A Professional's Guide to Office Time Management
By Nathan Strum
Time management is one of the most important skills anyone can develop. The ability to manage time effectively is critical to success in any industry or field of endeavor. However, it is not always clear exactly what is meant by "time management." What are the methods we can use to manage time more effectively? How can we track progress and make improvements in our time management strategies? While there are many schools of thought on every aspect of time management, some time-tested approaches remain consistent.
Developing a plan is the first step to time management. Without a plan, it is impossible to know where you are going. To manage time effectively, you need to become adept at planning for both long-term and short-term goals. Without advance planning, long-term goals often fall by the wayside. However, it is exactly these longer-horizon goals that benefit most from planning. Long-term goals should be broken down into actionable tasks by week. When large items are broken down well, they can become part of your to-do list.
Your to-do list is where your plans intersect with your day-to-day life. Each of the items on your list should bring you closer to one of your goals. However, you might find that not every item on your list for a day can get done; that's why it's important to assign priorities to different tasks. One of the most famous systems for setting priorities comes from Stephen Covey, author of the acclaimed book Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Covey recommends breaking items into four categories based on whether they are urgent, important, both, or neither.
Deadlines make tasks urgent, while items you simply wish to achieve within a given time are not necessarily urgent; you may have to work harder to make time for non-urgent items that are important. An item's importance is determined by its relationship to your goals. Importance is a sliding scale - few items are completely unimportant or unimportant in all situations. For example, recreation is rarely urgent, but it becomes increasingly important as you work more and feel a keener need for time to yourself. Urgent, important items are usually top priorities, while items that are neither urgent nor important have a tendency to be last on a person's list.
How can you eliminate time management problems like procrastination? Good daily habits are essential. In addition to having visual representations of your plans, such as schedules and lists, you should also check your progress toward your goals on a weekly basis. Small victories in time management and goal attainment can gradually erode even the most ingrained procrastination habit. However, you should support your new time management approaches with positive habits: Develop your to-do lists late in the afternoon and review them in the morning each day. Reviewing your progress toward goals should be an early part of your weekend.
Time management might look like something harried and unpleasant, but it is truly vital to achieving long-term success. It is important not to get "stuck" on the details of each passing day; instead, think of time management as a comprehensive approach to your goals with weekly and monthly dimensions. Get into good habits and reward yourself for success. Before you know it, you will be accomplishing more than you ever have before. As you practice time management, it becomes easier and the tasks that are important get done faster.
To discover more about time management, please visit the resources below:
- Stress and Time Management (PDF): This life-coaching handout is focused on the relationship between time management and stress.
- Stephen Covey's Time Management Grid (PDF): Self-help guru Stephen Covey's theories are covered in brief on this page.
- Tips for Time Management (PDF): This document profides basic yet actionable tips for time management and stress reduction.
- Time Management Techniques: The Virginia Department of Education looks at several different approaches to time management.
- Time Management Skills Self-Assessment (PDF): A 25-question self-test can help takers understand their current level of time management skill.
- Developing Excellent Time Management Habits: Free documents and an online course are available from the FAA for anyone interested in becoming more adept in time management.
- 11 Great Time Management Tips: Quick time management tips can help readers make a positive change in their time management approaches right away.
- Time Management Presentation With Actionable Steps (PDF): This presentation gives accessible information on how to prioritize tasks better and be more efficient in planning time.
- 12 Steps to Effective Time Management (PDF): Twelve time management tips are aimed at individuals who are interested in national service abroad.
- Time-Wasters and How to Avoid Them (PDF): The Defense Acquisition University gives tips on how to effectively avoid some of the most common things that waste time in the office.
- Eight Ways for Young People to Take Control of Time: Eight tips for recent high school graduates to help them make the most of each day are offered by the College Board.
- Myths and Facts About Time Management: The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign provides harmful and counterproductive "myths" about time management and various healthy strategies to focus on instead.
- Effective Time Management for Leaders (PDF): The Army offers a quick guide to time management leadership for those in supervisory positions.
- Time Management Insights for Young People: PBS Kids gives time management tips for elementary- and middle school-aged children who feel stressed and overworked.
- Stress Management and Time Management: Information here details the interrelationship between stress and time management for executives and other business leaders.
- Ten Strategies for Better Time Management (PDF): The University of Georgia Cooperative Extension explains ten ways to manage time better and keep work more organized.
- Time Management Strategies: Virginia Tech offers an assessment of time use and management skills.
- How Can Teens Build Better Time Management Skills?: The National Center for Learning Disabilities details time management tips and definitions for teenagers.
- Manage Your Energy, Not Your Time: An article from the Harvard Business Review focuses on an innovative way to look at time management.
- Seven Time Management Sanity Savers: Scholastic looks at progressive ways to help manage time more effectively.
- How Stress Relates to Time Management: More on the interplay between these two important factors in each person's life is provided by the Palo Alto Medical Foundation.
- Time Management is Crucial to a Happy Retirement: This article discusses new research that illuminates the importance of time management for quality of life in retirement.
- Time Management Tips for Athletes: Tips from the Olympic Movement show how athletes can make better use of their limited time.
- Time Management: NYU offers a list of tips for effective time management.