And How Hard Is To Learn Them
Five are the main and most important time management techniques you really need to know and use: goal setting, stress management, prioritization, outsourcing, and taking break. There are millions of tips given by thousands of people but in essence the techniques that really work are just variations of these five. You can dig all around and read thousands of books studying all the variations or you can focus on applying the basics – at least for the start.
If you are busy all the day long but at the end feel like your time has been wasted, it’s likely that you have worked without having clear goals in mind. Goal setting is important in order to
keep you focused
and to allow you keep track of what you have achieved and how much is left in order to reach your goals.
A goal is specific, measurable and time-targeted objective – i.e. something that you can clearly understand and even explain it to someone. When setting goals you need to make sure they meet these three criteria. “I will write a book” is an intention or in the best case a plan, but not a goal. Neither “I will lose weight” is a goal. “I will write a book about Forex trading and will have it completed by March 2011” is a goal.
Most goals (like the book writing one) as still too broad and need to be broken in sub-goals. For example you may have sub-goals like:
- Have the book skeleton ready by November 1st
- Write 5 pages per day till January
- Proofread the book in February
- Send it for publishing on March 15th
Some will say that even these goals aren’t good and specific enough and might be right as there are several “schools” in goal setting.
In order the goals to be goals they need also to be realistic and do-able. I recommend setting medium to hard goals. If your goals are too hard to achieve you just won’t achieve them and can turn non-achieving into excuse and habit. At the end this is
worse than setting no goals
because you are just misleading yourself and losing time.
Setting too easy goals is better than nothing but it can easily make you believe you are doing a lot of progress. In fact you will be moving very slow towards your desires. Don’t underestimate yourself – it’s better to push the limits even if it means to fail sometimes.
Interruptions kill productivity, make you nervous, sick, inefficient and unhappy. I hate them and you must hate them too. One of the most important things in stress management is to kill interruptions.
Taken in general stress management is a technique that increases your use of time by making you more concentrated, calm and focused. The stress hurts not only your work life but also your health, the time you are supposed to have fun and – very important – the time for sleep and taking rest. I know from my own experience that when I have been exposed to too much stress during the day, I can’t sleep well at night. And this makes me more nervous and less efficient on the next day which causes more stress… and so on.
This guide is a good for beginning. But be prepared to learn and read a lot more tips and tricks about managing the stress, removing the interruptions and unplugging.
There are hundreds of useful things you can do in every minute. You can work on your business project, write your blog, learn new language, paint the wall or just have fun. The time is never enough to do everything. Sure, you can use every minute in a good way but can you be sure there is no better way to use it? Of course no one can be sure. Prioritization is an important way to manage your time and choose the tasks and projects that deserve more attention instead of investing your time in unimportant ones.
Usually I use and recommend the following prioritization criteria:
- Define what are the most important tasks. These are the tasks with highest long term return. For example building a new business may have higher return than working on someone’s else project for few hundreds dollars of cash. Of course there is risk associated with long term projects. Some people prefer to work on tasks which have clear and fast outcome (like working on a contract job with fixed payment). This depends not only on your personal likes but also on your current situation – can you afford to work on risky but potentially lucrative projects or you have urgent bills to pay and need to focus on getting cash now. In any case figure out what is important for you now and value the tasks based on it. What is important for someone else may not be important for you and vice-cersa.
- See where you are most efficient. From the most important tasks put the highest priority to these in which you are most efficient. If you think learning Spanish is very important for you but you are bad at learning language perhaps you should give up or just put the task at lower priority. Focusing on the things you are good at is going to yield better results. Forget the stupid approach used in school – to work hardest on your weakest sides.
- Prefer tasks that you like. When you love doing something you will be a lot more efficient in doing it. Even if you are not very good at it now, you have the chance to learn quick. This is a great prioritization criteria. Of course you may like most to watch TV which is unlikely to be very useful task. That’s why this criteria comes after the first two.
- Do more at once. Finally a criteria to choose what to work on is what you have already worked on recently. Unless you get tired or bored by some activity it’s a lot more time-efficient to continue doing it while you are focused. Getting back to tasks you have abandoned for weeks requires a lot of time. Your mind need to reload again all the information and thoughts it kept while you were working on the project last time. Years ago I used to have a task list with my projects (with more than 10 projects in it) and I worked for few hours on a project, then put it at the end of the list and start with the next one, rotating them. This is a monkey approach, I was rotating projects for months, keeping myself busy all the time, but never finishing anything! It’s much better to focus on a thing until you finish it, or at least focus on a single goal from the thing. That’s why setting goals is important.
- You can get something done cheaper or with better quality than you could do yourself
- There are lower priority tasks that can be outsourced
- You need to meet a goal timeline or project deadline but can’t manage yourself
- You want to find partners for future projects
- There are high priority tasks that you just can’t complete yourself
Outsourcing and Delegation
Time is money and you can exchange them to some extend. Just like you might be trading your time for money (working) you can buy someone’s time to do something for you. Delegating tasks and outsourcing is very powerful way to manage your time and free it up for focusing on most important and efficient tasks.
Of course outsourcing depends also on how much you can afford it. But even if you don’t have free money you can think about delegating tasks to a mate in exchange to something. For example if you are good at writing and need new design for your blog, it’s a better idea to exchange some writing for design rather than trying to do something you are not good at (designing your blog template yourself).
Outsourcing with money usually makes sense when one or more of the following are true:
Of course outsourcing is a big topic and knowing when, why and how to do it is the key to success.
Just don’t forget it’s also a way to get burned out and lose a lot of money. So start small and learn along the way.
Finally a very important and efficient time management technique is just to take break. It could be a week vacation, a day outside in the park or just a hour nap. Taking break will
recharge your batteries
and make you more efficient after that. So it’s not lost time. It’s like trading 1 hour now for being focused in the next six hours or trading the day today for being fresh the next 4-5 days.
Knowing when to pull the plug and how to do it best can be just as powerful as the other time management strategies. There isn’t general rule, but just saying “do it when you need it” would be dumb. Some people feel like they need a break all the time ;). Ideally you would take planned breaks after completing one or more of the goals you have set for the day, the week or the year. If you are just starting with time management it might be hard for you to plan these breaks, so start doing them when you feel that you are tired and your efficiency is falling down. If doing a task is taking twice as much time as the last time you did it, you probably need a break.
Even with all these considerations I think taking a break is the easiest to learn time management technique 😀