In today’s world, technology brings both conveniences and distractions to our lives. I personally have more productive and satisfying days when I use checklists. However, there are others who seem equally as productive and efficient without a list to guide them. Regardless of your style, my goal is to review the basics of time management identify the Top 5 Rules to Time Management.

Related: The 10 Commandments of a Meeting

Time Management Rule #1 – Complete Your Most Important Tasks First

Prioritizing your workload is one of the most challenging, yet important things to do in managing your time. How do you decide which activity or task is the most important? When there are many things competing for your time and attention, it is vital to ask the people assigning you work the level of importance and deadlines tied to each task. Once you have this information, you can prioritize the new request against the rest of your workload. One of two things will result from this type of scenario:

1.  The assigning party will provide you with a priority (i.e., urgent, needed next Monday, etc.) and/or a specific date that you feel confident committing to given your other priorities.

2.  You can let the assigning party know that you cannot meet their deadline, and they can then waste no time in soliciting assistance from someone with more bandwidth.

Time Management Rule #2 – The power is in the “No” or Know

If you are a superhero with heightened senses, lightning speed, accuracy, and of course cape, I’m sure this article does not apply to you. For the rest of us mere humans who would love to be superheroes but who fall short… we’ll need to practice saying “no,” but only once we “know” that saying yes would be problematic. It’s far better to inform them “that the tasks at hand require time to be completed with quality and, unfortunately, I have no bandwidth to commit to it right now” than it would be to say “yes” and then unable to deliver as promised.

Time Management Rule #3 – Get A Head Start

Everyone’s time is valuable, so we should safeguard it by making sure we start harder, more complicated tasks as early as possible. This allows for quicker peer reviews, consistent quality assurance cycles, and the ability to incorporate feedback without the hustle and fuss of rushing across the finish line. Once those processes are underway, you can spend time and attention dealing with the easier, less mentally-challenging work.

By following this process, you’ll enjoy the feeling that comes with accomplishing something great, and you’ll have the satisfaction of checking something off your never-ending to-do list. It feels like getting a gold star sticker on your elementary school writing assignment and that feeling should NEVER die as an adult! And while you might not get an actual gold star, you will have earned peer appreciation and gratitude, which is even better!

time management

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Time Management Rule #4 – Handling Distractions

Distractions are time suckers that leave you overwhelmed and anxious. They come in many forms and can be self-inflicted or created by external forces. The best way to handle such distractions is to set up some precautions and deflectors.

For example, at stable|kernel we have a very lively work environment that’s full of laughter and happy people, which makes it hard at times to stay focused. To avoid unproductive endless conversations, we have implemented “s|k focus time” – designated daily blocks of time where all are expected to R-E-S-P-E-C-T (one of our values at stable|kernel) others by keeping our workplace quiet and distraction-free. The goal is to minimize environmental distractions and get shit DONE.

If you can’t get everyone around you to buy into focus time, here are a few suggestions for creating a distraction-free work environment for yourself:

1.  Invest in a quality pair of noise cancellation headphones. And let people know that when you are wearing them, you prefer not to be interrupted. Instead, you can ask them to hold their questions or send them to you in slack or email so that you can address them as soon as you have time.

2. Find a quiet spot and nest there as long as necessary.

3. Disable, mute, or put “Do Not Disturb” on Slack channels and other notifications that are common distractions.

4. Alert the habitual offenders that you are unavailable for X amount of time.

5. Before you get into “the zone,” go to the restroom, grab everything you’ll need (such as water, snacks, coffee, etc.)… AND THEN … FOCUS on the most important activity and get it done. You’ve got this!

Time Management Rule #5 – Less is More, Focus on the Essentials

We all have attended meetings that lasted well over an hour and could have been wrapped up in 15 minutes. What a waste of time for everyone! Let’s remember that most of us are working hard to complete all the tasks facing us in a given day. We each get only 24 hours, so we should be as productive as possible in the time we have.

For me, the bottom line is that we have to do less overthinking and over-engineering. Instead, we should focus on the basics and essentials, looking for the smartest and most efficient way to execute our tasks. Once we’ve increased our productivity, we can free up time for the fun stuff: like sleeping!

Time Management Rule #6 – Celebrate Successes

When we were small babies, the tiniest accomplishments were celebrated, but as we got older celebrations slowly but surely seemed to disappear. Why?! Every time you check something off your list … do your little happy dance. You deserve it! Let’s bring back the celebration of our tiny wins. Doing so will increase morale, decrease motivation lapses, and reduce burnout.

Life is supposed to be both challenging AND rewarding. By starting to apply these time management rules today, you can accomplish great things!  You’re a Rock Star, so be kind to yourself!

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