Contrary to popular belief, being over-booked and stressed out is not a sign of success. If your email inbox is jammed and your to-do list never ends, and you eat at your desk every day, then you are most likely sabotaging your career.
The truth is, if you can’t manage your time, you’ll find it hard to properly manage your career. In order to reach any level of career success – be it a raise, a promotion or a new job – you need to first know how to take control of your daily tasks and responsibilities rather than letting them control you.
Start with these tried-and-true methods to recover lost time and make better use of the time you have:
Prioritize—The Right Way
Steven Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People, makes a key distinction between tasks that are “urgent” and tasks that are “important.” He argues that we find our days getting away from us because we get stuck in the endless cycle of chasing low-priority tasks that are disguised as important. And he’s often right.
We know we should spend more time networking, attending to our professional development, or finding that first job, but we get so caught up in checking off our to-do lists that we never get around to the big-picture stuff. Yet in the grand scheme of things, it’s the big-picture stuff that makes the most difference.
Time management is not about making sure every single thing gets done, but making sure the important things get done. So it’s time to start utilizing the 80/20 rule—namely, 80% of your results are generated by only 20% of your tasks. Sure, you’ll still need to attend to minor emergencies and mundane to-dos, but don’t let them suck up all your time. Start focusing on those tasks with the highest return on investment, and you’ll find yourself making real progress.
Identify Your Time Leaks
It’s hard to manage your time when you don’t really know where it’s going. If you find yourself constantly over-committed, you may suffer from the tendency to believe you can finish tasks in much less than they actually require. Start tracking your time to get a better handle on where it’s actually going.
Use an app like RescueTime to see how much time you’re spending on certain activities. You may find you’re devoting twice as much time to checking your email as you thought, so it’s time to set a stricter window for that task each day. Or you may find those meetings you think are taking you an hour each week are actually taking three when you factor in coordinating, planning for and following up on each meeting. Once you know this, you can allot more time in your schedule for meetings instead of taking on more work than you can accomplish in a given week.
Imagine Your Time Is Billable
Become a master of time management by imagining that every hour you spend is a dollar you will make in your coming career. If you were a lawyer, you would be carefully managing every minute of your time because no one wants to pay for three hours’ worth of time when a task should only take one.
Imagine you are your own demanding client (or boss), and you have to account for how you’re spending your time. If someone were paying you for everything you did, could you really justify checking your email a dozen times a day when you could just as easily stay on top of things by checking it only twice? Would you waste a ton of time reading up on how to give a good presentation, or would you read a few smart articles and spend the rest of your time actually working on and practicing that presentation?
The reality is that devoting your focus 100 percent to the task at hand, until it is complete, will yield much better results than dividing it up among several competing tasks. Not only will it get done faster, but the quality of your work will be higher. If you’re checking your email while participating in a conference call while sketching out notes for a presentation, each of those tasks is only getting a fraction of your focus. Set aside specific time to do each one well. And if you have so much on your plate you don’t feel you have the luxury to do this? Read on…
Learn How to Say “No”
We often hate to say “no” to people, especially when it comes to our careers. We worry that turning down an invitation to lunch or declining to help with a project will make us appear rude or unable to rise to the challenge. But you only have so many hours in the day, and spreading them thin won’t change that—it will just bring your stress level up and the quality of your work down.
You can’t manage your time properly if you don’t learn how to defend it. You have a right to say “no” when your time or attention is otherwise occupied, and really, you owe it to others to be honest. No one wants you to agree to a project you won’t be able to deliver on. And, you can say “no” in a way that comes across as polite and professional. Try practicing these phrases:
- “I’m so sorry, but I need to focus on X, Y and Z.”
- “I’d love to help you, but I’m already committed to ______.”
- “I’m afraid I can’t give this project the attention it deserves with everything else on my plate.”
- “I’m so sorry, but I can’t.” (Sometimes offering too much information just invites push-back. If someone keeps pressing you, simply apologize that you can’t do it, and leave it at that.)
Stop sabotaging your career. Take control… and take back your life.
About the Author: Michael Hurwitz brings more than 20-years of experience in digital and integrated advertising with top media companies to Careers In Government. He assumed the position of President in 2012.
For the last 17-years, CIG has been a clear leader in job board technology, sales, marketing and administration for local government. Forbes has listed us 2-years in a row as the Best Government Career Website. Our feature-rich job board and scalability are just two of the reasons why IPMA-HR partnered with CIG. Other partnerships underway for 2014 include SBWIB.org and Multisector.info. The two associations represent 21 local Workforce Investment Boards who joined with the California EDD and California Workforce Association.
Image courtesy of mymwg.com… thank you!