Start 2021 right: 3 key skills to overcoming the challenges of prioritizing and time management
The end of 2020 and the beginning of 2021 presents an opportunity for everyone to put a challenging year in the rearview mirror and make the new year a successful one. Whether you want to call them New Year’s resolutions or personal business and life goals, the objective is the same: Self-improvement.
For many, a cornerstone of self-improvement is improving time management to be and feel more productive. So whether you want to master time management to do more of the things you love, be more productive at work, or some other reason, understanding new ways of prioritizing and managing your time can set you up for success.
3 core skills of effective time management
While there’s certainly no shortage of tips, hacks, techniques, and tools out there, research and results-based advice can be boiled down to three core skills underpinning time management success. They are: awareness, arrangement, and adaptation. And while they don’t all have the same shared understanding, all three key time management skills matter equally.
1. Awareness – think realistically about your time and where you’re spending it
Awareness of your time management is critical to successfully managing your time. Most people overlook this skill and jump straight into arrangement (forming goals, plans, and schedules), after which they sign up for whatever time management tool appears first in the Google search rankings.
At its core, awareness is about conducting a ‘stocktake’ of your time. To do so, you need to first understand that it’s a limited resource. Meaning, there are only so many hours in a standard workweek i.e. most people work approximately eight hours a day for five days, equaling 40 hours a week (not factoring in overtime).
Understanding that you have 40 hours per workweek, you now need to think realistically about how you currently spend that time. It can be helpful to ask yourself a few key questions:
- How much time do I actually spend on distractions or trivial and less impactful tasks? These might include responding to social media notifications, checking the latest news, or responding to/reading/composing emails. Tally this time up – as it can add up very quickly. It might surprise you to learn that employees spend almost 30% of their workweek on emails. Using your 40-hour capacity, you’ve already lost 12 hours, which leaves you with 28 hours to do everything else – effectively killing a large chunk of your productivity.
- Am I spending too much time multitasking? The ability to multitask was once seen as an asset, however, in a professional setting, it simply doesn’t work. It’s ineffective to try to do things in parallel to the best of your ability. In fact, you lose 20% of your overall productivity for each task you try to take on at once. It’s far more impactful to do one thing at a time.
- What are the key tasks I need to perform and how long do they take? Having a concrete understanding of the time it takes to perform your key tasks will help give you a clear picture of what can be achieved and where you need to ‘find’ time.
2. Arrangement – design your goals, plans, and schedules
When it comes to trying to improve your time management, most people immediately jump to the arrangement skill, without going through the awareness phase, which is a mistake. You can’t effectively create a schedule when you don’t know how much time you actually have to schedule in the first place.
However, once you’re aware of your time, arranging it is the next important skill to master. There’s a plethora of apps, tools, and techniques online to help, but the key to mastering the arrangement skill is firstly locking in your goals e.g. know what pieces of work need to be completed or deadlines met. Now you can plan out your week, prioritizing these goals to effectively use your time.
In effect, the arrangement skill encompasses former President, Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Urgent/Important Principle. Put simply, the principle involves you listing all of the activities and projects you have to do – everything that takes up your time at work, regardless of its importance. Then you assign each activity into one of four categories:
- Important and urgent
- Important but not urgent
- Not important but urgent
- Not important and not urgent.
President Eisenhower understood the importance of prioritizing your goals and scheduling your time, as well as avoiding the ‘urgency effect’, which so often kills time. In 1954, while quoting Dr. J. Roscoe Miller, president of Northwestern University, he said, “I have two kinds of problems: the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent.” Avoiding the urgency effect and mastering time management is about being effective, as well as efficient.
3. Adaption – monitor your use of time and adjust as needed
Effectively adapting your time management skills is key to helping you overcome ongoing challenges and becoming more successful at managing your time. After all, continuously improving your time management is an ongoing activity – it’s not a once-off. (Although, with the help of the right automated tools, adapting and managing your time can be a minimal-touch process.).
Adaption is about monitoring the use of your time while performing tasks, including distractions such as email, and ‘feeding’ this ‘data’ into your process – making adjustments along the way. The question is, how do you best monitor your use of time?
While there are a number of tools on the market that can help you track your time on any given task or project, some can be very expensive or require a significant chunk of your attention, while others have a steep learning curve.
At InMoat, we distill the complex into the simple and believe any effective tool must be easy to implement and manage. Take a look at a couple of easily implementable ways to help you with measuring your time management.
Time blocking – also known as single-taking
Time blocking is a great time management tool on its own, but it’s also a very simple way of measuring whether how much time needs to be dedicated to a single task.
When arranging and planning out your week, block out time for each task you need to complete. For example, on Monday morning you might block out four hours to create a report, and another four hours for research time. You can easily do this using any calendar application, such as Google Calendar.
Afterward, measure how you went. Did you finish the report within the four hours, or did it take you longer? If it took you longer, review why? Was it because you got distracted for 30 minutes with replying to emails? Or was the report more detailed than first anticipated? You can then identify and remove the distractions, or adapt how long you need to write a report.
The Pomodoro Technique
Similar to time blocking, the Pomodoro Technique is a simple time-tracking, productivity, and anti-distraction method. Developed by Francesco Cirillo, you use a timer to assign a set amount of time for a task e.g. 30 minutes. Once the timer goes off, you stop what you’re doing and take a five-minute break. During that break, you’re free to get all of the distractions of your system. Then you restart and go again.
While the lo-fi options are simple, for a more accurate and detailed assessment of your time management and productivity, there are a number of handy apps/programs out there, including:
In addition, you can check out the product backlog, a central and ordered list of tasks that a scrum team is working on. In this list, you will find all the elements related to delivering a product that meets the customer’s and product owner’s requirements. These include alterations to existing features, new features, changes in infrastructure, and bug fixes.
InMoat can give you more control over your awareness, arrangement, and adaptation skills
Becoming aware of how much time you have at your disposal—or how little—highlights the importance of minimizing distractions that eat away at your precious time. As discussed above, the average employee spends an average of 12 hours a week on emails alone. And this doesn’t count the lost time in distractions caused by annoying email notifications or trying to multitask keeping an eye on emails as well as other tasks. All of these things quickly add up.
Thankfully, InMoat can help. InMoat is an AI-powered email integration that intelligently detects and deflects unsolicited emails based on your preferences and priorities. Instead of manually sifting through hundreds of emails each week, InMoat applies smart filters to incoming mail that are based on your individual needs, giving you back hours of time.
Nail the 3 core time management skills with InMoat
- InMoat supports your growth of better awareness skills by removing annoying email distractions. You can also monitor how much time you’ve saved because InMoat provides insights into how many emails have been deflected from your inbox.
- InMoat helps to give you more control over your arrangement skills by removing the sense of urgency to chase ‘Inbox Zero’ and instead focus on zero-distractions.
- InMoat is for everyone; it doesn’t require any fancy learning. Once set up, you can log in and look at clever insights, such as the number of emails filtered and hours saved.
Try InMoat today and overcome your time management challenges to make 2021 your most productive and fulfilling year yet.