You’ve heard the saying: ‘Time is money’. In business terms, this is often a very accurate reflection of how things work. Getting on top of time management is a crucial element on the way to a more efficient running of your business — and that indeed leads to better figures at the end of the month, right?
If only it were that easy. From experience, we know that time management is challenging to perfect. We are not naturally primed to sit at desks in front of computer screens or phones all day, and even when we do that, we are subjected to all manner of distractions. Let us then think of a few factors that we can take on board to help our management of time and let us also consider ways we can improve our working practices through methods like The Pomodoro Principle.
Using up time
Here are just some of the many traps lying in wait for us when we start work:
- Notifications — the digital world has many exciting bleeps, vibrations, likes and chat interactions begging our attention. These can be great, but if we respond to each one as it arrives, we use up a huge amount of time and resource. The frequency and unpredictability of these notifications also break up our flow of productivity.
- Children and pets are a danger to time management if working from home! We love our children and pets dearly, but they can be very distracting. If these are a factor in your day, make sure yours are well-fed, suitably occupied and comfortable before starting work so they won’t bother you in the middle of that important document or e-mail.
- Relatives/house members — similarly, if you are house sharing, politely make it clear to your co-habitants when you are working and how important that work is. A little mutual understanding will go a long way!
- External noise / Deliveries — these are tricky ones, as they are often unscripted, but if you can take these into account during the working day, your work will not suffer more than is necessary.
Now that we have considered things that get in the way of effective time management, here are some recommendations for improving your productivity:
- Get ahead of the game by making an early start. Set some priorities and start with some easily achievable wins. This will give you an early head start, enabling you to build momentum and confidence.
- Start the day well — having “non-negotiable” things that you do at the start of your day will set you up for the day nicely. Perhaps you go for a morning run or do yoga — or maybe you like to have a bit of quiet time to yourself, post-alarm wake-up so that you can gently bring yourself into your day.
- Use SMART objectives. When planning your tasks, using something like the SMART objective principle works well for many people. This means they must be Specific — Measurable — Achievable — Relevant, and Timely. If you can tick all those boxes within a task, you are setting out your day — and your time — to good effect.
- Choose a ‘peak time’ where you can tackle your most arduous tasks. You might want to build up to these with smaller, more achievable items on the list.
- Implement a small rewards system — it doesn’t have to be anything significant, but how about rewarding the completion of a task with five or ten minutes ‘off’? That way, you can tackle your notifications, enjoy a favourite piece of music, or make yourself a drink. Anything to refresh your mind!
- Give yourself sensible breaks and rest your eyes. This is important — give yourself ten minutes of ‘down time’ per hour.
- Ignore or limit notifications. Make sure you’re not within earshot of a phone where a WhatsApp chat is going on and decide how often you will check e-mails.
- Give yourself more manageable tasks at times of low productivity — for instance, Monday morning or Friday afternoon.
- Just say no — this is very important. Say no to requests when you need to or cannot fit them into your well-planned day!
Now that we have covered some dos and don’ts, let us look at a specific technique that a lot of workers and students have found to be incredibly useful for time management:
The Pomodoro Technique
The Pomodoro Technique was set up by Francesco Cirillo in 1987. Cirillo found that he could not concentrate on the revision he was supposed to do for a Sociology exam and made a bet with himself that he could stay focused for two minutes without distraction. He used a red timer shaped like a Pomodoro tomato from his kitchen.
Cirillo won his bet and, encouraged by his result, tried to concentrate for longer with the help of his timer. He found that the optimum stretch for productivity was 25 minutes — and that after that, he needed a break of anything from two to five minutes. Then he was ready to go again.
You can use the same method to get more from your working day! All you need is a timer from the kitchen, like Cirillo, or a stopwatch/clock, or a feature on your phone — though these are less recommended as phones bring distractions with them. Set your timer for 10 minutes and see if you can work constantly for that time without a break. Then change the length of time and see how you get on.
Things to remember when using the Pomodoro Technique
The muse found that the following tips were helpful:
- Plan out your Pomodoro tasks in advance.
- Make sure you take your breaks in between tasks.
- Don’t be afraid to modify the rules. You can adjust the length of the concentrated working period or the break you get in between.
- Buddy up with a colleague or ‘accountability partner’ and share your results and methods.
There are many valuable tips, tools, techniques, and resources out there that we can tap into to support us in our never-ending quest to manage time better, so we can spend more time with family and friends and do all the important things in life.
The trick is to find one that works for you and consistently use that method so it becomes part of your day and routine. You may find it helpful to look at some of them here: https://www.nhsinform.scot/healthy-living/mental-wellbeing/stress/easy-time-management-tips