Being able to manage available time is a critical skill. There’s always more to do, so there’s always more to learn about how to find and use new techniques. Two weeks ago, I blogged about Diffusing Pressure and discussed knowing the difference between urgent and important. Another time management skill is knowing how take into account the time to complete a task and when it’s best to do it. This combines time management with task management.. Some tasks require a great deal of time. If you are creating a presentation, you need to stay focused on what you are doing.  You can’t jump in and out of doing it without wasting time reviewing it each time you return to the task. On the other hand, sending overdue notices while being careful not to violate student privacy, takes somewhat less focus but a sizeable block of time. 

The key point is to be aware of the amount of time it takes to do the tasks on your to-do lists. This must be looked at in connection with whether a task can be interrupted and restarted without losing much time in getting back to where you were. Going through email or regular mail is one of the best illustrations of this.

Knowing the differences between these projects and when you can do them are the mortar that hold the bricks of you time management together and help you become more productive. For example, you have finished that big report and have nothing on your schedule for the next half hour.  You could just let your brain breathe, especially if your creative juices are dry.  Or you could use those few minutes to clear through some email or junk mail. Those tasks are neither urgent nor important (unless there is something in email), but still need to get done.

About that drain of creative juices. That’s something else you need to think about. What is your best time of day to do creative tasks?  For me it’s in the morning.  If I tackle it later in the day, it takes me longer to complete.

Make a spreadsheet to help you see how to organize your time; In the first column put the task. Then have three columns for (1) approximate time it will take, (2) urgent/important, (3) creative (yes/no). Use this for several days and see what you learn and how you are able to manage your time. If it works, in a few weeks, you will probably be able to allocate your time without it.

Another thing that helps with task management is knowing your very quick items and getting them done at the right time. Crossing items off your to-do list always feels good. Naphtali Hoff offers his approach on How to Productively Knock out Those 2-Minute Tasks.  He quotes David Allen’s Two Minute Rule: “If it takes less than 2-minutes, do it now.” We all get these thoughts of some quick thing that needs doing and can lose the idea quickly if we’re enmeshed in a bigger task. If it’s an interruptible task, handle the quick one immediately, and get it off your plate. You’ll get the added boost of a sense of accomplishment which energizes us when we get back to what we were working on. 

The downside is dealing with 2-minute tasks can get you off-track if you’re working on something that you shouldn’t be distracted from. To determine whether you should address the 2-minute task, Naphtali offers these three methods to aid your decision:

  1. Only work on two-minute tasks that relate to the larger assignment that you’re working on Is there someone who you need to call about an item in your report?  Did you wonder if there was a quote that could capture an idea in your presentation?  Search for these now.
  2. Set aside a larger time block for your two-minute tasks – Note those brief tasks on one list and deal with all of them at once.  This accomplishes two things.  You get them done, and because there are so many of them, you can relish seeing all those items disappear from your to-list.
  3. Immediately decide your next stepsNow what?  You are feeling great about your accomplishment. Use your positive mindset to power you onwards. What is your next priority? Get back to a bigger project or more on to another item on your list? Note the items in your Urgent/Important list with a “yes” and see where those fit next.

As best you can, keep distractions away from your uninterruptible tasks so that you use that time well and learn which items on your to-do list are doable when there are interruptions. Plan those tasks when you’re more likely to be disturbed. As an added bonus, look to use this with your personal tasks as well.

Time is a precious and limited commodity. The clearer you are about what you need to do and how you need to do it, the more effectively and efficiently you can manage.

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