We all have the same twenty-four hours in a day. So why is it that some people manage to get so much done, when some of us are wondering why we never get to the end of our to-do lists? The answer is in great planning and organising our tasks to fit the time available.
Time audit – the starting point to saving time
Unless you are already extremely well-organised, it’s useful to carry out a time audit. Rather than launch into one of the many time management systems, take the next week to jot down exactly how you spend your time. It’s a bit like a food diary; any good nutritionist will ask you to note down everything you eat and when you ate it for at least a week before planning out a new healthy-eating regime designed just for you.
It’s just the same when it comes to the tasks you do and the time they take. Simply writing out a list of jobs isn’t good enough – you need to know how long they took. Writing out your time audit takes the guesswork out of time management.
Just like budgeting, where we overestimate our revenue and underestimate our costs, we tend to overestimate the number of tasks we can fit into an hour, a morning or a day. We all need a bit of pressure but being unrealistic about the amount of time it takes to reply to emails, deal with phone enquiries or order stock will lead to frustration and even anxiety. In turn, this can result in mood swings which affect our relationships. Leaving things to the last minute only heightens the sense of urgency and causes stress.
Start with a diary or spreadsheet
Using a diary or a spreadsheet, simply note down the start and end time of every task for a whole week. Keep your timesheet next to where you work, visible at all times. If you have children, include your caring activities too.
Here’s an example:
9.30–10.40: answered emails
10.40–11.00: completed report
11.00–11.15: phone call with the accountant
11.15–12.00: proposal for a client
12.00–12.15: social media posting
12.15–12.30: answered emails
12.30–1.00: lunch and household jobs
1.00–1.30: food shopping for evening and tomorrow
1.45–3.00: client work
3.00: School pick-up time
In this example, the time audit showed that less than half the day was spent on revenue-generating work.
Once you have done this for a week (or better still a month) you’ll start to see patterns emerging of how your time could be better spent. Highlight all similar tasks into categories. For example:
- customer or client work
- writing and answering emails
- administration, such as invoicing, making payments, accounting, checking bank statements, filing, etc.
- ordering supplies
- telephone calls
- social media
Once you have highlighted all your tasks in these broad categories, check if there are any miscellaneous ones. If there is another theme running through these, then create another category.
Once you have finished, take a look at your particular categories and add up the number of repetitions per day.
Are you a flitter?
- How many times did you check your email and your social media accounts
- Did you keep going back to that report which you could have finished in one sitting but put off because that conclusion just got too hard?
- Did you go to the shops every afternoon, or
- Spend three hours watching TV?
Once you have gone through the categories ask yourself if these similar tasks could have been done in one go on the same day and time – if you went to the shops three times, could a menu planner save you two out of three trips? If you wrote a blog post on one day and did a newsletter on another could you have saved time by doing these tasks one after another?
Examine each task carefully and evaluate where time can be saved, then design your day efficiently. You may find that you’re wasting a great deal of time by flitting from one task to another.
Research shows that it takes approximately 20 minutes for the brain to adapt from one type of activity to another. If you’re in the habit of reacting to email and social media notifications as they flash up on your screen, you’re allowing your brain to be interrupted away from goal-oriented work. Recent research revealed that people in the UK spend more than three hours a day on their smartphones resulting, in some cases, in an inability to concentrate and retain knowledge.
Armed with this information, you’ll be in a better position to save time and gain control over your work–life balance.