Return on investment: 9 effective time management techniques
For many of us, one of the key lessons from the past few months has been a new appreciation of time.
For some, the shutdown of schools, gyms, restaurants and team sporting activities offered a breather from our jam-packed schedules. For others, setting up the office at home blurred the boundary between business and pleasure, with work days morphing into work nights and work weekends.
As our lives slowly return to normal, productivity experts Kate Christie and Donna McGeorge say mindset is the key to managing our time more effectively.
Our time is the most precious resource we have, and we need to start treating it as such, says Christie.
“Like our money, we need to invest our time for the greatest possible return. Think about where you want to invest your time for the day, and where you will get the biggest bang for your buck.”
Every activity performed comes at a cost, and, according to Christie, understanding the four different costs can help you find the driver you need to ensure your time is well spent.
Your time is money. Work out your hourly rate and apply that to each task you perform.
If your rate is A$50/hour, and you spend one hour each day on Facebook, that’s A$18,250 of your time spent on Facebook every year.
Each time you perform an activity is a trade-off for something else you could have done with that time. Could you have made more progress on a report than you did by attending that meeting? Would investing in a cleaner enable you to swap housework for something you love?
If you feel guilty choosing an after-work function over an event at your child’s school, or feel stressed because you spent 15 minutes talking to a colleague about their personal issues when you could have used that time to be on the phone to a client, that is the emotional cost of your decision.
Does the way you spend your time leave you in physical pain?
If staying at the computer instead of taking your lunchtime walk means you’ll have back pain that will interrupt your sleep, your time may have been better spent taking your break and giving your back a reprieve, so you’re not tired and sore the next day.
McGeorge observes that most of us have an optimism bias when it comes to planning. We often significantly underestimate how long something will take us.
Her advice? Double the time you allocate.
“Don’t wait to get to work to decide how to spend the best two hours of your day. Your brain continues to work while you’re asleep, so if you have decided what you need to do the next day, you can wake up ready to hit the ground running.” Donna McGeorge
McGeorge explains that we should treat our brains like we would our wardrobes and bookshelves – stuff any of them to the point of overflowing, and it becomes more difficult, and time-consuming, to get what we want out of them.
She believes 80 per cent capacity is ideal, and sustainable, because it leaves us room to cope with the unexpected.
Design your day
Too often our days are dictated by emails or other people’s agendas. McGeorge and Christie both advocate conscious planning of your workload by breaking it into selective batches.
The key is to identify those hours of the day when you work most effectively, and to reserve them for your hardest and most important high-value tasks.
High-value tasks, says Christie, are those that reflect your skill level and are either revenue-generating or cost-reducing. Low value tasks tend to be below your skill level, cost-inducing or easily delegated or rejected.
Our biggest time killers are multitasking and interruptions.
If you have your email alerts continually pinging, or if you toggle between screens or projects, you are probably not working at your most productive, says Christie. In fact, she says multitasking can reduce our productivity by up to 40 per cent.
Christie recommends allocating blocks of time to check in on all those “I want” or “I need” emails, rather than monitoring them all day. “Emails are someone else’s to-do list,” she says.
We also need to beware of the time saboteur. According to Christie, professionals are interrupted every eight minutes, and it can take them up to 23 minutes to get back on track. Protect your precious high-performance hours by saying “no” to interruptions.
Just as it is important to start the day strong, McGeorge says we should also give attention to the way we finish our day.
She recommends setting aside at least 30 minutes at the end of the day to reflect on what you have accomplished, plan how you will use your protected hours and consider whether there is anything you can do now to alleviate the pressure in the morning – even choosing what to wear the next day.
“Don’t wait to get to work to decide how to spend the best two hours of your day,” says McGeorge.
“Your brain continues to work while you’re asleep, so if you have decided what you need to do the next day, you can wake up ready to hit the ground running.
“By consciously deciding what you are doing with your day, instead of just operating out of default, you can get off the vicious cycle and onto a productive cycle.”