Business people often feel that there's not enough time in the day to do what they need, or want to. The result is they can feel under pressure throughout their working day, be forced to work late into the evening and at weekends, and become irritated by people who take time away from them.
Time management skills are essential for people to be more productive in their working day, and whilst some of it is down to discipline and good practices, there are also tools and technologies available to help.
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Creating a to do list
Firstly, procrastination and focus can be a problem for some people. To-do lists can really help here, and they can be as simple or as complicated as you want them to be. For example, you can group activities into themes, projects, deadlines and different categories. Placing the list in a prominent place in the office or at home can help to keep these things in mind, and it can also act as a visual encouragement to see things crossed off over time.
However, making lists is not always sufficient, and time management experts say that one of the biggest mistakes people make in using to-do lists is they don't set a hard date for completing something, or even for starting it. The consequence is they just get overwhelmed by to-do lists.
Microsoft Outlook, and other productivity suites, have their own task creation tools, but there are also a number of popular web-based applications that can help to prioritise tasks, and assign levels of completion and deadlines to them. One of these is Remember the Milk, which is a free online tool that can be accessed via the desktop, mobile or tablet computer, and can help to manage tasks and to-do lists. With tools like this, you can set it to send reminders by email, SMS or instant message, and the list of tasks can be accessed by phone and lists synchronised with Google Calendar.
Another effective web-based to-do list organiser is Toodledo which works along similar lines. This tool is easy to use and provides several criteria to classify tasks, such as folders, subtasks, due-dates, priorities, tags, contexts, goals, notes, and time estimates. Other web-based tools include Todoist, ccToDo and Task Freak.
One thing worth noting about to-do lists is that it's important not just to move a particular task into tomorrow or next month, but instead, to break down the list and assign each task to a particular date. That way, you can help yourself to complete, or at least begin a task within an achievable timeframe. More importantly, it helps you to beat the problem of procrastination by making the list look less formidable.
Planning and scheduling
When combined with calendaring tools such as Google Calendar or Microsoft Outlook, you can more effectively work through your tasks. But the key thing is to make sure you look at your planner on a daily basis. Whether you use a paper-based or PC-based scheduler, it will only be effective if you check and update it regularly.
As well as knowing how and when to start a task, effective time management is also about knowing when and how to stop a particular task, and move to another.
For some people this means knowing how to finish a meeting or even a conversation in a timely manner. And with more and more ways to communicate, for example instant messaging, social networking, e-mail, voice and video conferencing, and online collaboration, all of these technologies can be useful, but they can also be massive time stealers.
Scheduling software, such as Outlook, can help to put aside time in your diary for a range of activities, not just meetings with people. For example, you could put in a block of time for sorting through paperwork, doing personal tasks that have built up over time, fixing computer-related issues, or reading through a stack of industry magazines. Remember to schedule in some relaxation time as well.
By doing this, you can indicate to people, who use a shared diary with you, that you are otherwise occupied and not to be disturbed, and it also reminds you that these tasks are important, because if they don't get done during office hours, you will be doing them at night or the weekend.