I receive quite a few questions each month concerning time management. It's a sticky workplace problem to solve, primarily because it requires being honest with yourself to get a grip on the issue. We all go through periods that seem "out of control" and crazy. However, there are strategies that could have prevented the lion's share of that stress. Where time management is concerned, it seems that we can turn out to be our own worst enemies.
1. It’s Your Problem
The bottom line? No one else is going to value your time if you don't. You have to teach others (and yourself), through words and actions, that your time is valuable. That may sound as if I'm characterizing all your of coworkers and clients as disrespectful. It's not that. They simply have their own work lives to worry about, and you need to worry about yours. If you feel someone is taking advantage, be honest and let them know you've spent as much time as you possibly can to help them. Point them in the right direction for more guidance. Be polite but firm. You’ll find that after you go through this once or twice, the process will become easier.
2. You Have to Cut the Cord
Here's the thing — a time-management problem is usually not a time issue; it is a task issue. Specifically, you are not sorting through your work life and deciding which tasks really matter. This is like keeping old shoes in your closet that don't really go with anything you currently own but continue to take up valuable space. Sometimes you have to give useless tasks the old "heave-ho." Do you compile a report that nobody utilizes? Attend a weekly meeting that isn’t beneficial or necessary? Write the eulogy and cut the cord. It's up to you. Choose or lose.
3. Playing Favorites is a Must
You hate prioritizing. Of course you do! Everyone does. But the number one priority to respect is your own calendar. Just remember that multitasking doesn't work. Focusing on a single task, without interruption, is critical. If you need a release valve in your schedule for tasks that pop up, set up time each Friday (or any plan that works) to connect the dots and tie up loose ends that develop during the week. Tell people politely, "My schedule is tight at the moment, but I'll have time to explore that on Friday.” During this designated "catch-up time" you can consider ad-hoc requests and communicate responses.
4. You’re a Control Freak
I know this excuse: “I don't like to delegate.” But if you are a manager (or aspire to be one), the fact is that if you don't know how to delegate confidently, you will have trouble moving forward. Why? Because you won't have the time to be a real leader. Chances are, you don't trust other people to do the job as you would do it. I know. I've heard that excuse as well. But a surefire way to build resentment is to show your staff that you don't trust them. You have to give up a little control and "mine" some time for the "big picture.”
5. If You Make a Time-Management Mistake, Excuses Won’t Work
If you have a scheduling snafu, ‘fess up as soon as you realize there is a problem. Recently I waited for a scheduled appointment with a specialist. After an hour, a nurse came out to ask if anyone was waiting for Dr “X.” After identifying myself, she let me know it would be at least another hour to see the doctor, and asked if I would like to reschedule. They explained that the reason for the delay was that there were late additions to the schedule…but apparently they were on the books before I walked in the door. They didn't bother to call or text me and give me the option not to wait. If you are running behind or forget a commitment, take ownership as soon as you realize there is a problem. You'll have a better chance of salvaging the relationship.
Time is a valuable commodity. Use it wisely, and you'll fuel your career.
Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Organizational Psychologist who specializes in work survival strategies, corporate culture, and organizational change. She is a Practice Manager at Rand-Gottschalk & Associates, a consulting firm that helps employees and businesses excel. She is author of the blog The Blend, which addresses current workplace topics and issues and also serves as a LinkedIn Influencer.