People who believe they thrive in chaos typically have to work alone.
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A big part of being successful at time management is being organized. But what if you happen to be a disorganized person? It’s nothing to be ashamed of. After all, you may have never been taught proper organizational skills or maybe you grapple with something beyond your control, like ADHD.
You might even be one of the few who thrive in chaos, but you still need to learn how to manage your time — whether you’re organized by nature or not. When you don’t manage your time deadlines creep up on you, projects go unfinished and important tasks are forgotten. This make you stressed out and puts your company in jeopardy.
The good news is that by following these six tips you will get better at managing your time, no matter how disorganized you are.
1. Evaluate how you spend your time.
Do you always feel like there aren’t enough hours in a day? Are you frequently missing deadlines? Do you ever feel like you have time to do the things you enjoy?
Sure, there are times when you’re busy and unable to meet a friend for lunch. But we all have 24 hours in a day. Why can’t you meet a deadline or find 15 minutes to read when others can? It may be because your lifestyle is preventing you from properly managing your time.
For example, if you’re working 12 hours a day, you need to determine why. Are you taking on too many responsibilities? If so, start saying no and begin delegating appropriate tasks to others.
You might be working 12 hours a day because you’re looking at your phone every five minutes. Experiment with turning off your phone when you’re working. You’ll get more done in less time.
The first step in time management is to evaluate how you spend your time on daily tasks. You can use a time-tracking app or the ol’ pen-and-paper method to record what you’re doing, when and for how long.
2. Organize your time wisely.
Time management is hard. If you want to become successful at time management, you need to start using a planner. This can be either a weekly paper version or a computer software program — whatever you’re comfortable with. Ideally, it should come with a calendar app function so you can schedule your time more effectively, as well as remind yourself of important events and tasks.
Coach Marie Forleo advises “If it’s not scheduled, it’s not real.” In your planner, list every activity that involves scheduling. This includes appointments, project deadlines, exercise and social events. Don’t schedule activities every hour of every day — that leads to frustration. You need blocks of time for breaks and when the unexpected occurs.
3. Plan, prioritize and follow through on tasks.
Many people fail at time management because they haven’t planned, prioritized and followed through on tasks. The best way to correct this is by creating a routine.
To get started, create a weekly schedule comprised of essential tasks, such as responding to emails or doing laundry. Next, establish set block times for these essential tasks. Because you’ve already evaluated how your time is spent, you should have a ballpark estimate of how much time you should set aside for each task. Be consistent and keep the times the same throughout the week. For example, if you check your email at 8 a.m., schedule that at 8 a.m. every day.
For larger tasks, break them up into smaller chunks. This makes the task more manageable; you can set aside a realistic time to work on each chunk.
To prevent yourself from getting overwhelmed, follow the “Rule of 3.” Chris Bailey, author of the book “The Productivity Project,” writes that “having just three items to focus on throughout the day and week will help you stay centered and accomplish more, even on days when everything hits the fan.”
4. Give everything a “home.”
The average American spends 2.5 days each year looking for lost items. Additionally, around a quarter of Americans misplace their house or car keys twice a week. That’s time that could have been better spent. And it can easily be avoided with this one trick: Give everything a “home.”
For example, you car keys should go on a hook next to the front door. Your financial records should be kept in a dedicated folder in a filing cabinet. You should use a password manager so your login information is in one location.
Also, whatever you’re not using should be thrown away or stored elsewhere. This way, it won’t distract you or eat up valuable space needed for essential items. You may want to use an open bookcase or transparent containers so you can avoid “out of sight, out of mind” thinking.
5. Drop bad habits.
One of the reasons you may be disorganized is because you’ve developed bad habits that are preventing you from being organized. If you want to get better at time management, you need to drop those bad habits, such as taking on more than you can handle. This happens frequently when you have just started your own business and are doing everything yourself. As a result, nothing gets done. Learn your limits and how to say no. Remember, it’s better to underpromise and overdeliver.
Another bad habit is relying on your memory. No matter how great your memory is, it can fail you. We often need a brain dump or get distracted by something else. Carry a notebook with you at all times to jot down everything from thoughts and ideas to meeting notes so you can refer to it when you need to
Multitasking, surprisingly, is also a bad habit. Doing several things at once isn’t effective. Instead of helping us get more done at once, it takes us longer to complete tasks because our brains are switching back and forth between tasks. Focus on completing one task at a time.
6. Learn how to manage external time wasters.
There will be times when your time is affected by external factors, like unexpected visitors or meetings that drag on. There are a few ways you can learn how to manage these outside forces. One is by setting a specific time to respond to phone calls and emails. When you’re working, turn your notifications off and use voicemail.
Another is establishing blocks of time when you’re free to meet. When you’re not available, you can keep your door closed, place a “do not disturb” sign outside or politely ask people to return at a more convenient time.
Only plan meetings that are absolutely necessary; make sure there’s an agenda in advance and a facilitator so the meeting stays on track and ends on time.
Being disorganized doesn’t have to be a curse. Focus on finding a time management technique that works for you. Just because one person has had success using a certain technique doesn’t mean it’s the right fit for you. Don’t be afraid to try out several different ideas until you find the one that helps you manage your time best.