Time management is the process of planning and exercising conscious control of time spent on specific activities, especially to increase effectiveness, efficiency, and productivity. Wikipedia. Time management is one of the most important soft skills you can develop as an Administrative Professional as the ability to manage your time and work on assignments will not only increase your productivity, but also your satisfaction on the job.
Employers today look for people who are able to plan their time effectively. Good time management and critical thinking skills go hand in hand as it’s hard to manage your time unless you can critically think out your day. Assigning priorities is usually one of the most difficult tasks for the office professional and often requires judgement as some tasks can have more pressing deadlines than others. However, knowing the difference between what must be done immediately (most important) and what can wait (less important, routine tasks) will be key to your time management skills.
Time Management Strategies
Creating a list of tasks that must be done each day is one way to manage your time. Block off time and resources for the most important tasks. Dr. Pamela R Wiggins, in her book Top Ten Soft Skills you Need notes that “if we don’t take time to set priorities, everything becomes urgent. This means that we move through tasks in a way that is haphazard and chaotic.” For example, your boss has an important meeting coming up and you are preparing the PowerPoint presentation for him. This should be on the top of your list of tasks to do for the day.
Some experts recommend making a schedule instead of doing whatever comes first on the list. Taking time to schedule both work tasks, personal tasks and meetings with your boss will help you make better use of your time. Don’t forget to also schedule in your lunch time, breaks and personal appointments as this will help you see the big picture of what needs to get done and when you can do it. There are many scheduling software packages such as Google Calendar or Microsoft Outlook that can help make your scheduling task much easier. For example, Microsoft Outlook can be used to create a schedule, manage your To Do Task List and record contact information. You can also schedule meetings and have them automatically added to your schedule.
Interruptions and distractions are a part of everyday life when working in a busy office environment. It’s inevitable that your phone will ring, your boss will ask you a question or a co-worker will need assistance. “Everyday interruptions at work can be a key barrier to managing your time effectively and, ultimately, can be a barrier to your success” notes mindtools.com in their article on Managing Interruptions. So how do you cope with interruptions? Sharon Burton and Nelda Shelton, in their text book, Office Procedures for the 21st Century (8th Edition) advises one not to resent interruptions but to keep calm and do not allow yourself to become upset. They recommend giving yourself adequate time for interruptions, be courteous but do not waste time because of an interruption. If you get interrupted in the middle of a project or task, mark your place in the document/task as soon as you are interrupted, handle the interruption immediately if possible and quickly resume where you left off. Sometimes it’s important that you don’t get interrupted at all so you could post a “do not disturb” note on the door if your job and boss allows it.
Benefits of Time Management
- You get to work smarter not harder
- Get more done in less time – because you planned on doing certain things at certain times of the day.
- You will make better use of your time because you will free up more time to do other things.
- You will increases your opportunities for advancement as employers like to hire organized people
- Your job seeking skills will improve as you’ll be prepared to answer time management questions and arrive on time for your interviews
- You will experience less stress
Consequences of Poor Time Management
- Missed deadlines – It’s easy to miss deadlines if you don’t manage your time properly especially when managing projects what have a firm completion time.
- You will be unorganized – Many things need to be completed in a specific order so if you mis-manage you’re time, you’ll have things that don’t follow in the proper order
- Your quality of work will suffer – It’s impossible to do high quality work if you don’t properly schedule it during your day.
- You will get a bad reputation – You don’t want to become known as someone who can’t manage their time as no employer will hire somebody who had got a bad time management reputation.
- You will have more stress – not doing things within a specified timeframe can cause stress and anxiety.
- Job Loss – if you don’t get to work on time, back from breaks on time, or complete your work assignments on time, you may eventually loose your job.
Time Management Skills
Here are some tips to help you improve your time management skills:
1. Learn your job well– Whether you are starting a new job or are an old timer, make an effort to understand the scope and responsibilities of your job and identify efficient ways to perform the tasks to be done. If no-one is available to train you or no office procedures manual is available, take the initiative on your own to learn the tools you use such as the electronic mail system and electronic files. Study the organizational chart to learn the names of executives in your company, their admins and other employees and their titles.
