Effective Time-Management

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(This article appeared in the May/June 2009 issue of The American Postal Worker magazine.)

Joyce B. Robinson, Research & Education Department Director

The first step in managing your time effectively is to identify your goals and priorities. You must decide what you want out of life, and what you must do to get what you want.

Next, if you determine that a lack of time itself prevents you from doing what you need to do to reach your goals, change your life by taking control of your time. Start by building a realistic schedule — a time budget — that gives you a plan for your activities and that fits with your priorities.

Finally, recognize that you must stick to your time schedule. Some flexibility is necessary, of course, to take care of unexpected demands. But if you spend too much time on non-priority tasks, you will never meet your goals.

Time to Stop Putting Things Off

Procrastination is a big problem for many of us: We put off things that we should be focusing on in favor of doing things that we’re more comfortable with. Overwhelmed by the prospect of a task, we can’t figure out where to begin, so we do something we know we are capable of completing. But since the big task isn’t going to go away, the best way to overcome procrastination is to follow these steps to improve your time-management skills.

Step 1: Observe yourself. For a week, keep a detailed log of everything you do. Account for everything: Time spent sleeping, eating, commuting, working, exercising, etc.

Step 2: Write down your goals. List what you would like to accomplish.

Step 3: Figure out what you can cut out. A soap opera you watch every day, for example, could be replaced with the exercise program you’ve always wanted to start.

Step 4: Be realistic. Don’t make your personal schedule too rigid. You are bound to fail, and be disappointed.

Step 5: Get plenty of rest. Most people function optimally when they sleep between seven and eight hours each night.

Step 6: Avoid over-scheduling. Don’t try to fill every waking minute. Leave a few gaps to have a cup of tea, chat on the phone, and so on. For weeks that look especially hectic, make time to utilize some relaxation techniques.

Step 7: Always use your planner. Every Sunday, write out your obligations for the week ahead and note your personal commitments, such as choosing three days to go for a run after work, or reading a novel for an hour before bed. Be flexible.

Additional Tips

Here are some additional time-management strategies:

  • Keep a “Things to Do” list. Keep the items in priority order. 
  • Break major tasks into small chunks. Tackle projects one at a time. 
  • Organize your work area. It’s much easier to accomplish tasks when information and tools are handy. 
  • Schedule breaks. With regular break-times, you’ll be less likely to goof off when you know you should be working. 
  • Delegate tasks. Ask for help. 
  • Know your “prime working hours.” There really are “morning people” and “night owls.” Find out when you’re at your best, and use those hours wisely. 
  • Learn to say “No.” If you already are overburdened, don’t take on a new task. 
  • Be flexible, but remain in control. Expect interruptions, but keep tasks in priority order.

The best way to ensure that you use your time effectively is to hold yourself accountable. Though planning may take more time than you like, doing so will make you more organized, and will result in your feeling more confident.

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