This article is a slightly modified version of a press release that originally appeared on the Saint Leo University website regarding online programs, but the tips provided are also applicable to any business or lab environment.
Image credit: Keith A Frith on ShutterstockDid you do anything yesterday that was not necessary?
Maybe you started a discussion post during your lunch hour and got side-tracked by a co-worker with a “quick” question.
Or you got sucked into Angry Birds while you were in the pick-up line at your son’s school when you could have been catching up on reading about the latest technologies for your lab.
Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Carl Sandburg said, “Time is the most valuable coin in your life. You and you alone will determine how that coin will be spent. Be careful that you do not let other people spend it for you.”
Clearly, that’s so much easier said than done, especially when you wear many different hats in any given day — from parent, lab manager, and employee, to sister, brother, or caretaker. We don’t always have complete control over our time.
Here are 14 strategies you can use to help better manage whatever time you do have available.* After all, good time management skills can help you become more satisfied in all areas of your life–and be successful in your lab or organization.
1. Take care of yourself physically
If you’re run down and exhausted it will be more difficult to put any time management strategies to good use. Schedule seven to eight hours per day for sleep, eat three balanced meals a day, and exercise.
2. Know yourself
What environment makes you most productive? Are you a morning person or a night owl? Do you work most effectively in the lab or office or can you do some tasks more effectively at home? You may be wasting time if you’re working in an environment that doesn’t match your work style.
3. Organize your space
Clutter can be a distraction to productivity. It also can be a time-waster when you have to sort through multiple piles of papers to find documentation or work schedules. Organize your space so you have easy access to everything you need to work.
4. Visualize your goals
It can be easy to get overwhelmed when your to-do list is long or a project is extra challenging. Keep the bigger picture in mind. Put an image that represents your goal—a family photo or a happy photo of your lab employees, for example—near your workspace. Visualizing your goal will help you stay focused.
5. Be realistic
Artist Salvador Dali said, “Have no fear of perfection, you’ll never reach it.” And that’s okay. If you’re striving for perfection, you may be wasting your time. Each task should have a clear end or reasonable level of satisfaction.
6. Create lists
When you first create a to-do list for the day or the week, it could seem overwhelming; but when you start crossing completed items off the list, it’s a confidence booster. Put both personal and business items on the same list.
Some things are important. Some are urgent. Some are both. Some are neither. If you don’t understand the correct order for doing these tasks, you might end up wasting your time. (Hint: Do tasks that have both importance and high urgency first; then do tasks of high importance and low urgency.)
8. Set deadlines
Procrastinating is easy. But organizing a schedule to complete various tasks can help you stay on track. Organize a list of deadlines for your tasks, and give yourself a small cushion of extra time, in case something urgent comes up.
9. Break down tasks
Break down large tasks into smaller, more manageable goals. You’ll feel a sense of accomplishment when you complete those small portions, which can encourage you to keep plugging along to finish that big task.
10. Use time wisely
Use short blocks of time (like waiting in the car to pick up your child from school, or waiting at the doctor’s office) to accomplish easy or small tasks. Use long blocks of time to focus on complex tasks.
12. Just say, “no”
This can be one of the most difficult time management strategies, because we all want to be involved and help others. But if you say yes to things that aren’t relevant to your long-term goals, you might be zapping time better spent with family or working. It’s important to distinguish between what you can and can’t do right now as you work toward your goal.
13. Take breaks
We all need time to re-energize. Get up from your chair every hour or so and take a walk down the hall at work or get a healthy snack. If you find yourself getting too distracted by breaks, set a timer so you know when it’s time to get back to work.
14. Reward yourself
Having something to look forward to can help you stay on track and maintain a positive attitude. Figure out what kind of reward you want—maybe a trip to the ice cream shop when you complete a big project, a massage when the quarter is over, or a vacation when you complete your lab's main goals for the year.
You may already be using some of these time management strategies, but incorporating a couple more into your routine could help improve your efficiency, effectiveness, and productivity even more—not to mention make you feel better.