Summer slacking time is slipping away, and the serious season is setting in for many of us.
Whether school assignments or work projects, we’ve got a lot to accomplish. Yet meetings, email, office gossip, other people’s priorities and many other disruptions threaten to pull us from the tasks we need to get done.
“Time management is the toughest challenge,” says Josh Cuttill, 36, an account manager at 360Partners, an Austin, Texas-based online marketing agency. “When you take the time to get organized, it allows you to be more efficient with your time. You can stay on task and get more accomplished.”
Sounds easy, but it’s not, say more than 5,000 users of Toggl, an online time tracker with free and paid services that show you where your time went. Toggl users responding to a survey identified their nine top time-management mistakes. Here they are, with their percentage of votes:
- Not setting priorities for themselves: 20.29 percent
- Poor planning: 17.43 percent
- Distractions: 12.57 percent
- Underestimating the effort a task will take: 12.57 percent
- Not tracking time: 10.29 percent
- Procrastinating: 9.71 percent
- Multitasking: 6.57 percent
- Doing things at the last minute: 5.43 percent
- Not bothering with any time management: 4.29 percent
“September is the peak of the year for us,” says Dunja Lazik, Toggl spokesperson. Most people start tracking their time after the summer, the second-least productive time of the year behind Christmas. “So we’re always looking to raise awareness about time management and productivity at this time.”
“Ultimately, time management comes down to planning,” says Sara Sutton Fell, founder of Remote.co, an online resource for remote teams and companies. “Each of the top mistakes relates back to planning in some way. In order to make the most of your time, you need to have a plan for how to handle all that time.”
The onus isn’t just on workers, Sutton Fell says.
“Managers need to help teams understand priorities and set achievable goals, along with time frames for achieving those goals. Individuals need to create plans for themselves that take into account the priorities of the day and week, what the overarching goals are, and exactly what efforts are needed to complete each specific task.”
Time tracking will help you stick to your plan, she says.
“If you’ve over- or underestimated the amount of time something will take to do, you’ll more quickly be able to adjust your plans because you’ve already got a road map for yourself.”
Lesson in planning
In juggling several clients’ needs to develop, place and analyze the results of online advertisements, Cuttill says he has learned to plan better so he can manage better.
In the past, he’d set aside a day for working on one client’s project.
“It was very general, I didn’t have it organized and blocked out. There was no agenda. Before I knew it, three, four, five hours passed. ‘Should I have allotted more time to pull more data?’ I’d ask myself.”
Now, he says, he uses three main tools.
- On his Outlook calendar, he blocks out time for specific tasks.
- With OneNote digital notebook, he keeps track of what’s happening with each client, what’s been accomplished and what needs to be done.
- With Toggl, he can look back and understand how much time he really spent on a task so he can be more efficient at blocking time in the future.
His team can see his calendar and notes.
“Time is of the essence here,” Cuttill says. Colleagues can see his time blocks and know what he’s working on; they can see his notes so they know what needs to be done, too.
“We’re pretty transparent here,” Cuttill says.
Plan your off time, too
Time management lessons can pay off at home.
“I can cull out my weekends and be organized,” Cuttill says. “Fit in time for exercising or doing things with our families.”
Cuttill’s family is in Dallas; his wife’s, Houston.
By planning, they know when to travel and when to plan weekends at home.
And it keeps you from doing nothing or forgetting you have to be somewhere, Cuttill says.
“It reduces stress,” he says.
Ami Bhavsar, 360Partner’s human resources associate, agrees.
“I use Google calendars, alerts and alarms on my phone,” Bhavsar says. Although she uses calendars and Toggl similarly to Cuttill, Bhavsar says she still takes notes with pen and paper. But being organized, whatever the tools, is key, she says.
She writes down just about everything, shopping, grocery lists, events, appointments.
“Anything, just so I don’t have to remember it internally. I have something to look at.”
Beat the clock
Toggl users also came up with time management tips. Their top 10:
- Make it a habit to track how you spend your time. Try tracking everything you do for a week and then learn from it.
- Compare your time estimates to the time you spent working on a task. Use results for better prediction and planning ahead.
- Tracking your bad habits will help you become aware of how much time they’re taking away from you.
- Block out your day by the hour or even half-hour and assign tasks to each block for better systematization.
- Never schedule yourself 100 percent — leave some space for new ideas.
- Schedule time for interruptions. Plan to be interrupted to avoid unwanted distractions.
- Block out any distractions, restrain yourself from email and social media to stay focused.
- When your time is tight and you’re under pressure, ignore email completely.
- Focus on one thing at a time. Despite all our efforts, humans aren’t great multitaskers.
- Define priorities, assign focus.
“Every 10 minutes you spend on planning saves you an hour in execution,” Toggl users say.
“If you have a game plan for what you’re doing, you’re in control more of what you need to accomplish,” Cuttill says. “I get more accomplished in the day. Planning keeps you mentally sharp and focused.”
Another bonus, he says: “Peace of mind.”
What are your secret weapons for staying organized and saving time? Share with us in comments below or on our Facebook page.