Upon your return to work in the “new normal” it is the ideal opportunity to unlearn poor old habits that you had before Covid and learn new productive habits as part of a new chapter in your life. Time management and the effective use of your time is a perfect area in your working and private life, to start a new chapter where you can complete tasks more effectively and efficiently in the future. The net result should be that you will feel, and be, more productive. This would not only benefit you upon your return to work but forever after, assuming that you continue to consciously focus on effectively using your time.
“Time is the scarcest resource and unless it is managed nothing else can be managed.” – Peter Drucker
Important versus urgent tasks
There are two essential components to time management, the two P’s: (1) Plan ahead and (2) Prioritise tasks. Stephen Covey’s Time Management Matrix is a very useful tool in this regard, where he urges us to prioritise and spend our time on the things that are not urgent, but important. This allows us to focus on the important tasks that will add the most value in our lives, bearing in mind that we always plan, to ensure that important tasks don’t also become urgent. Otherwise, it increases our stress levels, which we obviously would like to avoid.
“Until we can manage time, we can manage nothing else.” – Peter Drucker
Focus on the things that don’t work
It makes sense to prioritise, by first focusing on the things that are broken. We cannot waste our time by focusing on the things that are not broken. To spend time trying to improve something that is already sufficient is senseless. When we prioritise the things that do require our attention though, then we need to take the emotion out of this process and prioritise all the truly important things.
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” – Bert Lance
Automate and stay focused
Automation is another way of creating more time to rather focus on productive work, in the time that you save as a result of doing something quicker. As an example, you can use voice tags to convey a message to someone from your phone as opposed to typing a text message. Not only is it more personal, but we typically speak much quicker than what we type, and we can therefore save a significant amount of time in the process. There is one proviso though – keep it short. Otherwise, the person on the receiving end of the message wastes time listening to a longwinded message that he or she could have read quicker.
We often get distracted by something or someone while we are busy with an important task. When we then eventually get back to completing this task, it became urgent as a result, and we have to also waste time to try and figure out where we previously paused the task. You are more in charge of your life than you think, and next time see if you cannot get that person or that something to wait until you have completed the important task you have been busy with. It cannot harm to ask, and you will be surprised that the other person that interrupted you would probably say: “No problem, let me know when you are available”.
“Stay focused, ignore the distractions, and you will accomplish your goals much faster” – Joel Osteen
Use non-productive idle time more effectively
Idle time can be defined as unproductive time due to factors that typically cannot be controlled by management. For example, a power outage due to unplanned maintenance at a substation. The challenge then is to simply use this non-productive idle time more effectively, which would normally be time wasted. Instead of using my normal office time when the electricity has been restored, I can then try to make business phone calls or do filing. When things are back to normal again, I can keep on focusing on non-urgent, but important tasks that we discussed earlier.
These are just a couple of ways in which we can use our time more effectively. The management of time is an important part of our success in completing tasks and there are endless benefits if we do this properly – it will make you feel more in control of your life, it effectively produces more time for new opportunities, it reduces stress levels and ultimately supports goal achievement at work and home. We only have so many hours in a day, so let’s use it wisely and productively.
Hekkie van der Westhuizen, PhD
Covey, S.R. (2004). The 7 habits of highly effective people – powerful lessons in personal change. Simon & Schuster.