top of page
< Back

SMART Time Management Strategies

SMART Time Management Strategies

You've probably heard the acronym, SMART; Specific, Manageable, Attainable, Realistic Timely.  This is an ideal way to create a time management system for your work or personal life.  Or you can use these criteria to evaluate a time management and day planner system that you might purchase.


Specific: Your time management system must be able to record each task and have enough room to add necessary details. That's why those small, freebie calendars that you get from local businesses doesn't have enough space to be specific about your tasks and what's needed to accomplish them.


Manageable:  Some time management systems can be so detailed and complex that using them is a part time job. That's not helpful and can discourage you from doing any type of scheduling. 


If one system does not work for you, find a different one, but don't give up. And don't get a planner book that's too large to comfortable carry with you when you are out of the office. That leads to the sticky notes scattered around and missing important appointments.


Attainable: Yes, you can get your frantic, over-booked life under control. In fact, you have to do it for your health as well as for your business. Why add needless stress to your workday by trying to remember your schedule instead of planning it on your calendar. You can complete more work in less time if you have a big picture of the tasks and prioritize those tasks each day.


Realistic: No matter how you try to stretch it, there's still only 24 hours in a day. If you work 8 hours, travel 1 hour, sleep 7 hours, then you have 8 hours remaining to get dressed, eat meals, spend time with your friends and family, exercise and socialize.


You can enjoy more variety in your personal time if you schedule special events on your calendar. Knowing that you have tickets for the Broadway touring company of a stage play on Friday evening, then you'll avoid over-scheduling tasks so you can leave work on time and be ready when the curtain goes up.


Timely: Time does not stop for any of us. When you take on too many tasks for the allotted time, you know how it feels as if time is moving in hyper-speed. The purpose of time management is so that you can accomplish what you need to do and balance each deadline with other work plus those unexpected interruptions.


If you delay a difficult project by claiming that you "work better under pressure," you are only fooling yourself. What actually happens when working under pressure is a higher tendency for error.


As you choose the right time management system for your work style, you are preparing to simplify your life. You'll also gain a sense of mastery over your time so that you know what you can add to the day and when to say no to over-commitment and when you can say yes to enjoyable activities.



The 3 Ps of Time Management


Albert Einstein cleverly explained that "the only reason for time is so that things don't happen all at once."  You may be thinking, "Clearly he didn't know how things go at my office."


Actually, Einstein's genius for creating universal theories does work in that comment as well. While you may think that by multi-tasking you can extend your time, what often happens is that you make careless errors and forget important tasks. The brain can only manage so much, no matter how many minutes pass on the clock. You can use time, plan time and manage time but you can't stretch time.


That's why you need to deal with the 3 P's: procrastination, planning, prioritizing.

You might think it odd to begin with procrastination, what can that have to do with time management.


Actually, nothing destroys time management faster than procrastination. The typical procrastinator isn't lazy, that's a common misconception. Many highly intelligent and capable people procrastinate because they want to get everything just right.


If you wait until all things are perfectly aligned, then you may wait a long time. File that pile on your desk, sure you'll do it when you have time to color code the files. Set up the client email list, yes, you'll do it when you learn the newest software. That's the sound of procrastination. When these simple tasks are not done, it's the foundation for a train wreck of work left incomplete.


Taking time to plan helps overcome procrastination. Instead of the need to do all the work at once, create a plan that tackles those delayed jobs in thirty-minute intervals each day.


Then set up a plan to avoid starting the same problems over again. Not every task needs to be done every day. Set up lists of daily, weekly and monthly work tasks with an assigned day to do the weekly or monthly tasks.


Having a work plan is a sense of security that methods are in place to complete the necessary tasks. With each complete task, the sense of accomplishment pushes procrastination farther away.


Learning to prioritize time use is vital to get the most important tasks done even if everything does not get finished. Unless you have a small "to do" list, don't expect all the items to be crossed off each day. 


The best-structured work plan can be changed when new situations arise. If you don't have practice in prioritizing regular work tasks, then you will be unable to make the fast break necessary to change the priority of today's schedule when something more lucrative or imperative happens. 


In simple terms, you prioritize anytime you decide that one task is now more important to do than the other one. Of course, you have to set up some basics for making this choice. What is the priority in your business?


If you are a firefighter, then dropping everything and racing to the emergency is the priority. If you are a real estate agent, you may have to give up a Saturday afternoon out with friends when a good prospect wants to see a house.


Whatever type of work you do, you know which tasks are the genuine priorities and which can be done at another time. Be careful not to make everything a priority because then nothing is the priority and your time use is so crowded that nothing gets done well.


Einstein was right, don't try to make everything happen at once. You'll get frustrated, make mistakes and start to feel that time is your enemy when as the Pogo cartoon character told us, "We have met the enemy and it is us!"



Knowing How to Schedule Your Time


No matter how many time management books you read, one of the most difficult parts is knowing how to make your own schedule. In some workplaces, the time is structured for you. In others, you have more freedom to set your schedule. Either way, you make decisions about how you do what you do and the efficiency of your effort.


Basically, creating a schedule requires that you take a realistic look at the time available and know the tasks that need to be done in that time.  You have to allow enough time in your schedule to transition between tasks.


That may mean driving to a different location and dealing with traffic delays. For other tasks, you may have to gather additional research, calculate a budget or meet with a colleague. When you fail to build enough time into your schedule for transitions, then you're likely to get behind and stay that way.


