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When time is of the essence

The more time we spend planning and organising ourselves for efficiency the more effective we will be in carrying out the actual tasks

With so many time-saving technologies at our disposal to make things easier, you'd think we'd have freed up hours of spare time every day. But for most people – particularly those studying – this is not the case.

Time management is all about planning and exercising conscious control over the amount of time we spend on specific activities with the aim of improving effectiveness, efficiency - and hopefully - results.

But a word of caution; we can't get too fixated on time management and miss out on the impromptu and relaxed parts of life that are unplanned. On the positive side, if we employ a few simple methods we can actually free up more time to do what we enjoy.

Time tips:

Create a time-effective work space and get rid of time wasters. This means no office clutter, distractions (mobile phones, Facebook, TV) or people who want you to do other things. Set some firm ground rules for yourself and stick to them. Don't let people make you feel guilty about your mission to succeed.

Now set clear priorities and goals. Procrastination is the biggest enemy of time efficiency. How many times have we found ourselves stressing about a big task, due soon? We spend time stressing about it, instead of doing it. We know this is counter-productive but we sometimes still do it.

It's vital to plan ahead and:-

  • „Make a list of priorities and goals.
  • „Break these priorities and goals into do-able tasks and put them in descending order. List hardest and most urgent at the top, easiest and least urgent nearer the bottom.
  • „Know your own natural body rhythms. Tackle the hardest tasks when you have the most natural energy and the easy tasks when you need a boost or are getting tired.
  • „Use pleasurable tasks as rewards for getting hard or unpleasant jobs done.
  • „Tick off completed tasks as you do them for a sense of satisfaction.
  • „If something seems to be a non-priority, look at the consequences of not doing it at all. Can you delete or delegate it to someone else?
  • „Keep adding tasks to the list and get rid of old ones already done. Your task list should be a dynamic document that can be accessed when you have planning time - like on the bus or train or while waiting for an appointment.
  • Keep a diary – electronic or paper - to account for your time on a daily basis. If you can see exactly where your time has gone, you're less likely to waste it. There's plenty of good tablet or mobile phone apps around that will help you plan and schedule.
  • Don't forget to factor in breaks to rest your eyes, stretch your legs and move your neck and shoulders. Provided you stay focused, you are likely to improve productivity after a break and your health will thank you for it. (see blog I like to move it, move it).
  • File things in logical order. Keep well-organised computer files and this will ultimately save you time. Make a clearly named folder for each unit of study in your course and then ensure you save files in the correct folders as you go. There's nothing more time-wasting than searching all over the place for an assignment you've completed that needs to be uploaded to your course moodle.
  • Deal with emails efficiently. Emails can overwhelm you and interrupt your train of thought on important jobs. Deal with them only at pre-set times of the day by turning off automatic notifications. If something is really urgent, you'll get a visit or a phone call about it anyway.
  • Categorise emails for action. Decide whether each email is urgent, medium, non-urgent or ripe for deletion. Add them to your list of tasks or delete immediately. At least once a week, delete all completed or unwanted emails.
  • Reward yourself for a job well done when completing a major goal. A holiday at the end of your course is a great way to keep you focused, knowing that more relaxed times are ahead!
  • The Pareto Principle, or 80/20 rule, tells us that 80% of our results should come from 20% of our work. This means, prioritising and planning. The more time we spend planning and organising ourselves for efficiency the more effective we will be in carrying out the actual tasks. Conversely, if we spend our time focusing on 80% of the stuff in our working or study life that's not really important we'll only get 20% real results.

    This is an edited version of a post that was originally published on TAFEnow on 27 September 2013. TAFEnow is an Australia-wide online provider, operating out of North Coast TAFE, one of the 10 TAFE NSW Institutes. Enquiries can be directed to tafenow.com.au.