Time Management

  | James Innes

Arguably the most successful achievers across all industry sectors and professions are those who have learned to manage their time effectively. If you can more effectively manage your daily workload, you will be able to increase your productivity while also ensuring you are able to maintain a healthy work-life balance. Time management is not necessarily a fixed series of systems and procedures which applies to everyone – indeed, certain techniques that some people rely on simply do not suit other people. The key is to find a system that works for you and to stick to it.

To Do Lists

The first, and most important, step towards managing your time effectively is to prepare a comprehensive plan or schedule of your daily workload, often called a “To Do List”. This should be prepared in advance of the day in question - either last thing in the evening before you go home for the day or first thing in the morning, enabling you to see exactly what you need to achieve that day. Items should be listed in order of priority, so that you can clearly view tasks in order of both urgency and importance. It can also be a good idea to make sure that the list focusses on tasks which can only be carried out by yourself, so that you are not wasting your time with work that could be delegated to others. Some people also suggest preparing the To Do List in such a way as to put the more complicated tasks to the top of the list with the easier tasks towards the bottom. If there are large tasks or projects on the list you may also find it useful to break these up into smaller, more manageable, tasks before putting them onto the final, prioritised list.

Your To Do List should be seen as a tool for structuring and prioritising your workload, and so try not to be demoralised if you do not complete every task on the list - the aim is to focus on high priority work and to complete other tasks when time allows. The list should also have scope for flexibility, it may expand (or contract!) during the day and the priority of tasks may also change, as the projects you are working on evolve. An up-to-date list will ensure that you can see at a glance what you need to do next and make sure you tackle the most urgent tasks first, in turn enabling you to feel in control of your workload.

Once you have prepared your To Do List, don't be tempted to pick random tasks from the list which you think you might be able to complete quickly and easily. This will simply undermine the effective work structure which the list has helped you to create. And don't forget that there is also a certain degree of satisfaction in being able to cross off the completed tasks with a big, red marker pen!

Activity Logs

Another useful document that you can prepare for yourself is an activity log. This differs from a To Do List in that it details what you have actually achieved during the day, rather than what you set out to achieve. It is almost like keeping a diary of everything you do, and when you do it. It can be very useful in enabling you to see when you are at your most productive. It can also highlight times in the day when you are actually wasting time. This can even be used in conjunction with your To Do List, so that the more urgent tasks are completed at the times of the day when you perform better.

How to Say "No"!

It is tempting to feel that you should always be prepared to accept every task that is handed to you by your senior manager, or created for you to deal with by your junior colleagues - but this need not be the case. It is of course important to remain flexible so that you continue to perform well and give a good impression to your seniors, as well as providing support to your junior staff. But it is also, once again, a case of prioritising the additional tasks you are asked to fulfill, and knowing when one of them can wait until another time. Ascertain the nature of what you have been asked to complete, assess its level of urgency and maybe even suggest someone else who may be more suited to the task. You will find that the more you continue to say “yes” when other people try to allocate their work to you, the more they will do this in the future.


The most successful managers and executives are those who know how and when to delegate. This can mean passing work on to either your junior, or even your senior colleagues, depending on who is most appropriate for the task. Delegation is not always easy. Some people feel they are shifting responsibility if they pass work on to someone else, or that the task, once delegated, won't be carried out to an appropriately high standard - or even that someone else will receive the 'credit' for a particular task. There is also the fear that if you delegate in order to save time, you may spend more time explaining how to carry out the task than it would have taken you to complete it yourself. However, once you have started to entrust someone with delegated work you will probably find that they become increasingly competent at the tasks, and in understanding your instructions and working methods, thus making the whole delegation process - and the working environment as a whole - much more effective.

Dealing with the Unexpected

Possibly some of the most disruptive influences to your daily work schedule are those unexpected telephone calls, emails or visitors which no To Do List can fend off. This is why it is important to make sure that you do set aside a certain amount of time in the day for these sorts of interruptions. Although they are unavoidable, there are ways of decreasing their impact on your day. Firstly, if you have a PA or Secretary, make sure they know who you will accept interruptions from. If you are particularly busy, it also can be an effective strategy to ask your secretary to hold all calls and take detailed messages, so that you can then allocate a block of time to returning calls, fully armed with the facts you need. If someone does come to your office at an inconvenient time, a useful trick is to stand up immediately and stay standing – this tends to put people off from sitting down and generally makes the visit reach a conclusion much sooner. Make arrangements for another meeting with them at a time and location that suits you better. If you receive telephone calls which you do not have time to deal with right away, explain you are very busy at present, but would like to discuss the matter in hand and arrange a more suitable time to speak to them. In this way the caller will not feel you are cold-shouldering them, simply that you would like to speak to them when you can give them your full attention and, once again, fully armed with any facts you may need to make full use of the discussion.


Remember the old adage 'procrastination is the thief of time'? If you avoid making critical decisions or completing complex tasks you can end up wasting a significant amount of your valuable time. Many people put off certain tasks because they do not feel in the right frame of mind to tackle them or because they are waiting for a more suitable time. However this can mean that these particular tasks are never completed - the 'right time' or 'right' frame of mind, invariably never coming around. Your To Do List is a key method of avoiding procrastination, as long as you have prioritised your list correctly. Another effective way of dealing with procrastination is to take some action regarding the task as soon as you think about it - at the very least entering it in its correct position of priority on your To Do List. It can also help to put the work in front of you so that you then have to make a conscious decision as to whether to put it back into the in-tray for another time or actually deal with it then and there.

General Tips and Advice

There are other simple ways of managing your time more effectively and these include allowing time for relaxation, even if it is only some quiet time with the telephone off the hook and the door to your office locked. Most people respond better to a heavy workload if they have had some time to themselves. Keep your desk as clear as possible by reducing any clutter and simply throwing away pieces of paper that you know you will never look at again. It is very hard to be a successful time manager if you are constantly sifting through mounds of paperwork on your desk. The same can apply to your email inbox – try to keep this as uncluttered as possible by allowing time on your To Do List to read through your emails, delete those which are not essential and file those you need to keep. To achieve successful time management you will need to spend some time putting into place the systems and procedures that you intend to use. However, once you have done this, you should find that you are much more productive than before and that you waste far less time on trivial tasks.

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