There’s a good reason for the saying, ‘if you want something done, ask a busy person’. Some people seem to be able to whip through important tasks quickly and efficiently. Luckily, anybody can improve their organisational and time management skills, and there are plenty of techniques you can adopt to help you manage time better at work more efficiently.
1. DON’T PROCRASTINATE
The biggest obstacle to getting tasks done is the human tendency to procrastinate, says Les Watson, time management expert, trainer and author. He recommends a four-step approach: ‘Do, Dump, Delegate, Decide when (or Diarise)’.
If you can do a task in two minutes or less, do it immediately. If the task requires more time, evaluate whether you have to do it yourself or whether you can delegate. If you decide it is something that you must do, this is where leadership and discipline come in. ‘Put a diary entry into your calendar — this is the leadership,’ says Watson. ‘When the reminder comes up, actually do what you said you would do — this is the discipline.’
2. DO WHAT’S IMPORTANT
The Eisenhower Matrix divides tasks into four quadrants, depending on their level of importance and urgency. Watson recommends you examine how you’re spending your time and which quadrant these tasks fall into. You may well find that you’re working in the ‘urgent, low-importance’ quadrant. ‘High urgency and low importance often come from other people,’ he says. ‘It is their urgency, not yours. It is a matter of [having] clear boundaries and … if possible, delegate or push back.’ Focus on spending time in the ‘high-importance, low-urgency’ quadrant. ‘That is where you plan and get ahead of the game.’
3. BUILD HABITS AND SUPPORT
Assess what you can do every day to work more efficiently. Build those habits by doing something small each day, and garner support from your co-workers or peers, who will keep you accountable. ‘Talk about the habits, what are you putting into your day that you want to create as a habit and how can you support each other,’ says Watson. ‘You feel like you aren’t doing it alone.’
4. LEARN TO SAY ‘NO’
The word ‘no’ is very powerful, says Watson. And there are ways of saying ‘no’ to co-workers that won’t damage your professional relationships, he adds. If colleagues approach you for advice or ask you to look over a piece of work, politely tell them that you can’t do it at that very moment, but that you will schedule time later in the day to meet or discuss it. In many instances, they will resolve the problem on their own.
5. USE THE TOOLS AT YOUR DISPOSAL
You might like to think that there is an all-powerful app that can magically transform your time management habits, but Watson warns there is no silver bullet. ‘Whatever tool you use, you need to work to a system,’ he says. There are plenty of digital tools and apps that can help form better habits or support more efficient use of time. Watson is a fan of Microsoft OneNote, which allows users to keep track of their ideas and plans, collaborate and share notes. Another app is Freedom, which blocks websites or apps that distract you. You can set work sessions when these sites will be automatically blocked.