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Top tips for perfecting your time management skills

Kate Allen, Managing Director, Allen Associates

Nobody consciously chooses to fall behind on work. We don’t actively decide to drown in deadlines, nor do we plan to stay late in the office on a Friday night when our colleagues are in the pub or on their respective sofas. However, while we may try to shift the blame to the Earth’s orbit (“there just aren’t enough hours in the day!”), the honest truth is that when it comes to time management, we are our own worst enemy.

If you find yourself asking where the day has gone or why it’s already Thursday rather than celebrating the coming end of a successful week, there’s a good chance you may need to rethink how you plan your time. Luckily, there are a few things you can do to regain control of your schedule:

List your Top 5

We’re all guilty of getting carried away with the ad-hoc tasks that pop up and inevitably interrupt our flow. It’s these requests that can leave us feeling like we’ve achieved nothing in a day despite our non-stop efforts. Thankfully, they can be tackled through the simple act of making a list.

While we should advocate the paperless approach of using a list-making app, most people find that writing their top 5 tasks for the day on a post-it note to be the most effective method. Why? Because there’s just something so satisfying about ticking off an item on a To-Do list once complete. With your Top 5 set in stone, your focus is fixed and less likely to get bent out of shape. Now, if you could just learn to say no…

Big rocks come first

If you aren’t familiar with the rock, pebbles and sand analogy for time-management, you’re in for a treat: this little “life-hack” can completely change how you plan your time. First, imagine a jar: your aim is to fill the jar with rocks, pebbles and sand. If you put the sand in first, you won’t have room for the rocks or pebbles. Similarly, putting the pebbles in first will see you short of space for the rocks and the sand.

The idea is behind this theory is that when creating your time-table for the week, you should put your “big rocks” in first. These are the most important projects; the mammoth tasks that push you to the ultimate procrastination but must get done eventually. Once these are scheduled in, find appropriate gaps within your timetable for the “pebbles” - the less meaty but still significant tasks. Once the rocks and the pebbles are in place, the sand will naturally filter down into the cracks. It’s as simple as that.

Don’t attempt to multi-task

Our brains are designed to focus on one thing at a time. Try to alter this and you will soon find yourself with a series of half-completed projects and your mind clouded with stress. While most people recognise that multi-tasking is counter-productive, we’re often quick to forget this fact when the pressure piles on.

Changing this behavioural pattern is about making a conscious effort to start what we finished. You may think that you are squeezing more into the working day by forcing your brain to concentrate on two or three things at once, but the truth is you’re unlikely to be performing to the best of your ability. Remember, it’s better to do something right than to do it fast.

Get enough sleep

When you fall behind on work, you fall behind on sleep: soon, the cycle has you sleep-walking through your schedule and wide awake at night worrying about what you didn’t get done. It may come as a surprise to hear that Winston Churchill was one of the most relaxed leaders in history. Despite a perpetually chaotic schedule, he managed to stay on top of his work throughout the war, though he only slept under six hours a night.

His secret? Daily naps. Every day at 5 p.m sharp, the prime minister would drink a weak whiskey and soda before taking a two-hour nap. He claimed that this short "siesta" allowed him to get 1 1/2 days' worth of work done every 24 hours. While most Employers don’t allow for two-hour whiskey-fuelled lunch-breaks and nearly all don’t have beds fitted into the workplace for that very purpose, we can still take inspiration from the strong grip he had on his schedule.

If Winston Churchill was able to keep calm and carry on with all of his duties during the second World War, we can take back control of our time by committing to a healthy amount of sleep. It need not be between the conventional hours, of course. If like Churchill you’re more of a night owl, block out some time in your evening to sleep for a few hours to give your mind and body a rest from the day so far.

How do you manage your time? Get in touch, we would love to hear from you.

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