Managing your Time Effectively
Time management is not really about time. It’s about habits, attitudes, how you prefer to work, how you manage others (ie managing downwards, upwards and sideways). That means that there are no hard and fast answers to effective time management. The good news is that there are a range of tools and techniques that can help, some of which are covered in this section. Try them out and use the ones that work for you.
Time Management Resources and Online Courses
Hints, Tips, Tools and Strategies for Time Management
Start with the big picture
How long is your contract? What do you want to have achieved by the time it comes to an end? – both in terms of doing your job, and what you want to achieve personally to progress your career? Take some time to think about this and make a note of what you come up with. You may not be able to achieve everything, but if you have some ideas about what you are aiming for it will help you to manage your time in a productive way.
Re-visit your list regularly to check whether you are on track. If your goals change, that’s fine, include the changes in your plan.
Make a to do list
Do this in whatever way works for you, but keep on your to do list (or lists) long, medium and short term goals. Break down the bigger, long term goals into smaller chunks and put those onto your weekly or daily to do list.
Assess and identify priorities
Once you have your to do list, you need to prioritise tasks. This will help you plan how to use your time most effectively. Here are two tools to help you do that.
i. Progress and Maintenance
You can categorise anything you have or want to do as a progress task or a maintenance task, and this will help you assess how to prioritise your to do list.
A maintenance task is one that will prevent you from falling behind. Answering routine emails or cleaning equipment are maintenance tasks – they need to be done, but they don’t move us forward. Once they are done we are in the same place we were before.
A progress task is one that will move you forward from where you are now. Composing an email to a potential collaborator or assessing how a piece of equipment could be more productive are progress tasks because they move you forward from where you were before.
It’s easy to do maintenance tasks because they are usually obvious and well defined. And it’s easy to feel you have achieved a lot when you have used your time on maintenance tasks. Progress tasks are less well defined and may involve more risk; but it is these tasks that will move you forwards. The definition of what is progress and what is maintenance is subjective and depends on your context, and of course you do need to do maintenance task, but balancing the two will help you move forwards.
ii. Important / urgent
The Important / Urgent matrix is a well-known tool for deciding where to focus your effort to be most productive (or make the most progress.). Imperial College has an explanation of how the Important / Urgent matrix works.
There is a blank urgent / important template for you to use. Use your to-do list to categorise your tasks and provide clarity on where to focus.
- Download the urgent / important template as a Word document
- View the urgent / important template as a webpage
Planning and actioning
- We’ve already mentioned to do lists; when you plan and prioritise your daily or weekly to do list, make sure you are being realistic about what can be achieved. It seems counter-intuitive, but if you plan to do less, you will achieve more.
- Know that not everything will always go smoothly and that at times you will run into problems. You can’t predict what the problems will be, but you can include some contingency time in your planning.
- Observe your energy levels during the day and plan to do the most important things when your energy is high, saving routine work for when your energy is lower.
- Observe and notice what kind of things steal your time, and work out how take control by managing these things pro-actively. Download the slides on Time Stealers as a PDF to see some suggestions, or view the content of the Time Stealers slides as a webpage.