How to take control of your time
Busy preparing for CAT and other competitive exams? Then you must be knowing the challenges of managing time. Apart from college classes and home assignments, there’s preparation for exams, socialising with friends, family time and a whole lot of other activities. Wouldn’t it be great if you knew a way to control your time? In case your interest is piqued then read on.
By Suman Kher
The advantages of managing your time are manifold. It not just disciplines you in your work by increasing productivity and efficiency but also reduces last minute frustrations due to lack of time. It helps you prioritize critical tasks and increases your energy levels since you have a plan to follow. Since your activities are well-planned, you will have quality time for your hobbies, family or social life.
You can download an activity log sheet online or simply make columns on a piece of paper. Make 4 columns for time of the activity, activity description, duration and value or priority level. Note the time taken for every task and assign an A for high priority tasks, B for medium priority and a C for low priority. Diligently note all that you do in a day. Maintain the log sheet for a few days and then analyse it. The activity log is the true picture of your typical day. You will be surprised at the amount of time you spend on unimportant phone calls, pointless surfing of the Internet, watching TV or sleeping.
Activities that are of no great consequence but come in the way of achieving more critical tasks are known as time robbers or time stealers. The first step towards time management is to identify time robbers and find ways to arrest them. There can be numerous time robbers like unexpected visitors, poor decision making skills, unclear goals, lack of discipline, fatigue, disorganisation, lack of resources or knowledge to do a task etc. A few of them are discussed below.
–Procrastination: The most common time-robber is our tendency to put off doing things. Procrastination is the habit of delaying tasks repeatedly. Think of procrastination in relation to a cake. Any cake is best enjoyed when it is freshly baked. Leave it for a day and it loses freshness. It becomes dry after a couple of days and a few days down the line, it is bound to become inedible. Similarly, the longer you procrastinate, the more difficult it gets to set to work. Your motivation is gradually drained out and the task no longer interests you.
The reasons for procrastinating could be as simple as not being in the right mood or the cricket game on TV being far too interesting than working on the placement committee report. You might not know where to start or the task might be unpleasant and imposed from outside. If it is plain laziness making you wait for the right mood to hit you, give a thought to the unpleasant consequences of not doing it. Imagine if your mother cooked only on days she was in the right mood to do it. To make it easier to begin, break down your task into steps.
–Disorganisation: Or you could be simply disorganised. You know you have to work on the report but do not seem to find the resources to do it. You are not sure how to go about writing the report. Poor decision making also contributes to such procrastination since you do not want to sit down and decide your course of action to achieve your goal. Put your act together by making to-do lists to help you accomplish your tasks.
–Smart phones and Internet: These are the most common external time robbers today that hinder your progress. We want to be available all the time and not miss a single call or message. Leave your phone back home for a day and you feel incomplete. Chatting and social networking sites keep us glued on to our machines no matter how much we resolve not to let that happen. How many times have you logged on to the Internet with some useful purpose in mind but ended up aimlessly browsing for the first half or almost an hour? I know of people who cannot start their day without posting a new status update on their social networking profile. It’s not wrong to be part of online communities. But indulge in them in your spare time. When you are online to research for your college project, stick to doing just that.
–Interruptions: Managing interruptions is crucial to the success of your plans. Every time you are distracted, it takes time for you to get back into the flow of the task you were doing. There could be a ring at the front door, a knock on your room door, a family member wanting to talk to you etc. Put away your phone, inform people around you that you will be busy with something important and shouldn’t be disturbed.
Prioritise and plan
Now that you have identified the time wasters that prevent you from achieving your goals, let’s look at how you can plan your time for optimum use. Look at your activity log and note your priority activities. You can also prioritise tasks based on profitability, financial or otherwise. If there are time constraints to complete a task, you can prioritise on immediacy of the task.
A simple way to figure out which tasks deserve the most attention is to follow the 4 levels of task priority:
-Urgent (time-wise) and important
-Not urgent but important
-Urgent but not important
-Not urgent and not important
Make your to do list
There is no dearth of tools available that can help you plan your time: day-planners, online calendars, Personal Digital Assistant (PDA), To-Do stickies on the computer or a plain piece of paper. But these tools cannot teach you to manage your time well unless you put them to good use. The following pointers can help.
Block time slots: Allot dedicated blocks of time for tasks that are urgent and important, like studies. If your job entails managing people, ensure that you fix time to meet members of your team and discuss their work.
Find your peak time: Your activity log should help you figure out times when your energy levels are at their peak. Schedule high priority tasks that require high concentration for these times since low priority ones can be managed during low energy periods.
Be realistic about deadlines: Do not underestimate the time required to complete your tasks. Make provisions for unforeseen interruptions by keeping your plan flexible.
Learn to say ‘NO’: Don’t let your friends, neighbours, colleagues pile their work on you. Don’t just accept work because you want to be the sweet person they think you are.
Breakdown tasks into manageable steps: Being specific helps, for example, instead of “work on improving communication skills for one hour everyday”, try “learn 4 new words everyday by looking them up in the dictionary” and ” study 2 grammar concepts and learn to use them.”
Review your list weekly: Review your list of tasks once every week, preferably at the end of the weekend, so that your action plan is ready on Monday morning.
|GET SET GO…
Here is a list of things you need to start doing from today to make time management a part of your life.
1. Decide a time of the day when you would want to work on time management skills in particular and stick to it, everyday.
2. Pull out a sheet of paper and make your activity log sheet. Note every activity you do for the next five days.
3. Analyse the activity log sheet at the end of five days and identify your blocks of high energy periods. Also, identify time wasters you indulge in and make a list.
4. Make sure that every time you step out of the house, you carry something along to read while travelling
Stick to your list: It takes 21 days of doing something consistently to make it a habit. Since time management skills are required at every stage of your life, it is worthwhile to make it a part of your life. Give it a try and all the best.
(The writer is a freelance content writer and a trainer in communication.)