Time management: An underrated soft skill
By Sakuni Weerasinghe
Let’s take a moment to reflect, shall we?
Grab a pencil and tick all that applies to you:
- You are late to get up, late to school or work, or behind schedule most times than not
- You find yourself rushing to get things done at the last minute
- You feel drained and out of energy
- You forget your belongings often (keys, wallet, meals)
- People expect you to be late
- Things have a way of sneaking up on you
- You want to get things 100% correct but end up not getting much done throughout the day after all
- You are known as a “yes” person
- You try to do it all by yourself
- You find yourself getting stressed often
Do any of the above sound familiar, or are they habitual recurrences in your life? While there are many factors that contribute to the experiences described above, the main culprit appears to be a lack of effective time management. We often focus on developing our knowledge and skills, and even when it comes to soft skills, we focus on communication skills and enhancing our emotional and social intelligence along with developing other skills aimed at interpersonal effectiveness. However, time management seems to be a soft skill that is easily overlooked despite being highly valued.
Time management simply refers to using available time effectively in order to get a task completed. This involves a bit of organising and planning. Sounds pretty straightforward, right? So why do most of us struggle with it? We often mistakenly rush to complete multiple activities or believe in staying busy as opposed to focusing on the results. This explains why we engage in multitasking, do not have our priorities straight, remain disorganised, and continue to procrastinate on tasks of great importance.
Failing to manage time has clear consequences, especially when it comes to work practices, with dropped quality of work, multiple missed deadlines, and higher levels of stress. Besides, you risk gaining a reputation for lacking professionalism or having a below-par work ethic. With good time management, the stress experienced in trying to achieve your goals is lessened. Furthermore, less effort will be required in trying to meet targets and there would be reduced mistakes, which essentially means less rework. You would also find yourself having more time to engage in leisure and self-care activities. You would also be known for your efficiency and effectiveness instead of tardiness. Hence, it is clear that effective time management is a skill we all need to develop.
Here are some tips on better time management:
Start with the RAC method
Begin by recording how your time is spent during a day from the time you wake up (i.e. include how much time you spend commuting, having your meals, entertainment, and of course scrolling on social media). Next, analyse the activities that consumed your time which could’ve been better spent on something else (such as passively watching a television programme or that hour spent checking Facebook posts which reduced your sleep time and in turn left you feeling groggy the morning after). Initiate a change by prioritising your tasks and scheduling adequate time for the tasks you ought to do within the day with a plan on how to minimise time wasters.
Ask yourself the following:
- What needs to get done today?
- What needs to get done this week?
- What needs to get done by the end of this month?
- What needs to get done by the end of this year?
Try referring to the Eisenhower matrix for further guidance on prioritising tasks based on importance and urgency.
If your tasks are both important and urgent, make sure you do them right away. If they are important but not urgent, allocate time to do them. If the task is urgent but not important, find someone trustworthy and skilled to complete the task to delegate it to. You may also find tasks that are neither urgent nor important, in which case eliminate them altogether.
If we are to engage in effective time management, we need to fight the very thing that holds us back, a.k.a. procrastination. We tend to procrastinate tasks when they are too overwhelming to handle, too boring, or if another activity is more tempting and pleasurable such as watching a YouTube video.
To manage this, you can try the Pomodoro Technique. This method of timing your work allows you to enjoy rewards too. Typically, after 25 minutes of work, reward yourself with a five-minute mini-break, for example, to listen to your favourite song or hug your pet. After a few cycles, you can extend your break. You can personalise this method to cater to your methods of work.
You can also “bite the frog” or start to tackle the most challenging task first thing in the morning. Once the hardest task is complete, it will give you a boost of confidence to complete the other tasks as well.
You can also use website blockers and apps to help you stay away from spending your time browsing social media.
If you are finding it difficult to get started on your own, invite a friend over to study or do your projects alongside each other. It helps to have another person hold you accountable in reaching your goals and helps you stay motivated.