How to make better use of your time

ONE of the curses of the modern workplace is having too much to do in the time available for the work, and so time-management is one of the most important of skills. Contrary to much supposed wisdom, says Roger Trapp in his new book What You Need to Know About Business, the key is not to learn how to multitask. Doing two things at once doesn’t work – eating your lunch at your desk “might shave a few minutes off the day,” writes Trapp “but it can actually make life more stressed.” Here are five tips for managing your time better.

1. Make sure you have objectives. Remember to make them SMART – Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-Bound. This is especially good if you are, for example, “starting a new job or project and want to set goals so that you can demonstrate progress.” Proving that you are getting things done is as important as getting them done.

2. If you are struggling to get things done and getting bogged down in minutiae, then you have to prioritise. There are two classic ways to do this. Either divide things into three categories: “must do”, “should do” and “nice to do”; or into two groups: “discretionary” and “non-discretionary” tasks. “These are more sophisticated versions of simple to-do lists, which even on their own can concentrate the mind on the tasks in hand – as well as providing a psychological boost when items are ticked off,” writes Trapp.

3. Make use of the Pareto Principle. This is named after the Italian economist who came up with the famous 80/20 rule. He noticed that 20 per cent of the Italian population had 80 per cent of the wealth. Many businesses find that 80 per cent of income comes from 20 per cent of customers. Identify the 20 per cent of your work that brings you 80 per cent of the benefit, and concentrate on it. For example, chase the 20 per cent of biggest bills first – losing out on the interest of the smaller ones is less bad.

4. Adopt the “manana principle”. Rather than the traditional principle of never putting off until tomorrow what can be done today, this states that nothing is so urgent that it can’t be put off until tomorrow.

“This is a deliberate technique for avoiding becoming distracted by or bogged down in all the little things that happen in the course of a business day,” says Trapp. Bundle together all the tasks that arise during the day to be actioned the next day, rather than trying to do them all straight away. Then you can organise everything in the most efficient way.

5. Remember Parkinson’s Principle, that work expands to fill the time available to it. Deal with email and phone calls in one batch, and set aside a certain time to do so. Only touch emails once – and either do, delegate, delay or dump. Meetings are horribly time-wasting, so if possible delegate attendance, and always have another commitment afterwards, to encourage you to be efficient and get out as soon as possible.