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Time Management Skills

The Activity Log

An activity log is a highly effective way of monitoring the way in which you spend your time. If you work purely from memory it easy to believe that you spent all your day working, and consider that you use of time is good. If you keep an Activity Log for a few days you may be surprised to see precisely how much of your day is wasted.

Without modifying your behavior, note down the things you do as you do them, from the moment you come into the office. Every time you change activities, whether opening mail, working, making coffee, dealing with colleagues, gossiping, going to collect paper from a printer, etc., note down the time of the change.

As well as noting activities, it is worth noting how you feel, whether alert, flat, tired, energetic, etc. This should be done periodically throughout the day.

Once you have logged your time for several days, analyze the log. You may be alarmed to see the length of time you spend opening mail, talking to colleagues, dealing with disruptions, or doing low value jobs!

You may also see that you are energetic in some parts of the day, and flat in other parts. A lot of this can depend on the rest breaks you take, the times and amounts you eat, and quality of your nutrition. The activity log gives you some basis for experimenting with these variables.Ā 

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Action Plan

Create an Action Plan

An action plan is a brief list of tasks that you have to carry out to achieve an objective. It differs from a To Do list in that it focuses on the achievement of a goal, rather than focusing on goals to be achieved in a period of time.

Wherever you want to achieve something, drawing up an action plan allows you to concentrate on the stages of that achievement, and monitor your progress towards that achievement.

How to estimate time taken to achieve a project

It is always difficult to estimate the length of time that a task will take, particularly if it is not a task that has been carried out before. It is quite normal for the time taken for completion of a project to be seriously underestimated as the influence of the unexpected or unscheduled high priority work is forgotten.

This section firstly covers unpredictable events that may be factored into your estimates, and then looks at formal methods of estimating time taken to achieve complex projects.

Taking unpredictable events into account

When you have to guess time, and particularly when you are likely to be held to a time estimate, ensure that you allow time for:

  • Other high urgency tasks to be carried out which have priority over the task in the action plan
  • Accidents and emergencies
  • Meetings
  • Holidays and sickness in essential staff
  • Contact with other customers, perhaps to arrange the next job
  • Break downs in equipment
  • Let downs from suppliers
  • Interruptions
  • Quality control rejections
  • etc.

If the accuracy of time estimates is critical, you may find it effective to develop a systematic approach to including these factors. Typically this would be based on past experience.

What are To Do Lists?

To Do Lists are lists of tasks to be carried out to achieve goals. These goals might be specific targets, or may simply be the efficient administration of your day. By ordering these tasks in order of importance, you have prioritized your To Do List.

While To Do Lists are very simple, they are also extremely powerful, both as a method of organizing yourself and as a method of reducing stress. Often problems may seem intimidating large or you may have a seemingly huge number of demands on your time. This may leave you with a feeling of loss of control, or of being overburdened with work, or of facing hopelessly huge obstacles.

Getting Back Control

The solution is often simple: write down the tasks that face you, and if they are large, break them down into their component elements. If these still seem large, break them down again. Do this until everything that you have to do is listed. Once you have done this, run through these jobs allocating priorities from A (very important) to F (unimportant). If too many tasks have a high priority, run through the list again and demote the less important high priority items. Once you have done this, rewrite the list in priority order. You will then have a precise, sharp plan that you can use to eliminate the problems you face in the order that they need to be eliminated. This allows you to separate important jobs from the many time- consuming trivial ones, and gives you control of the problems facing you, reducing stress hugely.

Even if the things you want to achieve do not seem overwhelming, To Do Lists are extremely useful ways or organizing yourself efficiently, and of motivating yourself to achieve what needs to be achieved efficiently.

Preparing To Do Lists

It is a good idea to prepare To Do Lists whenever suits you: some people recommend doing them at the end of each day for the next day, others at the beginning of a day, others whenever you feel that things are getting out of control - the important thing is that you use them in the way that suits you.

If you haven't used To Do Lists before, try them: they are one of the keys to being really productive.Ā