At the close of 2017, my colleague Tamera Loerzel and I taught a webinar for a client on effectively managing time and priorities. Like many other personal productivity and success strategies, time management is one that we know is important, but many of us struggle to truly master. When we think we’ve nailed down a routine for ourselves, a curveball can easily knock us off course. One of my focus areas for 2018 will be to become better organized so that I can be more effective in my daily work.
While time management may not be one of your focus areas for this year, better managing work/life balance might be, or growing your practice, or dedicating more time to developing your people. If any of these ring true for you, realize that better managing your priorities and what you do each day allows you to ensure you’re working on the activities that are most essential to your success.
In honor of the new year, I have gathered 18 ideas for better time management in 2018. Read through them and see which one(s) might make sense for you to focus your time on the most important things.
- Develop a more effective to-do list – consider a weekly work to-do (WTD) list that focuses on specific tasks you plan to get done each week, instead of focusing high-level on projects or trying to remember your tasks as you go (you might try out our WTD process).
- Start each day by determining the top three things you need to complete that day(use your weekly WTD as a starting place). While it may seem counterintuitive, taking 15-30 minutes each morning to center yourself on your priorities will help you be more intentional about where you’re spending your time throughout your day.
- Complete your hardest task first – are any of your top priorities for the day challenging or ones that you dread completing? If so, hunker down and commit to complete them first. You will feel great relief by crossing those “ugly” tasks off your list and will be more motivated to move on with the other tasks in your day.
- Strive to be early to meetings and appointments – if you plan to be early instead of on time, you have a better chance of truly being on time even if you start running a little late.
- In the same regard, strive to complete work BEFORE your deadline, not ON your deadline. This way, you’re more likely to meet your deadline even if unexpected interruptions occur that cause a delay in completion.
- Respond to emails with acknowledgement of receipt – do you often wait to respond to emails until you have time to fully research the answer, think through solutions and/or prepare your response? If so, and you take days to respond, you may be frustrating your team members as they wonder if you received their request. Instead of going silent, respond to emails by acknowledging receipt and letting the sender know that you will get back to them with the answer or whatever it is they need (and give them your by-when date so they know what to expect).
- Batch tasks – if applicable to your work tasks and team workflow, consider bundling similar tasks on your to-do list and doing them all at once. When you complete one, your mind is already in the zone of that task and it helps you be more efficient in completing the rest. For example, I bundle my sales follow up tasks and do them during the same block of time, just as I also work on all of my PowerPoint creation for upcoming client engagements at once.
- Try time stamping – instead of telling yourself you’re going to stay at the office or stay up as long as it takes until you get a certain project done, give yourself a time stamp for completing it. Working to finish your task within the next three hours makes it more likely that you’ll stay focused. Even if you bypass your allotted time, it will likely be less time spent overall compared to keeping your time open-ended.
- Operate with a sense of urgency – when you focus on operating with urgency, you are more intentional about crossing items off your to-do list and taking on the next one. At certain times of the day, week or year, you likely find yourself in productivity slumps. Consider setting an urgency reminder in your phone or writing it on a sticky note on your desk to remind you during those times when you need it most.
- “Touch” things as few times as possible – when you focus on starting a task or project and seeing it through completion as quickly as possible, you are helping ensure you spend only the true time required. The more times you stop and restart a task, the more time you spend trying to figure out where you left off before. Sometimes it’s helpful to take a break and come back with a fresh perspective, but not for many tasks.
- Develop and publish timelines – timelining is key for effectively managing client engagements or internal projects. Effective timelining works by starting with your final deadline, in this example we’ll say the date the audit report must be in the client’s possession, and working backward to create deadlines for each step required to get to that end point. You must consider each person involved in the process, providing deadlines for when person A must get their piece of the audit to person B and when person B must get their piece of the audit to person C to review.
Your scheduling software may do this for you already, but it’s helpful to publish the big picture timeline to your project team so they know who is working on what and by when. It helps them understand the impacts to the team or client if one person is late and how to adjust the timeline if needed. It’s also helpful to publish a high-level timeline to your client, so they know when to expect things from you and when you’ll be expecting things from them.
- Plan your social media posts – building thought leadership through social media is a great way to support your personal marketing efforts, however, the number one reason people fall behind in their commitment to stay active on LinkedIn or other platforms is finding time to do it. You’ll find benefit in identifying the number of times you want to post each week, and then scheduling a block of time to plan an entire week’s worth of posts at once.
