This is a common feeling. To break through this needs successful and effective time management. I’ve listed fifteen different time management tips that IT professionals can use to get the most out of their day.
Create And Keep A Task List
The most important thing you can do to manage your time at work is to create a to-do list. This is a list of tasks or things that you need to do for your role at work. Defining what you need to do has a great impact on your ability to get things done at work. If it’s written down, you know what you need to do and when you need to do it by. Consider these points when creating a to-do list:
- Begin with an actionable word, such as “Write” or “Call” or “Email”.
- Make sure the task is specific enough so you know what needs to be done. “Finish user interface” isn’t very specific. A task such as “Finish writing code for user interface to prepare for testing” is more specific and actionable.
- Write everything down that you can think of that relates to your role. If it’s written down, you won’t forget it (well, you’ll have less chance to forget it).
Set Goals and Deadlines
Create goals for yourself and deadlines for the tasks that you do. These shouldn’t be arbitrary or pulled out of thin air – relate them to the work that you’re doing. This is a big part of time management and will help you get things done more effectively.
Set goals for the work you do, such as “I want to review the user documentation by 12pm”. This not only specifies what you should be doing (which comes from the task list mentioned in the previous tip), it gives a deadline to it. It means you can aim to get this task done by 12pm, which will give you a chance to do the next task after that.
Prioritise Your Work
Another important part of time management is the ability to prioritise your work. Having twenty tasks to do in one day is not very effective if you’re only able to get through ten of them. When this happens, you need to learn to prioritise your work. This means you give more emphasis to the more important tasks, either by getting them done sooner or spending more time on them. I’ve written an article on how to prioritise your work, but the basics involve:
- Speak to your manager to find out what their priorities are
- Find out the impact of doing or not doing the task
- Ask the person who gave you the task when they need a result by
Try Not To Work On More Than One Thing At A Time
The ability to work on more than one task at a time is called multitasking. It might sound like a good idea – if you can do two things at once, you can get them both done quicker! However, in reality it means you end up less effective at doing both tasks and they end up taking longer to do.
It’s more effective to focus on a single task and put all of your energy into that. Get that task done and out of the way, and then start on the next task. It will most likely result in a better quality outcome and less stress for yourself.
Get Enough Rest And Eat Well
It’s important to be effective at work, and one of the best ways you can do this is by having some downtime and making sure your keeping healthy. Make sure you get enough rest each night. This isn’t just sleep – make sure you spend some time relaxing and not doing any strenuous or work-related activity.
Eating healthy and drinking plenty of water is a good way to stay healthy as well. When you’re healthy at work, you feel better about what you’re doing and you’re able to get more out of your day. It’s underrated and I’m sure if we don’t try to get healthy it will take a toll on us!
Organise Your Desk and Work Area
This suggestion doesn’t really have a direct impact on time management, but it allows you to focus better and manage your work better. Having a clean and organised desk or work area is a good way to stay focused on your task. Some ways you can do this are:
- Use drawers or cupboards if you have them. Anything you don’t use regularly or need right away should be put away.
- Get yourself a stationery holder, for either on your desk or in a drawer.
- Use folders if you have a lot of paperwork
Having a clean work area not only makes you more focused, it helps to keep you organised because you know where to find things and there is a cleaner space to work.
Take Small, Regular Breaks
Something that may seem counter-productive to time management is the suggestion to take regular breaks. Sometimes, us IT professionals can get so caught up in the day-to-day work that we’re doing that we don’t spend enough time getting away from it.
Taking regular breaks from your work may seem like it’s not helping you to get things done, because you’re giving yourself less time to do it. I still think it’s a good suggestion though, as getting away from your desk or your work is a great way to refresh the mind and make you more focused. I believe it’s also recommended by health professionals, something like taking a 10 minute break every 2 hours (or similar) is a good thing. Try to incorporate this into your day – you could get a drink of water or a coffee or something.
Cancel Unimportant Meetings
This is one of my favourite ways to improve time management. We all have meetings to go to in the office. As an IT professional (well, anyone working in an office), we get asked to meetings – and sometimes, they’re not even very useful or meaningful.
If you have any meetings that have been set up, consider cancelling them. If you didn’t set them up, speak to the organiser and see if you can be excluded from the meeting. Many times people just like to invite everyone who “may” be needed to a meeting, with no regard for their time. Sometimes you can avoid a meeting altogether as you’re not needed.
