5 Tips to Time Management

Everyone in non-profit ministry work understands the importance of using time well.  We have dozens of daily responsibilities and hundreds of tasks to accomplish during the course of each week.  We try to prioritize and save the less important tasks for later, but eventually even the less important tasks need to be completed. Eventually everything needs to be fit in.  But unless we are very careful, and consistently diligent in managing our time, we never do get around to the last details that require our attention.

Because of this constant push to accomplish more with no extra hours in the day, we are constantly looking for methods that will help us to utilize our time in better ways.  We seek advice on organizing our offices, help in planning and prioritizing, and search for ways to coordinate our hectic lives into easy-to-understand time tables.  And we find answers.  Hundreds of answers.  So many answers we cannot possibly implement them all.  So many answers that they end up contradicting each other. So many answers that, if we were to actually follow them all, we would be spending so much time organizing our time that we wouldn’t ever have space to just get to our job.

And we are overwhelmed.

We cannot figure out which tips will help.

We cannot decide which ones to implement first.

And we cannot understand how so many other people seem to have it all figured out.

But the truth is that we don’t need all of the answers that are thrown at us.  We don’t need hundreds of ways to organize our office, dozens of apps to coordinate our schedule, or several options in prioritizing our days.  While eventually we may utilize a number of tips and tricks to get more out of our time, at this moment we only need one.  At this very moment, we just need one new idea to help us better manage our time.

Realistically, we are very unlikely to be in a position to entirely change our organizational patterns.  We just don’t have the time and energy to dedicate.  Even for those of us who are able to make big changes, people have a hard time with change and making too many at once can prevent any of them from taking hold.  Think of time management as a habit you want to develop; habits develop in small increments over long periods of time.

So it is actually in our best interest to start small.  When we make small, sustained changes we open ourselves up well to developing habits.  Good time management habits will dramatically affect our ability to perform our jobs well.  Because of this, starting small isn’t a cop out; it is a tried-and-true method towards actually creating permanent change.

And we need to find ways to permanently change the ways we manage time.

So here our just 5 options for you to consider when deciding which small habit you want to try to develop.  Don’t try to implement all five at once; it won’t work.

Pick just one.

ONLY ONE.

And then keep at it for a month or two.  Only after you’ve given it a real shot should you reconsider whether to keep using the tip.  And only after a month or two should you try to add another time management habit. Remember, slow and steady wins the race.

5 Tips to Time Management:

1)  Check E-mail after lunch.

Don’t even glance at it before you’ve finished the first half of your day.  Many of us recoil at the idea of neglecting this important form of communication for so long, but take a moment to critically analyze the reasoning behind this tip.  Staff members in many locations, not just non-profits, are encouraged to come into work and begin their days by checking e-mail.  After checking e-mail they are then expected to begin accomplishing all the tasks they had planned for the day.  But there is an important problem with this plan. Checking e-mail means responding to e-mail, receiving requests for work or help, and adding new tasks to complete to your day.  In the first 15 minutes of work, your entire day’s plan necessarily transforms because of the e-mails you’ve received.  And you spend at least the first half hour of work (hours when your brain is at peak performance) with the mundane task of reading and responding and adding to your to do list.  What a waste. If, however, your e-mails sat in their inbox until after lunch, you would have the entire morning to accomplish all the tasks YOU decided were important.  You would have the whole morning to simply get work done, without the intrusion of everyone else’s schedules and problems into your morning.  And then, after lunch (when your brain is at lowest performance) you can go through the mind-numbing task of reading and responding to e-mail.  After lunch you can decide how much of the rest of your day needs to be dedicated to performing the tasks requested through e-mail.  Checking e-mail later in the day gives you more control over YOUR TIME; your schedule isn’t at the whim of other people’s demands.

2) Eat a healthy lunch.

Simple, easy to implement, and incredibly effective at enhancing your use of time.  For most people, the afternoon hours are the least productive.  Some of the reason is that we are fatigued from the first half of the day and some of the reason is that our brians are wired that way.  We can do nothing to change the way our  brains our designed to work, but we have tremendous power in battling the weariness of afternoon.  One of the best ways to increase mental capacity, physical energy, and general alertness in the second half of the day is to make sure that our body is properly recharged.  Skipping lunch (a common practice among busy staff) provides us no energy at all; we will find ourselves lagging as the hours wear on.  Excessively large, greasy meals (think fast food) weigh us down and make us lethargic and sleepy.  To make the most of our afternoons, we need to strive for light lunches filled with nutritious foods.  Well-balanced lunches will provide us with renewed energy and the ability to get more done in less time.

3)  Drink more water.

Water helps every part of the body function optimally.  Brain, heart, lungs, everything.  Many people actually live daily life at a state of mild dehydration, and this negatively influences their ability to maximize time.  Don’t allow something so simple to so negatively affect your work.  Drink more water.  Keep a water bottle at your desk.  Keep one in your car.  Drink water first thing in the morning.  Whatever you need to do, do it.  Drink more water.  Drink more water.  Drink more water.

4)  Overestimate how long things take.

This is an easy trick that doesn’t actually help you to accomplish any tasks more quickly, but it does help you to prevent over-booking your days.  Think of how many times you’ve had to use the excuse “my meeting ran late”, or “something else came up”, or “it was on my to-do list, but I just didn’t get to it”.  These excuses could almost always be avoided by better time estimates.

Consider meetings; they are often scheduled for an hour or two.  They rarely keep within the time limitations set.  So instead of constantly running late because you plan things back-to-back, schedule yourself with actual meeting lengths in mind.  If a meeting is planned for an hour, schedule an hour and a half for it.  If you think a task will take 15 minutes, give yourself at least 20 minutes.  By overestimating, you will always have more than enough time to accomplish the tasks you have planned.  Then, when you have extra time, you can get to extra things.  And if something unscheduled comes up, you will have fewer schedule problems and less stress.

5) Take a break.

This may seem counterproductive, but our brains and bodies actually need to take a few moments every now and then to recharge.  The temptation to sit in front of the computer for 10 hours straight and just pound out our office work may be great, but we will actually accomplish much less than if we worked shorter hours with frequent breaks.  The same is true of outdoor work, meetings, and basically any other tasks; you will be able to better accomplish what needs to be done if you are able to step back and rest.   Your brain actually functions optimally if you stop for a 5 minute break about every half hour.

Try having a coffee break mid-morning.

Take a walk mid-afternoon.

Have a brief chat with a co-worker.

Run an errand.

Whatever you need to do to help you turn off your brain for a few minutes so it can recharge and be ready for the next task.

And, in case this way of understanding time management just doesn’t make sense, here’s a great article on the subject that uses a different approach.

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