Another problem in many schedules is over-committing. You only have so many work hours available. Considering the time needed for transitions plus unexpected interruptions with real or perceived urgency, you can't work too many critical projects back-to-back without over-commitment. When that happens, something is missed or everything is done half-way. That's not good time management, that's a train wreck happening right at your desk.


Remember to schedule time for yourself. You need a lunch break and a few minutes mid-morning and mid-afternoon to take a break. If possible, take a way outdoors or get away from your desk so refresh your mind as well as grab a coffee.  You also need to include meetings and community activities related to work.


If you are a manager, then your schedule must include time to coach and motivate your employees or team members. The much applauded "open door policy" can be an invitation to distractions as many visits to your office are more casual than business related. Your schedule may need a period each day for "closed door" work time. 


Unless you required to constantly monitor email, then you can schedule email checking two or three times during the work day, not every five minutes.  You can also sort email into folders and schedule time for different types of email; orders, client contact, questions, employee contact, personal, other.


You may have a habit that's common in offices to check email as soon as the envelope notice pops up on your screen. That's letting a distraction into your workspace. Turn off the automatic notice and schedule the times during the day when you will check email.


Taking charge of your schedule is the first step to effective time management. Your schedule is the framework that tells you where you want to use your time and by reviewing the schedule, you can see if your plan was effective.



Multi-Tasking as Time Mis-Management


The idea that multi-tasking is the answer to squeezing more work into the same eight hours is actually creating habits that cause you to mismanage time. Granted, some people can juggle a phone call and typing a report at the same time.


Don't be fooled into thinking that if you could just do three things at once instead of two, then you would better manage your time. Actually, you create more potential for making mistakes because your attention is divided in several ways. Nothing muddles time management worse than the time necessary to correct mistakes.


Rather than depend on multi-tasking as your time use strategy, look again at some of the tried-and-true time management principles:


Keep an updated daily calendar. Whether you buy a sophisticated day planning system, an electronic calendar system or a small notebook, none of these systems work unless you make daily updates. If you rely of yellow sticky notes or writing on the margin of your checkbook, then you are not using your calendar to full advantage. 


Also, use only one calendar system. If you have a work calendar and a personal or family calendar, you'll double the chances for forgetting something important. Take a few minutes to transfer all meeting notes, new items or added appointments promptly to your calendar so you don't forget to do it later.


Divide project or jobs into smaller tasks and list each task. You can use an outline format or a tree format; just find a way to separate out each step in a process. That allows you to check off each item when done. You may also discover items that you can delegate to others. 


The project planning approach also gives you an idea of how much time each task requires so you know what time to estimate for completion of the project. This is also useful in determining what times and amounts of materials are needed for the project.


If you have to order any items, move up ordering to the top of the list so that the necessary materials are available when you get to that stage of the project. Having to wait for materials or run around time to find them is a definite time waster.


Work on one project at a time. In the construction or creative process, your attention must be on one thing at a time. Some tasks are less suitable for multitasking than others. Knowing what is needed for that developing stage also helps you choose the best time for this work.


You may prefer a block of time with fewer interruptions as you do the next phase. To get enough uninterrupted time, you may decide to work at home or at another location so minimize those drop-in visitors or ringing phones in the office.


Team projects need high level of coordination and time management. When you are working with a group, you must divide and assign each task. You also need a mutually agreed upon timetable for delivery of each segment. Working in a team can make a project go faster and easier or longer and slower, it all depends on the coordination of the project. 


Each team member needs to be accountable for his or her time so that the entire project stays on schedule. Trying to do your work and catch up on the work that another team member didn't finish on schedule is a multitasking that rarely works and leaves frustration as well as bitterness among coworkers.



10 Daily Time Tips


Time management isn't a seminar you attend or a book you read. Time management is a process that must be engaged every day to be effective. Some of the most frustrated, disorganized people in any office are the ones with the most time management books on their shelves.


It's not that these books were ineffective. Rather in their frantic workday, these people "didn't have time" to read the time management books! In the interest of keeping it simple, these tips could set you on the way to getting serious about time management as you see the value unfold:


1.         Get a day planner and use it faithfully. No more sticky notes with reminders and appointments scattered around your desk, car and refrigerator at home. Keep all appointments and reminder in just one place, your day planner.


2.         Create a daily "to do" list. If you do this on your computer, you can easily move around items as you prioritize the day. If on paper, you can code the items with numbers or letters for: Urgent, Need to Do Today, Can Do This Week.


3.         Read your To-Do list first thing in the morning. Don't touch newspaper, open email or answer the phone until you see the road map for your day.


4.         Review your To-Do list at mid-day and end of day to see what was accomplished and what remains to be completed.


5.         At the end of the day, transfer the items remaining to tomorrow's or Monday's list. If possible, remove any items that are not significant.


6.         Delegate as much as possible to an assistant, colleague or associate. If you work independently, consider hiring a Virtual Assistant for a few hours per week. The price is right and there's no obligation as with hiring an employee. This is particularly effective if you travel or spend much time outside the office.


7.         Attend only the meetings that are absolutely necessary to do your job. Avoid any meetings that you can. Unless a meeting is run well with an agenda, there is usually wasted time chatting.


8.         Close your door when you are focusing on a task or put up a sign on your cubicle asking people to stop by later when you are finished with this work.


9.         Let voice mail answer your phone while you are focusing on an important task.


10.       Say "no" as often as possible when you have reached your work limits. That means saying no to overtime or taking work home. When you are mentally or physically exhausted you don't do your best work and you need to say so.


It's easy to stay on track with time management once you commit to changing your daily habits. Just put the above tips into action and you should see more free time throughout your day.

bottom of page