Schedule your social media planning time for a day in the middle of the week – Mondays are busy enough already. As an example, I’ve made a commitment to block an hour on my calendar every Thursday to plan my posts for each day through the following Thursday. To streamline your social media time even more, consider one of the various online dashboard options available to help schedule posts and monitor interactivity with your connections and followers. Hootsuite is one example that I and many of my team members use.
- Identify your flow time and schedule around it – think about when you do your best work and when you’re most productive. This is called your flow time and everyone’s flow time is different. Mine is in the early morning and I know if I can wake up earlier to take advantage of that flow time, I will be more productive as a result. This is why promoting a flexible work environment is great – not only does it allow you to better integrate your work and life, it also gives you a better opportunity to work during your flow time. Identify your flow time and then find ways to keep that time free to do your most important work. Where possible, schedule meetings and phone calls during your least productive time, since those discussions are likely to keep you engaged during that time than trying to finish that important client engagement.
- Use technology and apps to your advantage – there are countless productivity apps and online sources available to help you in managing your time. Search online for “best productivity apps” and see which ones you’d like to try. There are those that help you manage your to-do list, your email inbox and calendar, and so much more. And, be sure to allow notifications from that app. Allowing the app to send you notifications and reminders takes the pressure off you having to remember everything or have to find that paper notebook you wrote your list on.
- Become a master delegator – it may sometimes feel like you don’t have the time to effectively delegate work to others, so you complete it yourself. However, when you don’t spend time delegating effectively you risk the following (forcing you to spend more time fixing these issues later):
- Becoming a bottleneck because you’re holding onto work that isn’t of your highest and best use
- Eroding relationships with staff who seek to progress in their roles and take on more challenging work – leading to possible turnover
- Becoming overwhelmed in your volume of work
Delegation isn’t just a work strategy. Consider what things you can delegate at home – enroll ownership in your children and have them own certain responsibilities in the household, talk with your spouse or significant other about what’s working or not working in carrying out your home responsibilities and collaborate on potential fixes, explore whether there are tasks you can delegate to other helpers such as errand runners, dog walkers or a housekeeper. Our local grocery stores now have delivery options – there are many ways to make responsibilities in your home life more efficient.
- Take a little time on the weekend or before you shut down on Friday to organize your space and create your to-do list for the next week. Having a clean workspace and a clear list of priorities will help you feel energized and ready for action when you start each week anew.
- Block time on your calendar for “proactive” activities – things like brainstorming about your clients’ opportunities, business development, planning your approach to develop your staff and focusing on your own career goals are all important activities, but often fall in the “when I have time” category because they aren’t urgent. Blocking time on your calendar gives you space to ensure you spend the necessary time in these important areas.
- Schedule time for exercise – feeling good is crucial for maintaining your energy and motivation levels. When you’re at your most stressed or overwhelmed is when you need time to exercise most. Consider creative ways to incorporate exercise into your weekly activities, too. You might find new activities that you can do with your family, commit to breaking every hour for a quick walking lap around the office, or invest in a standing desk that allows you to easily convert your work area for sitting or standing.
- Take advantage of empty time – use the time you spend waiting in lobbies or reception areas, commuting in public transport or standing in line at the grocery store to read articles, respond to emails or other tasks that can easily be done and don’t require intent focus.
- Make sleep a priority – there are times when you feel like you must sacrifice a full night’s sleep to get everything done in the day. Even though it feels like you’re getting more done by losing out on one or a few snooze hours, when you do this consistently you put yourself at great risk of making errors in your work, forgetting work and personal commitments, being grouchy around your family and colleagues, and getting sick because of a weakened immune system. Try out some of the other ideas above to help ensure you get your rest and recharge time.
Pick one idea from this list and try it out for 30 days. Remember, it takes 21 days of doing something consistently to turn it into a habit. Then, pick another idea that might be helpful and add that one in. You’ll be surprised by how a simple tweak in your daily routine can make all the difference in your productivity and in reducing your level of stress or overwhelm.
What other time management and productivity strategies do you use? Which one are you going to try from this list? Let us know so we can learn from your experience!
About the Author
Brianna Johnson is a consultant with ConvergenceCoaching, LLC, a national consulting firm dedicated to developing leaders and transforming teams through coaching, practice consulting, strategic planning and learning and development. She is a speaker, writer and facilitator within the CPA profession on topics related to practice management, talent, practice growth and business development. Brianna works with individuals and teams to apply new methods for collaborating, communicating and creating pathways for achieving goals. A Millennial, she is passionate about promoting the values, interests and motivators of NextGen talent and clients.