Time and Task Management: What’s the Secret? (spoiler alert, there isn’t one)

Let me begin this post on Time Management by mentioning that this has been on my long list of ‘to dos’ for over a month. Am I really the right person to be writing something on Time Management? Sure I am. Being effective at Time Management does not mean that everything I am given to do is done right away. It means that a person is able to take their tasks, outline which tasks are highest priority, and tackle the highest priorities first; doing their best to not let things fall through the cracks, and saying, “no” when the task load doesn’t allow for anything else.

See, I can be the type of person who looks at my never-ending list of projects and can be paralyzed by the sheer volume of things that are expected of me. When that happens, my urge is to do anything EXCEPT the tasks on my lists. My urge is to check social media, address that email that JUST came into my inbox, start an unrelated conversation with a coworker… anything that will distract from the work at hand. Having processes in place to fight that side of me is how I have become successful.

To get started when I’m feeling overwhelmed, I borrow from the idea behind Dave Ramsey’s budget snowball here, in that, I take the SMALLEST higher priority tasks and knock them out first. Getting SOMEthing done makes me feel accomplished and gets the motivation flowing to take on my next, bigger, high priority tasks.

One of the most important parts of being successful at Time Management, is making sure there is a record of every task that I need to get done. One sure way to forget something is to not write it down, not schedule it into the calendar. If someone makes a request of me, I will let them know that yes, I can do that, but please make sure to send me an email so I have record of this request. A paper trail is so important.

I will also plug tasks into my calendar at random times the next day, or when it fits, before its due date, so I am reminded of the task. This does not mean I necessarily do it at 10:30am on Wednesday, 8/14, when I plugged it in, but if it ends up working at that time, I get it done. If not, it’s recorded in my calendar and I can move it to a day/time that better fits. Bottom line, I try very hard to not let things slip through the cracks. I do it, but I always know when it happens that it did not have to happen.

Taking the calendar a step further: I plan out my day. I take that list of things and those random projects I’ve plugged into my calendar and I reorganize my calendar for the day with the tasks at hand. I adjust as necessary for things that come up, or if an urgent request comes through, I move things around from day to day, but I have a plan; and as I have found is the case in ALL areas of my life, having a plan is one sure way to ensure success. If you don’t use an electronic calendar, a physical planner can work just as well. I often find, in fact, that sometimes I need to make a handwritten list to first layout all I have to do, and then I will plug tasks into the appropriate day/time in my calendar from that handwritten list.

One earth shattering thing I’ve learned about time management is realizing you CAN say, “no.” Sometimes, our task loads are just TOO full. We simply cannot take another thing at this moment. Of course, we want to use this ‘tool’ sparingly, and really consider if the thing being asked of us is too much. I often am asked to do something, and I look at my day and first instinct is to think, “No way. I can’t fit it in.” But usually with a little bit of rearranging (remember, prioritizing) I am able to add it to my schedule with no issues.

I think where we really run into problems is when we expect ourselves to complete everything immediately, and that is just not realistic. When tasks are handed to us, it’s important to ask the person the turnaround time they expect. You can then decide from there if that turnaround time is realistic for you, and if it is, pencil it in at that moment. If it doesn’t, tell the requestor that it just doesn’t fit right now, see if they can wait another day or two, OR ask if the task may be something another team member could handle. Remember, you can always ask for help from others on your team. Saying “no” or asking for help are options that we often forget about or don’t feel comfortable doing, but most people actually will highly respect you for understanding what you can and can’t handle, your limits, and for knowing how to say “no” or “I need help.”

Ultimately, we need to remember that we are only human. Tasks are going to fall through the cracks, we will need to say no and ask for help. But with a little extra effort, more often than not, your tasks will be completed thoroughly and efficiently by tackling small, higher priority items first, planning ahead, making lists, scheduling things immediately (even if they end up being rescheduled), and having open communication with everyone on your team; ensuring you are keeping everyone in the loop on how your tasks are coming and being sure that you know what is expected of you.

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