2. Take time to think and disconnect – Schedule time to think into your working day where you are totally quiet and disconnected. You need this time to clear your mind so you can go about the daily tasks at hand. Without clear thinking, office professionals cannot improve office procedures, office policies or provide creative solutions to problems as they arise. Solving problems is part of the duties of an office professional so having time for creative thinking, either on a scheduled break or even early in the morning before others arrives, will give you that time to better find solutions to problems you need to solve.
3. Set Priorities – Assigning priorities is usually one of the most difficult tasks for the office professional and often requires judgement as some tasks can have more pressing deadlines than others. However, knowing the difference between what must be done immediately (most important) and what can wait (less important, routine tasks) will be key to your time management skills. Many experts agree that establishing priorities with your manager is essential. While there are many thoughts on how to set priorities, organizing your tasks into categories can be helpful such as : (A) what must be done immediately, (B) what must be done today, (C) what may be done as soon as time allows and (D) what may be completed at a later date.
4. Plan but be flexible – Planning your time distribution and establishing priorities is always a good idea but it’s important to remain flexible as you may need to adjust your plan according based on circumstances or deadlines that are out of your control.
5. Manage tasks and details with a To Do List – It’s important to keep a list of the tasks and the details associated with them by completing a To Do List. Many people manage their To Do lists on paper or in a spreadsheet but there is a much more effective way. Managing the action items on your to-do list in Outlook, for yourself and others, has never been easier when you use the Tasks feature in Outlook 2016. The Tasks feature keeps track of what you need to do with your tasks list and will also remind you of any up and coming deadlines. It can also record what percentage of a task you’ve completed and can even send emails that assigns tasks to other people. Make sure you plan each task well before you begin and proofread each finished task for correctness before you check it off and release it.
6. Group similar tasks but work at just one task at a time: – One strategy is to group work that requires the same degree of concentration, such as answering phone calls, checking email, and social media inquiries as this will increase your effectiveness. Also, scheduling more difficult work assignments so you can work on just one task until it is completed will provide you with a greater sense of satisfaction and will save you time in the long run.
7. Start day with a difficult task – While it may be tempting to begin the day leisurely drinking coffee and browsing through your emails and social media, consider using the first hour of your workday to achieve a major accomplishment. Start by tackling a task that requires a high degree of concentration and effort, is difficult or even one you dislike as it will seem easier to do when you are more energetic and your mind is clear.
8. Avoid Procrastination: Procrastination is a very unproductive behavior that causes you to delay working on your assignments, projects and tasks. According to mindtools.com, some people are so chronically affected by procrastination that it stops them from fulfilling their potential and disrupts their careers. Don’t let this happen to you. Take the necessary steps to learn the reasons why we procrastinate and tips on how to stop procrastinating.
9. Cope with Interruptions and distractions: Interruptions are a part of everyday life when working in a busy office environment. It’s inevitable that your phone will ring, your boss will ask you a question or a co-worker will need assistance. It’s impossible to eliminate distractions all together so creating a plan on how to manage them is key. Focusing on one task at a time can help so do not multi-task by checking voicemail, emails, texts, Facebook or other social media sites while you’re working on your priority tasks. Schedule a separate time each day to do these tasks. Keep your desk organized and de-cluttered so you don’t get flustered as you work, as not being able to find something you immediately need is a huge time waster.
10. Prepare for the Next Day with a Daily Plan– At the end of each work day, review the work you must do the following day and wrap up your assignments and tasks to a point where they will be easy to pick up the next day. Whether you work at home or in a physical office, always strive to leave your office with an uncluttered desk, an updated appointment calendar and an updated To Do List.
Good time management is just one of the many important soft skills required in business today. Improve your office skills by taking the course, Soft Skills for Administrative Professionals, a soft skills training course offered on officeskills.org.