Time management techniques for busy professionals

They say that time is money, but we seem to waste our time much more readily than we waste our money. To make matters worse, there really is no such thing as a time savings account, so it’s not like you can store away some time for a rainy day. That’s why it may be even more important to have good time management skills than it is to have money management skills.

The following tips are geared primarily toward all the busy professionals in the audience, but they could just as easily be applied to busy parents, busy students, or any other busy bees who feel like there’s never enough time to get done what they need to get done.

Organize Your To-Do List By Spheres

Ask nearly anyone about time management and they’ll likely tell you that a good to-do list is an absolute must. However, that’s only part of the equation and it’s not really enough on its own. The key, as odd as it may sound, is to have multiple to-do lists.

Yes, there is something to be said about living simple, but having multiple to-do lists can help you save time, because you’re not wasting time reading through your to-do lists. Have a list related to work, for example, but a separate list related to projects around the house. This way, when you’re ready to tackle a certain “sphere” in your life, you’re looking only at the to-do items that are relevant to that sphere.

Some good options, both on your computer and smartphone, are Google Tasks and TeuxDeux, but feel free to find the tool that best suits your preferences.

Combine Your Errand Trips

This goes hand-in-hand with the above tip. When you only have so many hours in the day, it pays to maximize your efficiency. To get more done in less time, combine errands and tasks that naturally fit together.

For example, if you have to drive across town to visit a client, you may want to drop by the post office to ship that parcel on the way back, as well as the office supply store down the road to buy some more pens. By doing so, you don’t waste time taking three trips to knock three things off your to-do list; you complete those three tasks in just one trip. Good shopping list apps can aid in this regard.

Synchronize with Google Products OTA

You have a calendar on your computer. You have another calendar on the wall in your office. You have yet another calendar on your smartphone. When you want to add an event, you end up adding that event three times, thus wasting your time rather than using it.

Instead, it makes a lot more sense to use the cloud. If you synchronize your various devices with Google, you only add that event once. A new calendar entry on your smartphone will automatically show up on Google Calendar on your PC and tablet. The same is true of other cloud services like Google Contacts and Google Documents. The automatic sync saves so much time, because you don’t have to remember to manually sync the data.

Schedule Your Tasks into Your Day

Tasks that are relegated to “when I have time” will inevitably get pushed into the background, bumped off the radar by more immediate distractions. Don’t let that happen.

Instead, when you set out your task list for the day (or week), schedule in each task to a specific time slot. More importantly, stick to that schedule and shut out the distractions. When you’re busy, you’re busy. Don’t let those meetings run longer, biting into the time you’ve scheduled to complete that TPS report. And yes, this includes scheduling your free time too. It doesn’t matter if you use Outlook, Google Calendar, or whatever else; just use something and stick to it.

Pre-Authorize Your Bill Payments

Did I pay that utility bill yet? Has my cell phone bill been paid this month? Thoughts like these waste time. That’s why it makes so much sense to simply pre-authorize your bill payments. Just about every bank lets you do this and most service providers have something like this in place.

This can include a wide range of bills, from credit cards to rent payments. If it’s offered, you may also want to opt for paperless billing, having those bills automatically sent to you via e-mail for later review. This way, you have an organized library of bills too, in case you need to look at them later.

Outsource Tasks Where Appropriate

There are only 24 hours in the day and you are only one person. But, if you tap into the talents and skills of another person, it’s almost like you gained a few extra hours in the day. It wouldn’t make sense to outsource everything, but you can outsource and delegate quite a bit.

Check out online resources like Guru.com and YourManInIndia.com for help on everything from graphic design to product development, customer service to personal errands. When it comes to receipt management, you can try a service like Shoeboxed to ease your worries too. By outsourcing where appropriate, you really can try your hand at living simple, because your more routine tasks or tasks outside of your expertise are handled by someone else.

Turn Off Push Email on Your Smartphone

Counter-intuitive? Absolutely, but this is actually one of the best ways for you to free time to do other things. When you are constantly being distracted by inbound e-mail messages, you are not dedicating your attention to the task at hand.

With every instance of switching over to read and reply to that e-mail, you waste time because your brain needs to temporarily change gears. It then takes more time to get your mind back on track with the current task. Instead, it is often better to restrict yourself to checking email only once or twice a day, scheduling in a set amount of time that can be dedicated to e-mail. If you can help it, turning off IM can help too.

Focus Rather Than Multi-Task

You think that you are getting more done, because you are handling more than one task at a time when you multi-task. In truth, you’re not multitasking at all; you’re simply switching between tasks repeatedly and each switch wastes time as your brain re-aligns itself to the new task.

Yes, having dual or even triple monitors for your computer might seem useful, but these kinds of configurations may actually be counter-productive instead. Focus on one task and get that one task done before moving on to something else. This will save time in the long run.

Image credit: LdF / iStockphoto

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