Improve Time Management Skills with These 3 Tips

We need to improve time management skills as we all have just 24 hours a day (yes, I know you’ve probably heard that from every time management expert), and I believe that changing how you think of ‘time management’ is probably the first step towards using that time effectively. I don’t think of ‘time-management’; no – I tend to regard it as ‘activity management’; deciding what activity you want to do and complete in any given workday.

So here’s 3 tips to improve time management skills that  I’ve picked up over the years. I bet you’ve come across them before, or you’ll say “well, that’s just common sense!” True – but does that mean you’re using them to make yourself more effective?

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1) Get Rid of The 21st Century Time-Thief

Emails! Go on, be honest – how much time do you waste every day on your email? Which of these do you find yourself doing…

  • Sorting & deleting spam emails – even with filtering software too many still get through
  • Checking your spam-filtered emails in case anything urgent has been caught by accident
  • Checking your inbox regularly throughout the day – especially when you’re expecting a reply to an email you’ve sent
  • Stopping to read and reply to non-urgent emails – effectively getting distracted from what you are meant to be doing

Guilty as charged m’lud!

Yep – given the chance, I’m a confessed email junkie! And it was draining valuable hours of my time. So what did I do? Simple…

  1. I decided on a timeframe when I would check incoming emails, e.g. 11a.m. for morning emails and 3p.m. for afternoon missives for just half-an-hour or less.
  2. I had numerous email addresses. I filter ALL my incoming emails, with email filtering tools offered by all email software. By contact name, subject, description, you can setup your email box so the important emails rise to the top.

The second action took care of the spam controlling and the distraction problem because I only see emails that are important.

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2) Improve Time Management Skills by Organizing and Prioritizing

Different people do this in different ways. To significantly improve time management skills I recommend using PDCA Complete which lets your company, team, and yourself manage your projects and priorities by BCS (Benefit, Speed and Cost).

I use PDCA Complete everyday to manage all my tasks. I use if  during company consulting and improving exercises. I use it when writing material for this site. I use it when creating products for this site. Every action is in one place. I can combine projects and get an earth view of everything.

I must admit I do get a real sense of satisfaction and achievement as each activity is completed and ‘checked off’ within PDCA Complete.

3) Stop Those Rude Interruptions

Without fail, the telephone causes the rudest interruption every day. To improve time management skills you must control this.

Think about it – if you were in the middle of doing something or having a conversation and someone barged into your office and started shouting at you “Listen to me NOW!!” you’d be understandably extremely annoyed. And yet that’s exactly what we tolerate with incoming phone calls.

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The phone is a rude and distracting interruption. To improve time management skills you must address the phone. And it is something that, as a QA person, manager, or an entrepreneur you need to take control of. Here’s my advice…

  • Don’t answer the phone yourself. If you haven’t got staff to take the calls organize a top quality, personal telephone answering service. Dependent upon your business I would suggest you do not rely on an answering machine or voicemail. It may not give the right impression to prospective clients. After all, if you call a business number and get an answering machine what do you think?
  • Use gatekeepers. This is obviously part of the previous point. Make sure that whoever answers your phone doesn’t just put callers through without checking with you first. In fact, I tell my receptionist at the beginning of the day if I’m expecting any calls I need to take. All others are a definite “No” and she deals with them appropriately.
  • Make telephone appointments with clients. If they want to speak to you set a date and time when you will take their call. Clients then far more respect your time if you start your relationship this way.
  • Don’t give your mobile phone number out too readily. I have the same mobile phone number that I started with back in 2005. I have never had to change it. And that is because I do not tell anyone the number – other than private clients, partners, family and close friends. Even with private clients I’m selective about who gets the number. I only give it to people who I trust not to abuse it by calling me at ridiculous times of the day. They respect my time and privacy, whilst knowing they can get hold of me in an emergency.
  • Set a time of day when you will follow up on any incoming calls that need your attention. Perhaps, like with emails, a half hour in the morning and/or afternoon.
  • Set a time of day when you will take calls, for example from your team or work colleagues, let them know when they can call you and expect to get through. Explain you are not available at other times because you are working on projects and cannot be interrupted.

The Danger of Expectations and the Beauty of Duty

Here is another tip to improve time management skills from "The Notebooks of Lazarus Long" by Robert Heinlein:

Do not confuse “duty” with what other people expect of you; they are utterly different. Duty is a debt you owe to yourself to fulfill obligations you have assumed voluntarily. Paying that debt can entail anything from years of patient work to instant willingness to die. Difficult it may be, but the reward is self-respect.

But there is no reward at all for doing what other people expect of you, and to do so is not merely difficult, but impossible. It is easier to deal with a footpad [a thief] than it is to deal with a leech who wants “just a few minutes of your time, please – this won’t take long”… Time is your total capital, and the minutes of your life are painfully few. If you allow yourself to fall into the vice of agreeing to such requests, they quickly snowball to the point where these parasites will use up 100 percent of your time – and squawk for more!

So learn to say no – and to be rude about it when necessary.

Otherwise you will not have time to carry out your duty, or to do your own work, and certainly no time for love and happiness. The termites will nibble away your life and leave none of it for you.

This rule does not mean that you must not do a favor for a friend, or even a stranger. But let the choice be yours. Don’t do it because it is “expected” of you.

Time Wasting Quotes

“Time has a way of getting away from us, because we never have a grip on it during the day…” — Doug Firebaugh

“Learn to use ten minutes intelligently. It will pay you huge dividends.” —William A. Irwin

“Lost time is never found again.” — Benjamin Franklin

“Don’t mistake movement for achievement. It’s easy to get faked out by being busy. The questions is: Busy doing what?” — Jim Rohn

I appreciate that for many people, some of the improve time management skills above may seem to be impractical – but you’d be surprised at just how readily people will accept your working method and respect your time.

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