Do you know where your time is going? Recently, I helped someone answer this question who was trapped in repeatedly spending late nights at the office. Have you been there? It's not fun. If you stay late too many times, resentment quickly follows. So, how do you escape that mess?
Step 1: Figure out where your time is going.
That's not difficult. You simply track your time using a 15 Minute Time Increment sheet. Jot down quick notes throughout your day about how you spend your time in 15 minute increments. While this may be tedious, the insights can be invaluable.
Step 2: Analyze how you spend your time.
Here are some of the problems you want to watch for:
Problem 1) Doing work you shouldn't be doing?
I had an administrative assistant who for year produced the agenda and reports for a meeting she didn't even attend, nor was it part of her job description. When we discovered this it took one phone call to take this monkey off of her back.
Are you taking on someone else's work or busy work that produces very little results? Consider delegating tasks or eliminating tasks all together. With each task that is questionable ask yourself, "What would be the consequence if I didn't do this?"
2) Activities eating an inordinate amount of time.
Examine cumbersome tasks. Could these items be done more efficiently? Get creative. What if you had to do a task in half the time you normally do, or even one quarter of the time? What would you have to change to accomplish this reduction?
3) Wasted time.
Every day there are three realities about your time usage: First, how you intend to use your time. Second, how you think you use your time. Third, how you actually use your time. Tracking time will undoubtedly reveal the gaps between these three things. You'll be surprised at how much time you waste chatting with people, searching for things because you aren't organizated, reflexively looking at emails, text messages, etc. When you analyze your 15 Minute Increment Sheet make a list of or circle any time wasting activities to heighten your awareness.
4) Truly having more duties than can be accomplished in the time allotted.
You may genuinely have assigned to you too much work or doing more than one person realistically can. In a corporate situation, a 15 Minute Time Increment Sheet can be your best ally in asking for a change of duties. Your sheets can help you demonstrate to your boss that you aren't wasting time and that you authentically can't achieve the work given to you given the time you are allowed.
Step 3: Set time management goals based off of your analysis.
If you are feeling overburdened, odds are that your time deficit is not a result of just one of the above problems. However, don't try to fix everything at once. Pick one or two changes you can make that will consistently free up time. For example, if you consistently getting pulled off tasks because your reflexively check emails, try turning off email alerts and only check at set times. Or, if you realize that someone else work has crept on to your desk, come up with an action plan for getting it off of your desk and onto the desk for the right person. Give yourself a deadline for these goals.
Rookie mistakes to avoid
First, not being completely honest with yourself as you track your time. Don't fudge. Be brutally honest with yourself. If you intended to just check your email, but wound up sucked into twenty minutes of surfing Facebook. Lying on you time sheet to yourself won't do you any favors.
Second, not tracking your time long enough. If you're serious about wanting to escape the late night trap, you probably need to track your time for a couple of weeks, so that you can begin to see patterns. Even tracking one day can be very revealing, but if you'll stick to it for several days, you'll find the exercise of tracking your time is exponentially more beneficial.