What is Time Management?
One of the biggest adjustments for an early career researcher the near constant, usually urgent, demands on your time. Some of these demands will be enjoyable… and some less so! Time management is quite simply a set of principles, practices, skills, tools, and systems working together to help you get more value out of your time with the aim of increasing efficiency and productivity without reducing the quality of your life. Effective time management will not necessarily help you get lots of stuff done (although it might!), but rather it will make sure that you are working on the right things – the things that truly need to be done.
Time flies, but you are the pilot
So how can you effectively manage your time better? If you don’t already, you should start by writing a “to-do” list. This is a simple technique that can increase your productivity by 20 percent or more. They also offer extra benefits of clearing your mind and saving you energy and stress. spend 5-10 minutes each day on planning your activities with a daily to do list. Start by writing down all your tasks. After you’ve listed absolutely everything, review your to do list and decide on the priority of each task. Give higher priority to the tasks that get you closer to your goals. A proven simple technique for this is an ABC rating of your priorities. Mark the tasks on your to do list with “A’s” if they are critical for your goals and simply must be be done that day (or else you face serious consequences).
One important tip to keep in mind: If during a day some new unplanned task comes up, don’t do anything until you put that new task on your list and rate it by priority. See it written among the other tasks and put it in perspective. The more you let go off the urge to skip that simple step, the more productive and satisfied you become. When making a to do list, break down your complex tasks into smaller manageable pieces, and focus on one at a time.
Find what works for you
Above all else, spend some time identifying time management strategies that work for you. When is your most productive time of day? Are you an early riser or a night owl? Use this time to complete the tasks that require the most brain-power. Many people find the practice of “timeboxing” useful to help them stay on track and avoid procrastination. First, estimate how long each item on your to-do list should take to complete, and allocate a set amount of time to each one. Don’t forget to include breaks, and build in contingency time for unexpected requests or interruptions. Then set a timer on your smartphone or computer to alert you to when you should move on to your next timebox. Choose the length of time that works best for you.
The Pomodoro Technique is a form of timeboxing that uses a timer to break down work into intervals, traditionally 25 minutes in length, separated by short breaks. The technique has been widely popularized by dozens of apps and websites providing timers and instructions.
There are six steps in the original technique:
- Decide on the task to be done.
- Set the pomodoro timer (traditionally to 25 minutes).
- Work on the task.
- End work when the timer rings and put a checkmark on a piece of paper.
- If you have fewer than four checkmarks, take a short break (3–5 minutes), then go to step 2.
- After four pomodoros, take a longer break (15–30 minutes), reset your checkmark count to zero, then go to step 1.
The stages of planning, tracking, recording, processing and visualizing are fundamental to the technique. In the planning phase, tasks are prioritized by recording them in a “to-do”, and you estimate the effort each task requires. You record each task as it is completed, which adds to a sense of accomplishment and provides information for subsequent self-observation and improvement.
Benefits of timeboxing
Using timeboxing to manage your daily tasks and delegate work has a number of advantages. Deadlines improve some people’s focus and enhance their creativity, particularly if you’re a procrastinator! It helps you focus and prioritize your work.
If you’re a perfectionist, you might spend a lot of time stuck in analysis paralysis while making decisions, or you could struggle to sign off on projects until you’re convinced that they’re error-free. This can make you fall behind on tasks, which impacts the rest of your day. Timeboxing can keep any perfectionist tendencies in check, and limit the amount of time you spend on low-value activities.
If you struggle to concentrate during the day, it might be because of multitasking. Most of us find that we lose time when we regularly switch between tasks. Timeboxing, however, narrows your focus to one activity at a time, and you know that you’ll switch tasks once you have completed each one.
Finally, timeboxing gives you a way to measure your productivity levels. You can use this information to schedule high-priority work during your peak productive period, and save less important tasks for times when you are more likely to be distracted.