Also, a meeting may not be the best way to reach an outcome. There are many other ways to get things done, perhaps a phone call or face-to-face discussion with a single person will get the same result with less time.
Don’t Confuse Being Busy With Being Productive
There is a big difference between being busy at work and being productive at work. Being busy means you constantly have work or something you’re working on. Being productive means you’re doing work and producing results. The main difference between these two concepts is the word “results”. Productivity produces results, regardless of how much work is being done.
Have a think about your average day at work, and try to decide if you’re busy or productive. Are you just doing a task because you can, or is it actually producing results? Is it essential to your work? Is it getting you an outcome? If it’s not helping your work, you may need to consider how and why it’s being done.
This is related to the previous point of unnecessary meetings – sometimes having a meeting is just a way of being busy and doesn’t actually get any results.
Don’t Procrastinate At Work
Procrastination is where you put off or delay a task by distracting yourself with something else. There is usually another reason why you’re not doing the task that should be done. In many cases, the hardest part about getting a task done is actually starting it. If you can work out the first step of doing a task, that goes a long way to getting it done. There’s no reason to keep delaying it – it will most likely have to get done anyway.
Delaying the task because it’s not a priority is something else – you are working but have higher priority work to do. This is perfectly valid. Procrastination is actually avoiding a task that needs to be done. It can be a real killer to the time in your day!
Delegate Some Of Your Work To Others
Another suggestion on how to improve your time management is to delegate some of your work to others. This depends on your current role and what kind of work you do, but essentially you don’t need to do everything yourself. You may have other team members who can help you do some of the work that you need to do. Some things to consider when delegating work to others are:
- If they actually have the skills or knowledge to do the work
- If it takes less time to explain the task than for you to do it yourself
- If the other person can get it done before it needs to be done
Delegating work to others is a good way to spread the workload and to improve your time management as an IT professional.
Don’t Follow Up If It Isn’t Needed
Quite often we speak to other employees about how their work is going. This can take time – it can take up your time and energy, as well as the other person’s. Sometimes this is needed – if the work you’re following up about is related to your work, or if it’s something you assigned to them. Other times, it’s not related to your work or project.
In these instances, where it’s not related to you, it can save you time if you don’t follow up with them about it. Sure, you might be interested in their work or other projects that are happening, but it can serve as a distraction to your work and reduce the effectiveness of your time management.
A good way to increase your time management ability and focus at work is to remove any distractions from your workplace. If you’re not distracted by other things, then you have more focus on the task you’re doing and will most likely put more effort into it, and get it done quicker.
Identify what distracts you at your office and try to remove that distraction. Do you have a mobile phone nearby? Turn it on silent, or put it our of view. Close down any internet browser windows that you don’t need. Actually, closing down any other windows on your computer that you don’t need is a great way to keep focused on just what you’re working in. Turn off any music. Clean up your desk. Close the office door, if you have done. Little things like this can add up and help you focus and manage your time at work better.
Learn How To Say No
One thing that I have learnt over the years in the IT industry is that you need to learn how to say no. We tend to have the need to accept work and just get it done – either overestimating our ability to do work, or underestimate the size of the work that needs to be done, or we may be afraid of disappointing the person who assigns work to us.
One of the more important skills you can learn as an IT professional is the ability to say no. To be more effective at your work, you need to learn when you’re at your limit and how to politely and effectively decline any more work that people would like to give you.
Perhaps they’re delegating their work to you, or perhaps they’re asking you for a quick favour that isn’t so quick, or perhaps it’s just something else that they want you to do. In any case, if you’re not able to get the work done in the timeframe they need, then it’s better just to say so. Say this in a polite way, of course, and highlight the reasons why.
This may be because you have something else that’s important to work on, it could be because you’re not sure you can get it done in the time needed, or because you’re not the best person to do the work. Either way, make sure it’s honest. Don’t just make up a reason, because then you’ll just seem lazy.
Monitor How Your Time Is Spent
My final suggestion on how to improve your time management as an IT professional is to actually monitor how your time is spent. Other professionals, such as lawyers and accountants, do this as they need to bill their clients and need to account for the time that is spent.
The reason I suggest this is that if you’re more aware of how you’re spending your time, then you can make adjustments as needed. You can do this by getting an app for your phone, using Google Calendar, or even setting up a spreadsheet. Spend a bit of time each day reflecting on what you did at what times and before long, you’ll have enough information to do some analysis and work out how you can improve your time management based on the time that you have been spending.
Do you have any other time management suggestions or tips for IT professionals? Share them below!
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