right time management tools, you’ll be a more productive professional with better work-life balance… right?
That’s what we’ve been led to believe when it comes to time management, but successful time management is not just about clever work hacks or “working smarter.” On that same note, it’s also not a magic solution. Focusing too much on time management can have the reverse effect on your productivity, making you more distracted and stressed. In this blog, I want to dive a little deeper into what time management is and how you can make it work for you.
Understand your own strengths (and weaknesses)
One of the official definitions for time management is “the ability to plan and control how someone spends the hours in a day to effectively accomplish their goals.” To me, though, time management is about doing better work in less time. True time management goes hand-in-hand with understanding your own attention span, energy levels, and capacity for productivity.
The Pomodoro technique or waking up earlier to start your workday may help some people manage their time more effectively, but it doesn’t work for all of us. If popular time management tools and systems haven’t worked for you in the past, I encourage you to reflect on why. Did those techniques take your individual strengths and weaknesses into account? Or did they force you into a rigid plan that didn’t accommodate your true values or priorities?
We all have unique work styles. Even more, those work styles vary by day, based on our energy, our sleep, our kids, even our hormones! We also have our own circadian rhythms to account for, and our own convenient worktimes. If you tend to be most productive mid morning to early afternoon, then embrace it.
Try attention management instead
How do we manage our time, our tasks, and our energy, if time management tools may not work for us? Instead of working hard to complete more tasks in your workday, try shifting your focus from time management to attention management.
Attention management involves prioritizing tasks that matter most to you. Prioritise projects that are meaningful to you, and you may find yourself more energised to get the work done. Also, think about why you’re working on something instead of pushing yourself to check it off your list. Sometimes, we put off working toward a goal because our reasons for wanting it have been overshadowed by other details — or they have changed.
Let’s say you’ve been avoiding writing a month’s worth of social captions “to get ahead.” You tell yourself you don’t have the time or energy, and you’ll do it later. (Of course, “later” never comes.) Instead of assuming there’s something wrong with you, reflect on why you set that task for yourself. Maybe you really enjoy flexing your creative skills on your social media, or you love engaging with followers and browsing their comments. Or maybe you like that sense of accomplishment you get when you have posts ready to be published. Sometimes you can find motivation when you remember why you want to do something and how you (and others) benefit from it.
If you’re unsure how to prioritise your tasks, make a list of everything you need to do. Rearrange the order of your tasks, starting with the most important or pressing tasks at the top. Tackle those first. And if you can’t decide where to place certain tasks, remember to think about why they’re on your list.
Let yourself say “no”
Another point I want to discuss: Time management can become a slippery slope. The more work you get done in a day, the more you feel accomplished and proud of yourself. You’ve done this much, so why not add more to your plate? Soon you add more tasks to your to-do list and work until the wee hours of the morning. Over time, it gets out of control, and you wonder where you went wrong.
You don’t have to say “yes” to everything, whether that’s a request from a coworker, an invite to a social gathering from friends, or even an extra task you set for yourself. Learn how to say “no” when you truly don’t have the capacity or energy. You’ll avoid spreading yourself too thin and experiencing burnout, both of which guarantee that you’ll get less done in your workday.
It’s hard to say no, because you may not want to hurt anyone’s feelings or let them down. But is it any better to say yes and give them less than your best? Or saying yes and having to bail on the project later because you can’t complete it? Don’t worry about setting boundaries for yourself. They will understand.
Make your time & attention work for you
With the wealth of research and advice on time management out there, it’s easy to feel like you’re not doing enough or you’re managing your time improperly. But time management tools are not one-size-fits-all. We’re human. Our abilities, energy levels, and focus are constantly shifting.
Don’t beat yourself up if popular time management strategies don’t seem to work for you. Instead, dig deeper into your strengths and weaknesses. Prioritise your task list. Most of all, be honest with yourself about your workload. These tips will help you manage your time — and more importantly, your attention — successfully.